Reflections on attending the DQSH Protest

Last Saturday I attended the Clearview Library Drag Queen Story Hour as a counter-protester. This was my first time ever making a political sign and exercising my First Amendment rights in this way, and was quite an interesting experience.

The story hour itself was a registration-required event, and had filled up in the prior week. Apparently there was a 200 person waiting list (the largest room in the library had a max occupancy of 80). Outside were about 100 people in the designated “free speech zone” – an area 30 feet from the entrance to permit library patrons and story hour participants to arrive. Of the 100, it was about a 1/3 to 2/3 split between protesters against the event and supporters/counter-protesters.

Protesters seemed to fall into two large camps: people protesting on religious/moral grounds, with signs citing biblical verses and various religious and moral messages about corrupting children, as well as conservatives there that were “fighting the Left”. It was questionable as to whether some of the protesters were part of the Alt-Right, but some of the protesters seemed to be part of some larger conservative-based movement.

As for the supporters, there were also 2 segments: those drawing attention to the LGBTQ issues, counter-protesting the intolerance, as well as those generally supporting the library, freedom of speech, and general opposition to the protesters. I would count myself among the latter group, but my nuanced position seemed to confuse people on both sides at some point.

When I got there at 9:45, it wasn’t clear where people were standing, so I just stood on the corner and held up my signs. A lot of people who would later stand with the “against” protesters told me they liked my signs and were conversing with me. Apparently, some event supporters yelled obscenities at me as well, but I didn’t hear them. Then when the lines became apparent and I saw someone I knew, I went and stood next to her, at which point I had a bunch of supporters come up and apologize to me. A lot of the protesters suddenly had problems with my signs. As the morning progressed, a few supporters from the back came up to me and said they liked my signs.

The protests were mostly civil, both sides chanting back and forth. There were a few minor confrontations, but the police did an excellent job making their presence known without interfering or infringing the free speech rights of everyone. Truth be told, I think both sides had some chants and actions that were bad looks. Protests are a blunt instrument, and when you remove nuance, you give way to stereotypes to take hold. You could see the protesters demonize the supporters as religious heretics that were enabling child endangerment, while the supporters generalized the protesters as religious nuts and Alt-Right hate groups.

I didn’t take part in any of the chants and mainly stood silently unless someone directly yelled at me about my sign, at which point I would engage back with them. One of the protesters that engaged with me finally said he couldn’t disagree with my points, so that was kinda cool. At the end of the event when the supporters disbanded, I walked back to my car past the police chief who shook my hand, then by a few of the “Don’t tread on me” protesters. I told them to have a good day and they said: “you too”.

In the end, I think this was a worthwhile event for our community. Diverse programming was offered at the library unimpeded, and there was a lively conversation about culture, morals, and freedom outside of the library. I realize that people may feel uncomfortable about social disruption, but protests (and counter protests) and demonstration are integral parts of our American heritage. Just because conversations don’t happen in the public square doesn’t mean that they’re not taking place, these events just enable communities to bring these views into the light for all to see.

Keep Liberty In Our Library: An Open Letter to Mayor Melendez of Windsor

Dear Mayor Melendez,

I am writing to express my concern regarding efforts to restrict the freedom of your residents that wish to participate in programming at the Clearview Library. After watching events unfold over the last month, it appears that you and some local officials are attempting to ram through a particular point of view over the civil liberties of our neighbors.

Freedom and liberty are the bedrocks of our society. As elected officials, you have a duty to protect all viewpoints, even those that may make some feel uncomfortable. While I may personally have no interest in attending the Drag Queen Story Hour, I also recognize that the Clearview Library District is chartered with offering diverse programming to all parts of our community, and understand that not all library services and events must appeal to a majority of residents. With a Facebook Event RSVP that exceeds the capacity of the library’s large meeting room, a significant level of interest has been met to justify this programming. If no laws are being broken, and no hate is being advocated, then it is up to you as an elected official to protect its freedom and respect its right to seek programming and resources.

