Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Citizens Defending Libraries Main Page

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . .  fund 'em, don't plunder 'em 

SIGN OUR PETITION TO SUPPORT LIBRARIES:  Sign our new updated petition here:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
You can also stay informed by following us on Twitter (@DefendLibraries) and by liking our Citizens Defending Libraries Facebook page. And we post videos on our Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.
When We Started and Why

Citizens Defending Libraries was founded in February of 2013 in response to then breaking headlines about how, across the city, our public libraries were proposed to be sold and shrunk at great public loss, with libraries being intentionally underfunded, their books and librarians eliminated.  Citizens Defending Libraries was first to point out how the the real estate industry's interest in turning libraries into real estate deals was driving such sales and the reduction of funding and library resources.

Achievements

Citizens Defending Libraries has had a number of significant successes fending off and preventing library sale and shrinkages and there has been some progress towards restoration of the funding of libraries to a proper pre-library-sales plan level of proper funding.  These successes include: 
    •    The sale of Mid-Manhattan, the most used circulating library in Manhattan, was prevented with the help of two lawsuits in which Citizens Defending Libraries was first in the list of named plaintiffs.  That sale was prevented as Citizens Defending Libraries joined with others to successfully derail the New York Public Library’s ill-conceived consolidating shrinkage of major Manhattan libraries known as the Central Library Plan.  Citizens Defending Libraries accurately predicted this sell-off and shrinkage of libraries was likely to cost over $500 million, far more than the $300 advertised by the NYPL as it promoted its real estate deals.  Unfortunately, work remains to be done as aspects of the Central Library Plan still ominously survive:
    •        The NYPL still plans to sell and close the largest science library in New York City, SIBL, the Science Industry and Business Library, eliminating its collection of science books just when they are needed most,
    •        Millions of additional books are still missing from and need to be brought back to the 42nd Street Central Reference Library at Fifth Avenue (yes that's the building with the lions, Patience and Fortitude).
    •        The NYPL still plans to subject the Mid-Manhattan Library to a consolidating shrinkage with a concomitantly vast reduction in available books.
    •    The sale and closing of another beloved central destination in Manhattan, the 5-story Donnell Library is now widely understood to have been a mistake. Library administration officials now apologize acknowledging it was a significant mistake, but that is only so long as we keep reminding the public what was lost and how the library was sold for a pittance, while real estate industry insiders like Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner benefitted from this first “shrink-and-sink” deal by replacing it with luxury tower, a tiny underground and largely bookless library in its base.
    •    Working with others in the community, we have so far prevented the sale the Pacific Branch Library, the first Carnegie in Brooklyn, next to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards megadevelopment (now aka “Pacific Park”), which in 2013 the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) announced was one of its two highest priorities to sell as it launched a program of real estate deal sell-offs.
    •    For almost four years, from 2013 to 2017, we delayed and fended off the sale and destruction of Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library, which included the central Business Career and Education Library and a now shuttered Federal Depository Library making federal documents, records, and history available to the public.  This was another “shrink-and-sink” sale of property, also next to (and involving) Forest City Ratner property was the BPL’s other first announced highest priority.  Again, a luxury tower will stand where an important central destination library once stood.  Garnering over 2,000 testimonies from the community we surprised everybody by causing Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to come out against the project after it was launched.  It was also reportedly the subject of a “play-to-play” investigation with respect to the development team that was an inferior bidder channeling funds to Mayor de Blasio.  That investigation appears to have been dropped immediately after Donald Trump stunned the public by firing U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
    •    We alerted the public and Red Hook community about “Spaceworks,” a real estate company formed Mayor Bloomberg’s administration to shrink libraries viewing library space as being under utilized we helped to prevent the already woefully small 7,500 square foot Red Hook library from being shrunk down to just 5,500 square feet.  Brooklyn Community Board 6 helped kill the shrinkage.  (While we also worked to get the word out to the Williamsburg community about a proposed shrinkage there with Spaceworks being handed the second floor of the Williamsburg Library, we were not able to act fast enough and Councilman Steve Levin and Brooklyn Community Board 1 were supporting the scheme.)
     •    We alerted the Sunset Park community about long-secret plans to sell the Sunset Park Library and redevelop it into a mixed used project.  We believe that because we were on the scene to shine this spotlight, and also because the BPL wanted to overcome our opposition to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, Sunset park is the first time the BPL actually proposed to enlarge one of the the libraries it was targeting for sale.  That will be a sort of victory if there is no subsequent bait-and-switch.  Unfortunately, it is not a perfect victory.  Our sense is that for good and valid reasons the informed Sunset Park community was still largely, perhaps 90%, opposed to the library replacement plan they were not involved in developing and from which they will suffer while the library is closed for many years before it is replaced.  Unfortunately, those who were in place to fight for the Sunset Park community’s interests did not ultimately defend them.  That includes Brooklyn Community Board 7 and City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries was also on the scene to shine a spotlight and help put things quickly in perspective for the Inwood Community when the NYPL announced it wanted to turn the Inwood Library into a real estate deal, likely also as a part of an effort to help push through a upzoning of the area.
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries similarly sounded the alarm before word was out publicly about a proposal for a consolidating shrinkage of the Brower Park Library with the Prospect Heights Children’s Museum (reversing a previous expansion).
     •    Citizens Defending Libraries has been engaged in an education and publicity campaign.  It included:
     •        Forums, including a mayor forum during the 2013 election with most of the candidates endorsing our proposals that libraries be properly funded, not sold and shrunk.  Mayor de Blasio, whose position we changed during the campaign, joined with us in July to proclaim that our libraries should not be sold saying: “It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  Unfortunately, by October he was taking money from developers behind the curtain.
        •    As a result of our activism there have been hearings about the sale and shrinkage of libraries starting with a very important June 27, 2013 New York State Assembly hearing that embarrassed city library administration officials. 
       •    A letter of support signed by multiple community organizations, electeds and candidates running for office.
        •   In May of 2016 Citizens Dfending Libraries was honored to be a recipient of the Historic Districts Council's Grassroots Preservation Award.
Despite our battles won, our NYC libraries are still besieged by a major war and the threat of such plans.

