Thursday, May 14, 2009

Katrina Clark (Durham branch) Testimony at City Council May 9 (transcript)

MS. CLARK: Hello. My name is Katrina Clark. I'm a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, both Manayunk and West Philadelphia. I'm also someone who chooses to live and work in the City of Philadelphia when I could choose to live and work somewhere else.

I'm amazed that we're still having this conversation about just how important the essential services are in a time of an economic crisis. I'm surprised as well to have to defend the importance of access to knowledge and resources, and I'm astounded that the City of Philadelphia dares to define itself as a world-class city and is willing to starve out its own citizens for the benefit of big business.

We, the citizens of Philadelphia, are not blind and we're not dumb. We know the nature of politics as usual. We know how lower, middle class, working class and poor people have borne the brunt of crises, both economic and otherwise, since time and memorial. We pretend that things are different or we can talk matter-of-factly about what is going on here.

Philadelphia dares to be out front ahead of the game, a world-class city, but our city uses antediluvian ways to respond in a crisis. The way that we respond in a crisis defines who we are.

After 9/11, the City of New York, known for its cool attitude and cold shoulder, pulled together, stranger helping stranger. These very acts will define the moral character of New York forever. And now we find ourselves in another crisis. It may at first not seem to be on the same scale, but as the waves of economic drop ripple across not only cities but nations, we are looking at a situation that directly affects individuals across the entire world. And now we, the City of Philadelphia, have to ask ourselves, how are we going to respond? And what hurts my heart is that instead of pulling together, our City government is asking us to fight over scraps. I'm not so sure that that behavior qualifies us to be a world-class city.

Two hundred years ago Philadelphia was actually known to be a world-class city. During that time before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphians were striving for equality for all, from demanding that all children be allowed in education, to founding the first public library so that those who cannot afford to have libraries of their own could literally share a wealth of knowledge. Philadelphia has been in the forefront for centuries. Yet, as time goes on, we are slipping further and further away from the ideals that we are founded upon. We can't keep living off our old reputation. It's time to step up. If we want to be a world-class city, then we need to treat our citizens as world-class citizens. All world-class citizens need equity of access to education and information in order to be educated and contributing members of society. Free public libraries are essential in striving for a level playing field. They were founded on this principle, and they will continue to be relevant in the strengthening of our democracy. Free public libraries in fact have grown in importance since their inception, now not only offering books and conversation, but also access to technology and resources that are paramount in facing the economic crisis in which we presently find ourselves.

Now, in this time of crisis, it is more important than ever to reflect on the core values that our city and nation were founded on. It is too easy in crisis mode to destroy the very foundation that we love and aim to protect. If we want to rebuild this world-class city of ours, then standing true to our mission and objectives is key.

We cannot abandon our goals in times of economic crisis. Then we would only add on a moral crisis, that of allowing the gap between rich and poor, black and white to further widen. When we look back in 10, 20 or 100 years at how we responded to this economic and burgeoning moral crisis, how will we have defined ourselves? Who will we have protected? What good will big business be able to do if the very moral fabric of our society has imploded? If we drop the safety nets of essential services, what state will we find ourselves in? What irreparable damage will we have caused?

As we learned from September 11th, everyday citizens, people from all walks of life can and will indeed stand together to fight for a common cause in the face of a crisis. I ask that City Council support the City in finding an equitable response to this crisis in which those who have more are asked to step up the same way that citizens of New York did almost eight years ago, to help out those who have less. It is time to put down ego and greed and reach out hands of humanity across this city so that we can pull each other through these very rough times.

Full funding needs to return to the Free Library of Philadelphia so that citizens can fully utilize the resources of our city. Full hours and staffing need to be restored to meet the expanded need of the population. The four-staff-minimum policy needs to be rescinded to add more flexibility to an already stressed system. To support the staff that will be doing even more work during these times of increased library usage, the very least we can do is boost morale by allowing them to do their jobs fully and not punishing them by closing a library when they are sick or have a personal emergency--

COUNCIL PRESIDENT VERNA: Thank you very much.


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