Suppose the library heeds your mayoral advice and cancels the event: should they then proceed to ban all programming that is mildly controversial? Shall we strip the library of all books and movies that may contain people dressed outside of their biological gender?  If a biological man walked into the library wearing a dress, should he be barred from entering? Do we hold the same standard against women wearing outfits that challenges the Town Board’s definition of “modesty”? Shall the library also ban resources that do not conform to the moral view of current town leadership? Should the library require approval from town and school boards before community groups/and or political clubs can gather?  Is there a similar policy in place for our Rec Center and parks? By publicly placing your elected thumb on the scale, you are creating a slippery slope on the path towards repression and government censorship, resulting in potentially costly legal challenges for our town.

As the father of two young girls, I can sympathize with parents that object on the grounds of avoiding exposure to their children.  However, the consequence of participating in a free society is that our kids will likely encounter people and ideas that are in conflict with their parents’ world-view.  Just last month I took my 5-year-old to an Eagles game and had to spend the first period explaining what “sucks” means and why the crowd was chanting those words.  The reality is that parents are challenged with turning those occurrences into teachable moments. We must also respect those parents that see this event as an opportunity to further their child’s exposure to the gender identity conversation. Of course, to parents that wish to limit exposure, there remains the obvious remedy: do not attend. It is not the role of government to shield the community from objectionable viewpoints, especially when suppressing the rights of others.

I challenge you and our leaders to do what’s right, rather than simply pleasing the population of those aligned with your ideals. Please do not abuse your stewardship by seizing the power of society and administering a top-down implementation of your morality, especially at the expense of law-abiding groups in our community. These actions are far more damaging to our communal fabric than any single library event.

Sincerely,

Jeromey Balderrama

Be a custodian of liberty in our community. Vote yes on 6c.

As the son and husband of public educators, I can attest first-hand to the importance of schools, but lest we forget the critical development in the first years of a child’s life. These years are so important that many parents put their careers and livelihoods on hold to ensure their children have the best development opportunities. What other public institution, besides the public library, is as committed to resourcing parents and facilitating this crucial stage? After volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom, it becomes evident just how much of a head start reading gives our young children.

Libraries give people access to tools, materials, and resources that are not affordable or practical to individually own. When my parents were growing up, it was encyclopedias and reference materials. For me, it was PC’s and fast Internet. Today, it’s maker spaces with 3D printing, electronics tinkering, video and audio production. Do you remember when you unlocked a hidden talent that you never knew, discovering a passion changed the trajectory of your education, your career, your life? What resources were made available to you at the time?

We live in an age where we’ve never had more convenient access to the world’s information, or the ability to communicate across vast distances, yet somehow many feel more isolated. Like all of us, our youth are looking for ways to feel more connected, maintain community, with healthy in-person relationships. The library is also evolving to serve that need with designated gathering and collaboration spaces for groups of all ages to feel welcome.

Our community is blessed with a library that not only embraces this mission but excels at it. The Clearview staff demonstrates resourcefulness in offering rich, diverse, accessible programming for all ages – but they are at their limits. Originally built for a town of 10,000, the current facility struggles to keep up with a district that’s tripled in size.  Paramount programs like Girls Who Code and young children storytimes have to turn people away due to space constraints. Areas cannot be converted for these new needs without taking away meaningful space from another group or purpose. In its landlocked location, there’s no choice but to relocate to a larger space that is designed to serve our evolved needs.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “Nine-tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time.” We need to demonstrate wisdom, accept the growth, and be bold in supporting our next generations. As a fiscal conservative that relishes a limited federal government, I am also a fierce localist that realizes we each must do our part to shape our community. These principles don’t need to be at odds. There is much debate about “need” vs. “want”, but we really need to talk about what our community deserves.  I’d like to think we’re a virtuous citizenry that takes care of each other, providing adequate facilities to serve our growing community,safeguarding for the future. A localist can be pro-schools, pro-safety, pro-water and pro-library, all at the same time. Being proactive and investing now ensures we maximize our return, rather than wait years and only get 80% while spending the same amount.

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.” -James Madison.

Be a custodian of liberty in our community. Vote yes on 6c.