What libraries are affected?
Library officials said early on that they wanted to sell the most valuable NYC libraries first.  And indeed, that is exactly what the NYPL did when its first move was to sell the central destination Donnell Library, a library that was documented to be on most valuable block in Manhattan at the time.  Similarly, the concurrently launched Central Library Plan with its proposed sale of the Mid-Manhattan Library focused on the choicest real estate.  The BPL did the same thing prioritizing two prime site libraries adjacent to Forest City Ratner property for probable luxury towers, the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Pacific Branch library.  Unfortunately, the libraries that are most valuable to real estate developers are also the most valuable to the public for very similar reasons, including central accessible locations.

The most valuable libraries may be at the top of this list, but all libraries in the New York City system are currently under siege.  All libraries are under siege because of the deliberate, unprecedented and absolutely unnecessary underfunding of NYC libraries that is being presented as an excuse to sell libraries affects all libraries in all our city's boroughs.

All libraries in the New York City system should also be considered currently under siege because each and every library sale becomes precedent and a model for the next.  The shrink-and-sink sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library replicates the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library (in fact it was conceived at the same time with the same people in the background).  Moreover, BPL president Linda Johnson told the City Council when it was approving the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library sale that it would be a model for future library deals by all three city library systems, the BPL, which she heads, the NYPL and the Queens Library.  Johnson has referred to herself as head of the Brooklyn Library system as having "over 1,000,000 square feet of real estate" at her disposal.

While Library officials are attracted to seizing for conversion the most valuable libraries first, they are also usually tactically coy about their plans. At this point they openly acknowledge going after only a few libraries at a time.  They go after the very valuable ones they want and they also go after the libraries where they believe they have ascertained that they can overcome community opposition and expect that they can, at the same time, perhaps achieve another objective that attracts them, like laying the groundwork for an upzoning in Inwood or establish and entrench a principle of reduction as with Spaceworks in Red Hook and Williamsburg.

For more details about affected libraries click here:  What Libraries Are Affected By City Strategy Of Defunding, Shrinking, Selling Off Libraries?

Are The Libraries Being Shrunk, Pushed Underground, Books and Librarians Eliminated Because the World Is "Going Digital"?

Although the people promoting library sales and elimination of books would like to use as an excuse that the world is going digital, that is not the case.  New York City libraries are more used than ever.  Although use was up 40% programmatically, most of the recent increased use is in terms of circulation, 59%, and almost all of that circulation is physical books.  That is despite an effort by NYC library administration officials to steer people into the use of digital books (which, maybe surprisingly, are actually more expensive for the libraries) and away from what they derisively refer to as "old-fashioned analogue books."

While digital books sometimes have some advantages the general population tends to prefer physical books.  Further, there are advantages with physical books related to the way people learn and think and there are problems and concerns about digital books that need to be considered.  See:  Physical Books vs. Digital Books.

At the same time, libraries do need to address digital needs and provide access to the internet; they need to help bridge the so-called "digital divide" between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who don't.  For that reason libraries should actually be growing to address these expanded needs rather than shrinking.  In this regard it is, indefensible and inexplicable that two top-notch libraries with some of the most advanced and robust support of computer and internet libraries, SIBL the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library and the downtown Brooklyn Heights Library with its Business, Career and Education Library, were both targeted for simultaneous elimination.

