“Our approach to freedom need not be identical, but it must be intersectional and inclusive.” – Janet Mock, writer, TV host, transgender rights activist
Today I feel compelled to put into words my choice to broadcast the inauguration of the 45th U.S. President in my school library yesterday.
Living on the other side of the U.S. border has its challenges for a small town teacher-librarian. While we dance around the idea of Canadian identity and what that means when our culture is represented, Canadian publishers in all media forms are still driven by American markets and American values. So populating a library with well-loved material of CanCon isn’t always what pleases the staff and students because we’ve been gorging ourselves on the fire hose of American content. But the direction of Trump’s politics is certainly affecting my library just 150 km from our border. It is our mandate to give equal weight to the voices in my school respectfully, responsibly and compassionately.
When my principal put forward the idea of livestreaming the inauguration in our school, I was all for it from the beginning. Generally, when I’m faced with a situation that feels precarious in the library I have to resist that flight feeling and instead push through. I gather my community for support and so we put it to the staff that we were going to livestream the inauguration throughout the halls and in the learning commons. We received the full spectrum of reactions…some who thought it was important and some who thought it was giving support to the wrong values. After some discussion back and forth we decided to show it in the library only and I think now it was the right decision because of the wide range of opinions and emotions in the school around this momentous occasion. The dilemma seemed to be whether or not we should be giving hateful politics any space at all in our school community. Better to have staff on hand and nearby for students who are wrestling with the same strong emotions we’re having. I side with providing information openly first and then we can work through our disparate reactions together. That’s my job and it gets me out of bed every morning.
We didn’t make any announcements at all, but I started to set up about an hour before Trump’s speech and the students just started pouring in. We have simply not had the technology before now to do this before and it was surprisingly easy. I put up a question trying to focus on a critical thinking aspect of whatever we were about to see. “What words does he use to persuade the audience?” That was as neutral as I could manage. I also made sure that the students knew they didn’t have to stay and that there was a quieter area in the lower library. As the speech began I estimate that we had 150 students and 7 staff members watching. We spoke quietly with the students asking what they thought of the words being used. The end of his speech really enflamed some passionate responses but everyone was in control and respectful. Just before the end of lunch, the videostream ended.
It inspired wonder! Curiosity! I heard:
“I wonder why they chose January 20th to begin his presidency?”
“I wonder how Trump’s changes will affect our economic relationship with the U.S.?”
“Is that racist?” “Are those all of Trump’s children?” “Are there any black people in the audience?
I know it was the right thing to do. This is why civic places exist in democracy. It may be difficult to work through the issues we all feel are most important, but on my watch my library will continue to be a place where issues and voices can co-exist.
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” – Audre Lorde, African American writer, feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist