by Eli Morey
Energy was high July 7 as library employees, union leaders, activists, and concerned citizens packed the union hall of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 962 to share their stories and voice their outrage at the systemic racism, ableism, and general incompetence and corruption found at the highest levels of the Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL).
The Indianapolis Liberation Center hosted the forum in conjunction with the local leadership of AFSCME Local 3395. The message was clear: The voices of those affected by institutional racism in the library and jump-starting further struggle should be amplified.
The main demand of the movement is—voiced initially by Flannelly and other library employees—is for the firing of IndyPL CEO Jackie Nytes and Board President Jose Salinas, who many see as the most powerful and guilty defenders of an institution plagued by racism. That demand is growing in the community.
“There needs to be removal of the CEO…” Flannelly reiterated via video call to those in attendance of the liberation forum, “removal of anyone who is abusive or obstructive. There needs to be an evaluation of leaders at every level, where it is not acceptable to just do the basic baseline. If you are a leader, you should have a vision for the people you serve!”
The other demand is for more worker and community control over the library.
Workers share stories and call for a fight-back movement
AFSCME union member and Central Library employee, Stephen Lane, shared at the forum that through research he had discovered instances of racism in the system as far back as the 1930s, when white employees of the Riverside branch tracked the addresses and schedules of African American children in order to purposefully exclude them from enjoying library services.
Lane went on to emphasize the importance of his AFSCME union membership as one of the few tools in the hands of the IndyPL workers for fighting back against abusive management.
“All of us workers are in this union for a reason. It provides a layer of protection from the discrimination that is faced within the work culture of the library and one way for staff to come together to talk collectively about many issues and concerns within the workplace.”
“I will say without a doubt that the toxicity in our work environment is concentrated at the top,” Lane added.
While outrage and disgust towards library leadership are high, the overriding tone of Wednesday’s liberation forum was one of determination and optimism. In her remarks, Party for Socialism and Liberation member Adrianna Madison emphasized the power of working-class struggle and solidarity.
“The history of this country, and of institutional racism, is also the history of Black working people and workers of all races coming together and struggling for their liberation. History shows us that when we dare to struggle, we dare to win.”
The struggle is ongoing. Organizers emphasize that the movement for systemic change is only beginning, and continue to strategize about how to support library workers in their struggle.
On Friday, July 9, demonstrators will protest for their demands at the Library Distribution Center (2450 N. Meridian) at 6:30 p.m.