Are Libraries Just Too Expensive a Luxury to Pay For?

In the overall scheme of things, New York City libraries cost virtually nothing.  When it comes to libraries, no matter how you slice and dice it, we are dealing with total funding figures that come to fractions of a percentage point, this despite the fact that, economically, libraries more than pay for themselves, and: “More people visited public libraries in New York than every major sports team and every major cultural institution combined.”

Notwithstanding, subsidies to sports venues like the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” arena dwarf what we spend on libraries. In 8 years when we spent at least $620 million on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) that amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.

The underfunding of libraries is notwithstanding that libraries are one of the public's top priorities. The city’s 59 community boards ranked library services as their“third highest budget concern” and“Brooklyn’s community boards ranked libraries their top priority.”  In 2013 when the NYC Comptroller polled the public about its priorities for "The People's Budget" libraries were again one of the very top priorities.

Valuable in so many ways in their own right, libraries must also be considered an essential adjunct to schools and ensuring proper education and literacy of the population.  One thing that a recurring trope in science fiction scripts gets right is that there is a high correspondence, if not quite one-to-one correlation, between the demise of great libraries and the collapse of once great civilizations.

NYC Libraries Are Being Sold For Huge Losses And For Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

People ask whether the public is at least getting good deals or "value" when we sell our libraries.  We absolutely are not.  We are selling our libraries for far less than their worth and far less than we have invested in them.  The losses are actually profoundly embarrassing notwithstanding the proclivity of library officials to deceptively characterize proceeds from sales as "profits," and as "hefty" rather than "paltry."  That's been true since the beginning. . .

. . .  The first library sold, the Donnell Library, the central destination, 97,000-square foot, five-story central destination library on what was documented to be the most valuable block in Manhattan at the time, was sold to net the NYPL less than $25,000 million.  The penthouse in the luxury tower that replaced it in the 50-story luxury tower replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.  Another single lower-level condo unit in the luxury building, 43A, sold for $20,110,437.50.  There is also a 114 guest room luxury hotel in the tower.  according to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese investors made that hotel,“the most highly valued hotel in the U.S.” after agreeing to buy it for “more than $230 million. . .  .more than $2 million a room.”

. . . The central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern and up-to-date libraries in the system would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city sold it for less than its tear-down value, for less than its value as a vacant lot, and because it was sold to a developer who's inferior bid was not the highest bid, it's sale became the subject of one of the pay-to-play investigations of the de Blasio administration.  When costs are finally calculated it is likely the city and library administration officials will have netted less than $25 million from this library's ruination.

. . . In two suspicious real estate deals the NYPL has sold the 34th Street SIBL library, the city's biggest science library . . . . .

TO READ MORE- Click:  TO READ MORE- Click: Libraries Being Sold For Huge Losses And Minuscule Fractions of Their Value

Who Is Selling Our Libraries?

The plans to sell our libraries were announced under the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration and it appears that they go back to at least 2005 and probably at least 2004.  Prior to the Bloomberg administration, NYC libraries were being expanded significantly under the Giuliani administration.  During the 2013 mayoral race, candidate Bill de Blasio said that the library sales should be halted, but in short order Mr. de Blasio was taking money from real estate developers "behind the curtain  . .very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Once in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued with the library sales he decried as a candidate, although, to give the devil his due, de Blasio did not proceed with the full-blown NYPL Central Library Plan.  While the Mid-Manhattan library is now being subjected to a consolidating shrinkage it is no longer being sold straight out, but, under Mayor de Blasio we are still selling SIBL the city's biggest science library.  We are also still exiling research books off premises from where they were once readily and quickly retrievable at the 42nd Street Library.


There are other elected officials that are avidly taking the lead pushing these city library sales.  Foremost among them is city council member Brad Lander.  Also clearly conspicuous in his enthusiastic and unrelenting support for these plans is Jimmy Van Bramer head of the City Council Cultural Committee of which the city council's library subcommittee is a sub-component he domainates in leading.  .  .

 . .  Each particular local city council member must also be held responsible for what happens to the libraries in their districts, but revelations are that many of them, like Councilman Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg libraries), Ydanis Rodriguez (Inwood Library) and Carlos Manchacca (Sunset Park Library), were brought on board behind the scenes in advance to  . . .

TO READ MORE (including about the involvement of a Trump presidential son-in-law, Blackstone's Steve Schwarzman, the library boards of trustees, law enforcing officials standing idly by the sidelines and what are supposed to be charitable organizations serving the public) - Click:  WHO Is Selling Our Libraries?