New Windsor Library Defeated

The New Windsor Library Initiative, which I adamantly supported, was unfortunately defeated.  After spending this month reflecting on the reasons for the loss, I ultimately attribute it to the following factors:

  1. Members of the community disagreed about the inherent value libraries offer to our community, especially to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford access to the resources the library provides. Many ultimately decided that the elevated taxes would not result in a positive return on our community.
  2. Members of the community had a fundamental misunderstanding about the Library District, its boundaries, its relationship to other local municipal entities, and the way libraries are funded, both operationally and through facility expansion.
  3. Members of the community had confusion and misunderstanding about how the proposal came to be, how proposed funds would be allocated, and the previous attempts to solicit input and collaboration.
  4. Members of the community did not demonstrate an appreciation for present and anticipated growth, and its impact on current library capacity and their staffing – nor did they appreciate the future capacity planning with the proposed library, seeing it was something that was too large for the present time. I think we only need to look to our newly expanded recreation center to find out what happens when a community expands facilities with current demand in mind, where even mid-morning weekday classes are overfilled with attendees.

    …And finally

  5. Some opponents of the library measure were able to exploit the community’s lack of knowledge (especially for #2 and #3) and instead projected scandalous motives to explain issues that they did not understand. I found it most egregious that terms like “No Transparency” and “No Collaboration” were used when there were numerous public meetings and opportunities for input, as well as hundreds of pages of feasibility studies and proposals were available through the website. Rather than clarify their concerns, many simply used their lack of knowledge as justification for their distrust in our government institutions. While I do think it’s important for our society to be skeptical and scrutinous of our municipalities, many assigned nefarious motives for that which they did not understand, hiding behind their own ignorance.

Ultimately, I do think that our community needs to do a better job to improve issues #2-4, and hope that it can come through meaningful discussion, debate, and consensus towards what is best for our community. I do think there will always be those that fall into the #1 and #5 camps but hope that those can be diminished as we do attempt to improve #2-4. Perhaps it means more meetings and dedicated hearings. Having participated in two previous capital campaigns through my church, having an abundance of listening sessions and solicitation of input help quell concerns that many had. I would be very interested in doing my part to assist in any way I can, hoping that we can continue to provide a quality library that meets the needs of Windsor for generations to come.

More on the Windsor Library Mill Levy

I wanted to share some more thoughts that I composed on the NextDoor discussion regarding the Clearview Library District Mill Levy proposal. People brought up some great points about whether we need to build the new library now and why the library can’t finance it out of the current taxes they receive.

I’ll be the first to say that I don’t understand how Libraries are funded, but let’s assume that a portion of their funding of their $2.6m operating budget comes from our taxes, and that revenue may have increased over the years due to additional growth. Even then, we’re still talking about operational budget.

I don’t know how your household works, but if you’re a homeowner, chances are that you didn’t purchase your house outright with 100% cash. If my family was expected to save for the complete value of our home using only my operational budget, it would take a lot longer than 30 years for me to buy my home – and by the time I could afford it, my kids would be grown and we’d be too old to manage a house the size that we needed back when our family was young.

Good thing we have mortgages, where the bank takes a chance on us and assumes I can make incremental payments out of our operational budget for the next 30 years, making a return on their investment through interest.  We’re able to benefit because we can buy the house that fits our needs now (although I’d recommend buying the house you need 5-10 years from now, if you can afford it – but that’s another post).

While the Mill Levy is not a mortgage loan, it enables the financing to construct needed facilities now, rather than 20 years from now, 10 years too late. Rather than getting interest payments, the community benefits by being able to use the new modern facilities now, rather than having to wait 20 years (imagine if the bank said they’d forgo interest in exchange for being able to regularly use your home).

People raise valid points when they examine current needs and weigh them against priorities, wondering if we should wait until the need becomes more evident. However, we’ve already seen how this played out in how we’ve deferred I-25 and I-70 improvements – and now look at how terrible traffic has become. I wish I could go back in time 10 years and convince younger me to fervently push for an Interstate train, or at least more northern lane expansion between Johnstown and Fort Collins. Now it almost seems like too-little, too late.

One last thing to consider: that proposed area of land, once on the outskirts of Windsor, is really the last opportunity for us to have a centrally-located library. The current location is land-locked, and the architecture doesn’t support vertical expansion, without starting anew. We have an opportunity now to choose what’s going on that proposed plot of land. It’s prime real estate, and something is going to be built on it – are you sure you’ll be happier with what’s built there over a library?