Philly activists keep libraries open

January 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA--Activists have won another victory against the slated budget cuts here.

On December 30, the day before 11 neighborhood libraries were set to be closed, Judge Idee Fox issued an injunction, halting the closures. She ruled that Mayor Michael Nutter needs a vote from the City Council in order to shutter the libraries.

Now, the mayor must win an appeal or get support from the City Council, which has already called for a six-month delay on any library closures.

Nutter has proposed $1 billion in cuts in the next five years, much of which will come out of social services. Initial cuts included permanently closing 11 of the city's 53 libraries, cutting seven fire companies, 68 public pools, leaf and trash pickup, and snow plowing. Many of these services are being cut in the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

People outraged with the closures organized protests at threatened neighborhood libraries across the city, often drawing hundreds. The mayor was forced to organize eight town-hall meetings to defend his extremely unpopular cuts. Hundreds came out to each meeting to challenge the mayor and recommend alternatives. One suggestion was to rescind the city's generous tax abatement program, which has lined the pockets of developers.

In neighborhoods that saw the most resistance to cuts, protesters held signs and regularly interrupted the meetings with booing and chants. Activists filled the courtroom for the two-day hearing on an injunction to keep the libraries open, an important factor in our victory.

The fight is far from over, however. The mayor is pursuing an appeal, scheduled to begin February 25. He has gone on the offensive, blaming the decision and library activists for obstructing his plans to reopen closed branches as privatized "knowledge centers," which will leave many library services missing. He is also instituting unnecessary rolling closures of libraries in order to punish library patrons and divide neighborhoods against each other.

The mayor has promised more budget cuts in addition to those already imposed on the Fire, Sanitation and Recreation Departments. In the coming days, activists will have to decide whether to broaden the fight to take on other cuts of our needed social services.

Despite Nutter's attempt to demoralize activists and divide the city, activists have only gained confidence. The Coalition to Save the Libraries is organizing regular "People's Court" hearings to help combat Nutter's PR offensive.

This exciting movement in Philadelphia is the kind of thing that can help boost the struggle against budget cuts nationwide.

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