When Did The Plans To Sell Libraries (Plus The Launching of The Concomitant Underfunding of Libraries) Begin?
Chart from Center From an Urban Future report showing sharp decline in funding (coinciding with plans to sell off/"leverage" libraries) against escalating use.  
As noted, although plans to sell NYC libraries were not announced by the Mayor Michael Bloomberg administration until much later, those plans actually to go back to at least 2005 or probably 2004David Offensend was hired by the NYPL in June of 2004 and, though he is imprecise, he says that he started working on library deals not long after his arrival there.  Janet Offensend, his wife, who helped launch BPL library sales started haunting the BPL and its board in 2005.  Other city development officials were being positioned by Mayor Bloomberg on the BPL board around that time.  (The Bloomberg administration took office January 1, 2002, shortly after 9/11.  By contrast, the Giuliani administration implemented library expansion plans that carried over into the early Bloomberg years.)

The BPL's minutes for 2005 show that in January a developer, perhaps jumping the gun based on inside knowledge, was angling to buy the 12,200 square-foot Midwood Library.  In November 2006 the New York Times ran a little noticed article about tearing down “obsolete” branch libraries to produce “new,” "better" library space in multi-use developments saying that a study had produced "an inventory of nearly every branch library in New York City" to identify "candidates for redevelopment" (like the "Red Hook, Sunset Park and Brower Park" libraries and the "Clinton Hill Library," which involves pushing through an accompanying rezoning.)  The article mentions "deferred maintenance" as a reason to redevelop the libraries.

In May of 2006 it was revealed that four Connecticut librarians had won a fight, secret because of a gag order since it began in July 2005, to resist broad federal surveillance of their library patrons.

Although the public did not know what it needed to know in order to see it happening, 2007 and 2008 were extremely eventful years in terms of furthering the plans to sell NYC libraries: 
2007 
    •    In January 2007, Booz Allen Hamilton (known principally as a private surveillance firm, the "colossus" in the industry, working for the federal government) was hired to assist the NYPL trustees with their strategy of the sale and reformulating of libraries.
    •    In the Summer of 2007 the Mayor Bloomberg and First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris expressed enthusiasm for the NYPL’s plans to sell and redevelop major central destination Manhattan Libraries.
         •    In November The Donnell Library sale was announced . . . .

TO READ MORE (a complete timeline of library sale events and maneuvers in 2007, 2008 and right through to to the formation of Citizens Defending Libraries) - Click: When Did Library Selling and Underfunding Begin?

It's Not Just The Real Estate Industry Threatening Libraries


While most New Yorkers are attuned to the power and excesses of the city real estate industry and therefore easily understand its role as a key motivator in the assault on libraries, it's unfortunately naive to believe that only the real estate industry has an agenda that is adverse to the tradition of continuing libraries as the democratic commons we have known them to be.

This gets us into some other big questions. TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats

Control of Information

Does dumbing down the public make sense, is it truly workable if you want an effective democracy?  The availability and control of information, including in libraries as copious storehouses of information, has always long disconcerted authoritarians.  For instance, is it surprising to know that Senator Joseph McCarthy exercised his influence to ban from U.S. controlled libraries the music and scores of the "Fanfare For The Common Man" composer Aaron Copeland, because McCarthy believed  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats 
No doubt there are those for whom it would be preferable if information in libraries was tidily circumscribed so that it just slipstreams comfortably behind the limited thinking and reporting of the corporate conglomerate controlled national media.  That's a corporate media which among other things and by example underreports the climate change crisis, and  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
 While the tradition has been to protect and preserve the information entrusted to libraries, information on the internet can be startlingly evanescent, its continued existence subject to decisions made by whim or out of wrath about what the public should see. . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
The Internet And Digital as Business

As the world speeds into digital, it is important to recognize the pull and tugs of what the internet corporations would like, including reasons for wanting things to go digital.  There are reasons why, when just five or six (as of 2017) people control as much wealth as half of the rest of the world's population, that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon (and Washington Post) owner Jeff Bezos, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are three for them (with another Carlos Slim Helu incidentally, as part of his media holdings, being the largest shareholder of the New York Times.  Those reasons coincide with the reasons Apple, Google/Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are all vying (along with Exxon Mobile) for the spot as largest U.S. company.

 . . . Think where all this money comes from.  There is, of course, the ubiquitous advertising, as the pop-up ads that saturate far-flung corners of the internet will remind you, just as advertising saturates the monopolistically owned TV and radio airwaves.  There is also the data-scraping.  As the "old internet saw" was quoted when Google was wiring all of NYC's streets for wireless internet "for free": "If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product."  What the private internet companies know about you helps target you . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats (or start by reading some of the snippets in different categories below.)
Privatized Political Advantage

Among those buying the data are political parties and their campaign operations looking to control the elected seats of government. Now with unprecedented insight into your preferences, those actors and operatives use the data to decide, with tools like gerrymandering, how much your vote should or should not be allowed to count.  With "voter preference files" that contain tens of thousands of "sets of data points" they have graduated from "microtargeting specific groups" to "nanotargeting" with different kinds of messages (whether true or not) designed elicit particular `emotional responses' from voters.  "Pay to sway" services supply a smorgasbord of  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Owning Ideas and Culture to Charge For Them

The content industry has its wants as well.  Its purveyors desire, for instance, to get the public out to the very latest movie you see touted on billboards, simultaneously on the sides of city buses, via the ads on Comedy Central and other channels, perhaps also boosted by a "sponsorship" mention on your local public radio station as it does featurette reporting . . . 
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
A Reduction to Dollar$ Sense

. . Traditional libraries have always stood as models opposite to the concept that everything in the world, plus everything that ought to be prioritized and perpetually pushed to the fore should exist in stripped-down monetizable dimensions.  To evaluate the world exclusively in the very limited terms of seeing things in terms of just numbers or only following the money is, in an of itself, impoverishing.  A 2015 report published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review studied how  . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Surveillance

The last big subject to mention bears a relationship to the first topic.  When the government, whoever is in charge, isn't actually preventing citizens from reading certain books it might proscribe, it can, nevertheless, be interested in surveiling what books and information members of the public are reading.  In theory, this could allow the government to  . . . .
TO READ MORE- Click: Examining The Panoply of Threats
Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled? The Poor, The Racially  Discriminated Against, Scholars, Future Leaders

Defunding and dismantling our libraries hurts society broadly, probably more broadly than many may have considered.

It is, of course, usually recognized that cutting back on library services significantly impacts low-income neighborhoods relying on them.  A PowerPoint presentation to the Queens Library board told it that library service is most important to low-income users: 2/3rds visit at least weekly, & almost 30% visit every/most days.  A recent Pew research Center report says "Low-income Americans, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than others to say that a library closing would impact their lives and communities," see them as community anchors, and use them to pursue jobs.  And it's been astutely commented that wherever it happens the loss of libraries is "another surefire way to entrench inequality."
 
Researchers and students also use the libraries.  Arguing to destroy libraries, the NYPL tried a divide-and-conquer-the-community approach suggesting that the research library was elitist and not sufficiently populist when in any given year the researchers and students at its 42nd Street central reference library consult "only 6% of print sources."  The same argument was being used to thin out collections at neighborhood libraries and move books off-site from those locations too.  That "6%" consultation rate was referred to by Ada Louise Huxtable in her very last column, published just weeks before her death (Wall Street Journal: Undertaking Its Destruction, December 3, 2012), in which she lambasted the NYPL's Central Library Plan including its stingy thinking that books should not be kept on hand if they are consulted infrequently:
If we could estimate how many ways in which the world has been changed by that 6%, the number would be far more meaningful than the traffic through its lion-guarded doors. The library's own releases, while short on details, consistently offer a rosy picture of a lively and popular "People's Palace." But a research library is a timeless repository of treasures, not a popularity contest measured by head counts, the current arbiter of success. This is already the most democratic of institutions, free and open to all. Democracy and populism seem to have become hopelessly confused.
Among other things, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and SIBL are the libraries for the graduate students at CUNY, the City University of New York, who  . . . .

TO READ MORE (about how the benefits of libraries are transmitted throughout society, the racial discrimination in selling libraries and divide and divide-and-conquer-the-community ploys) - Click: Who Is Hurt Most When Libraries Are Defunded and Dismantled?

How Many Books Are Disappearing?


Venturing into a library to witness scads of empty book shelves is a disorientating experience.  The empty shelves constitute early warning signs: Empty shelves at Mid-Manhattan Library, SIBL, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Grand Army Plaza Library, the 42nd Street Central Reference Library have meant that these libraries have been targeted to be involved in library sale and shrinkage plans.

It is stunning how many books have disappeared and become unavailable, multiple millions overall.  (Library administration officials have done their best to obscure true counts of the reductions.)  If the books disappear from targeted libraries far enough in advance library administration officials can deceptively promise that there will be as many books after the shrinkage of the library as before.  Another deception is for library officials to claim that if books are exiled to be consolidated elsewhere in a "deduping" center there will actually be "more" books as a result.  ("Deduping" is euphemism for book elimination, the idea being the more books you consolidate in a central location the more books you have that are "duplicates" to be eliminated.)

Amazingly, despite the increasing difficulty in obtaining books NYC book circulation is going up and circulation increases are mainly the physical books that patrons generally prefer.  The idea that because some books (not all- for instance, Robert Caro's "The Power Broker") are available digitally we no longer need libraries to supply physical books is a myth.  That library administration officials disparage physical books as "old-fashioned analogue books" or just "artifactual originals" or that those officials will spend more money to push people in to digital reading than what spending on physical books costs does not make that myth any more true.

When library officials solicit contributions from the general public they will jive about how they are asking for that money in order to buy more books because they know that is a vision the public will support and respond favorably to, but at the same time library officials are less than transparent about how they are actually removing books from library premises and from the system entirely.

For more information about how many millions of books have disappeared from which libraries . .

TO READ MORE- Click: How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

Why Turning Libraries Into Real Estate Deals Isn't The Good Deal Library and City Development Officials Describe

At first blush, many people have accepted what city development and library officials have regularly asserted about the deals launching this city-wide program of converting libraries into real estate deals (or, similarly, "redeveloping" our schools for that matter), that by "unlocking" library real estate development rights with multi-use developments it is a "win-win" proposition that benefits the libraries as well as the developers and real estate industry.

The offer of a free lunch is a tempting thing to hope for, but it doesn't bear scrutiny.  The math, when you do it, simply doesn't work out: It is expensive to tear down existing, frequently recently renovated libraries that the public has already invested substantially in.  When these development ideas are promoted the math goes from initial wishful fantasies, to deliberately obfuscated lack of transparency, to outright mendacious misrepresentation.  If library officials had insisted that the Donnell Library or the Brooklyn Heights Library be fully and completely replaced when they were sold (irrespective or their spaces being shoved underground), the sales would have to be calculated showing deep and obviously absurd public losses. . .

There is also the disruption that affects the public. And, although library and city officials try to skip over the point, when library assets are being divested, the libraries are, in the process, shedding their opportunities for future expansion and to keep pace as the city grows.

Moreover and probably most important, such multi-use development schemes force the libraries to "partner" with powerful private real estate interests that ultimately wind up in the drivers seat, setting the priorities with big checkbooks that bankroll false and misleading PR.  With the moneyed interests throwing their weight around, the public is exposed to bait-and-switch variations.  The Donnell Library sale deal that was described to the press and public when it was announced in no way resembled the deal that was consummated.

Selling Libraries And The Broader Issue of Private Sector Plunder of Public Property

Libraries are not our only public commons that are undemocratically under attack.  The attacks on libraries reflect a much wider scourge of plundering our public assets with the selling off and privatizing of schools, hospitals, public housing, parks, and even the privatization of our streets and sidewalks.  Accordingly, instead of just fighting the library fight, Citizens Defending Libraries (and you can join us) has reached out to other activists to hold a series of forums on the selling off of public assets and help engender and understanding of the commonalty of the threats and tactics an subterfuges we see.  For instance, as Noam Chomsky has explained one such "standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don't work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.". .  (In other words, when the door is open to privatization and sell-off there is an inducement to underfund.)  And then, with the transfer to private ownership, the result for public gets even worse.

Some of The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For 

City and library officials working with real estate developers trot out a standard set of misleading falsehoods and ploys to promote library sales.  If you think they sound good, watch out, often what they are saying is pretty much opposite to the real truth.

Want to know what lies to watch out for? . .

TO READ MORE- Click: The Biggest Lies To Watch Out For When Official Sell Libraries

(Read about: lies about public process * Lies about how to oppose a sale * Lies that "replacement" libraries will be as big or bigger *  Lies that libraries are too "dilapidated" to fix * The "same number of books" lie)

Where Does It Go From Here?  What Can You do?

One thing you can do is consider this a worthy cause and inform yourself and others about it.  Protection and preservation of our libraries is something that most people instantly and automatically understand.  As one member of our group observed early on: "If you can't stop them at libraries, where can you stop them?"  That's why we must stop them.. .

 . .  But also, because people do understand what it means to protect libraries, because they understand it in their very bones, the protection of libraries is an issue and a cause that can be used as a fulcrum to push back on the many other issues that relate to it, the impoverishing privatizations of public assets in general, abuses of the real estate industry, the corrupting influence of money in politics, inequality of power and wealth and the abuses of power by the wealthy. 

What Can We Do Next?

TO READ MORE- Click: How to Defend Our Libraries.

(Read about: Altering the law * Insisting on transparency * defending library buttons * Our Letter of Support * Our petition * Our mailing List * Testimony at public hearings *  Birddogging elected officials  *  Contacting the press *  Social media * Having us speak to yous community organization * Letters to the editor/comment on web articles * Research help * FOIL assistance * Singing the marvelous Judy Gorman library song )



The morning crowd waiting for the Brooklyn Heights downtown library to open
The Petition Being Put Forth By Citizens Defending Libraries

The first petition (gathered over 17,000 signature, most of them online- available at signon.org with a background statement and can still be signed).   On June 16, Citizens Defending libraries issued a new updated petition that you can sign now:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
CONTACT: To contact Citizens Defending Libraries email MDDWhite (at) aol.com.

The archive of our previous web page (used into December 2017) can be found by clicking HERE.

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Flourish of Stories About So-Called Philanthropy Being Used As A Guise For Diminishing The Public Commons– That Includes Libraries

There’s a bouquet of new stories blossoming about how what wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations would have us accept as `generous philanthropy’ is actually money deployed as a force to seize influence, diminish the public commons, control public discourse, and supplant the narratives in our culture about what is truly for the public good, who is doing good and who isn’t.

If this sounds familiar to fellow library defenders, it could be because of information we have previously supplied about, for instance, who is one the boards of our NYC libraries and their private sector conflicts of interest (Brooklyn Public Library Trustees- Identified + Biographical and Other Information Supplied), and how readily the board of “charitable” institutions like libraries are getting off track (Why Nonprofit Boards May Stray From Their Core Missions And Obligations To the Public- Considered Generally And Particularly With Respect To Libraries).

It might also be because you recall what we have written recently respecting these themes talking about Anand Giridharadas, author of  “The Elite Charade of Changing the World” (we've written about him before).  Now, in yet one more very valuable interview by “On The Media” you can hear Giridharadas (who says “that “giving has become the wingman of taking. Generosity has become the wingman of injustice. Changing the world has become the wingman of rigging the system”) address these theme again.  See: On The Media-  How Philanthropy Lets Rich People Off the Hook.

The “On The Media” story was generated after “philanthropic” pledges from wealthy individuals in France for repair of Notre Dame Cathedral.  It’s quickly been noted that these same individuals who were seeking acclaim for their “charity” as they readily unearthed cash for the cathedral have been saying they can’t afford to pay taxes and claim that they currently pay too much in taxes.  There was even a synchronous effort made to get their taxes lowered still further: In effect, through the treatment of their ‘charitable’ deductions, to have the government pay for restoration of the cathedral while the wealthy got credit and naming rights.  (There is fear that in order that this can be done more ostentatiously, those jostling into the limelight might even restore the cathedral with an anachronistic glass ceiling via, perhaps, Norman Foster who was involved in the NYPL's Central Library Plan.)

Giridharadas seems to be getting better and better at his interviews, sharpening his expression of the issues if not his analysis itself.  In his “On The Media” interview he speaks about what people should be skeptical about when the wealthy “give” enumerating three concerns:
    . . . One, is this giving single individuals or companies way too much power over public life? Number two, are these problems better solved by government? Where you have accountability, where you can throw people out in an election if they don't solve the problem and the right way. Number three, is the money that is being used to solve these social problems also culpable in the creation of these social problems?
On the subject of why Mark Zuckerberg’s “philanthropy” is problematic Giridharadas says:
I actually think journalists and regulators would have had way more aggressive scrutiny on Zuckerberg over the last 10 years [absent Zukerberg's `philanthropy']. So I'd be willing to lose whatever schools and disease programs Facebook has funded in exchange for having a healthier democracy where Facebook is in check. And I really do think in so many cases there's a link between these things. And a lot of these billionaires really understand that doing this giving buys you reputational space to keep doing the things you need to do to make money.
“Reputational space to keep doing the things you need to do to make money”: That obviously applies to the NYPL awkwardly renaming the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and putting on it the name of Stephen A. Schwarzman (as we have written before). . .                                              
. . .  Stephen A. Schwarzman is the head of the Blackstone Group (and the highest paid CEO in the country- the first $1 billion CEO).  Many are familiar with the fact that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library has awkwardly been renamed after Schwarzman, who, is not exactly about spreading the wealth or being magnanimous to the common man or general population.  He wants the poor to pay more taxes, while he pays, along with others in the hedge fund industry, an exceptionally low rate in taxes due to the carried-interest tax loophole, from which he personally benefits.  He has opposed that loophole's repeal saying repeal would be akin to the German invasion of Poland. And Mr. Schwarzman has also been leading the Trump administration’s initiative to privatize America’s public infrastructure. Mr. Schwarzman is a trustee of the NYPL.  
The “On the Media” story also mentions, for context, the Sacklers, the family that controls Purdue Pharmaceuticals.  Like Schwarzman they like their name up all over the place.  "On The Media" mentions how “in the face of mounting public pressure,” including dramatic protest demonstrations at the Guggenheim Museum, “Britain's National Portrait Gallery, New York's Guggenheim and the UK'S Tate Galleries have announced that they will no longer accept their money.”

That brings us to a recent FAIR Counterspin radio segment about activist work to reclaim our museums and public institutions from so-called wealthy philanthropists creating “reputational space” for the questionable things they continue to do while influencing public discourse narratives.  See: Amin Husain on Decolonizing Museums, Nikole Hannah-Jones on School Resegregation, May 10, 2019.

FAIR’s Counterspin text describing the show's segment reads:
This week on CounterSpin: If someone makes lots of money by, say, knowingly and cynically exacerbating opioid addiction, is it OK as long as they give some of that money to an art museum? Cultural institutions are important sites of public conversation, but the public doesn’t have much say in who gets to lead that conversation, or the stories they tell. Activists are asking us to talk about what that means, and what it would mean to change it. We’ll talk about accountability for cultural institutions with Amin Husain, core organizer with the group Decolonize This Place.
The Counterspin segment begins with a quick reference to the New York Museum of Natural History not allowing its museum space (its Hall of Ocean Life) to be used for a gala event by the Amazon ecosystem-destroying Jair Bolsonaro, the fascist president of Brazil (newly in charge in that country after a soft coup that imprisoned the former president and popular candidate Lula during the election and still holds Lula incommunicado).  The segment then proceeds to its central topic: Protests being organized concerning who is allowed to be in command of the resources of public cultural institutions like museums.  The Counterspin discussion with Amin Husain, of Decolonize This Place cites as a prime example, how Warren B. Kanders is on the board and vice-chair of the Whitney Museum.

Kanders is the owner of the Safariland Group that sells what it calls “non-lethal solutions,” which means that it supplies tear gas used against asylum seekers at the U.S. boarder, against the Furguson protestors, in Baltimore, by the repressive governments in Egypt and Turkey, plus the Safariland Group supplies lethal bullets used against Palestinians.  Mr. Husain points out that, at the same time Kanders is on the board, the Whitney is putting on exhibitions that “define what protest is” and what our art is.  Husain discusses how there is a “whole other economy going on” in museums and similar institutions based on the “one-percenters” determining what “aesthetics and culture” are, but notes that with people like Kander on the boards of such institutions they are not accountable to the communities they “claim to serve,” which raises questions about what these environments are “hospitable” to, even, as the Whitney, for instance, self-promotes and self-defines itself as a “progressive” institution.

Program host Janine Jackson commented about the “confused view of wealth” when people “make their money off misery,” while it is expected to somehow “all balance out” if they use that money for things like museum thus making these institutions “in some sense money launderers.”  Husain noted something else ingrained and related that the defines culture in the art world: How wealth finds a “home” as the art world creates a parking place, a repository for wealth, plus it creates a medium of exchange for great, often stolen, wealth (e.g. the $91 million Jeff Koons rabbit) while furnishing the wealthy with the benefit of tax write-offs.  Money is often being hidden this way.  Meanwhile, Husain notes these institutions are supposed to make rich people look better while they are engaged in ‘philanthropy that’s not really philanthropy.’  He said these institutions need to stop getting a pass on “pretending to be something good, but actually advancing something bad.”

Husain and his protestors are targeting the leadership of these institutions, not the employees, who often share these same criticism and concerns– Over 100 staff members of the Whitney joined in signing a letter calling for the removal of Kanders.

Fittingly, given that Counterspin is a media watchdog program, there was some discussion about the too frequently skewed, somewhat “containing” reporting of these protests by news media– An analogy was also made to how corporately-owned news media, like institutions such as museums, often purports to be serving the public, when it actually isn’t.   

Husain spoke about how these culture-defining excursions can be exclusionary and biased, saying it is important to be conscious how these institution are “not neutral” in ongoing public justice fights and dialogues.  He rhetorically asked how can you summon people in to spaces at the Whitney to speak out against fascism when there is someone like Warren Kanders on the board.  Husain concluded saying that challenging such leadership at these institutions was part of changing the nature of the conversation.  The public, he said, needs to reclaim these institutions.

Now, let’s progress more directly to the subject of libraries, starting with a Carnegie library.  Would the Whitney be better of if, rather than having to deal with Safariland Group associations, Apple just slapped its logos on the Whitney property?. . .

. . .  A new article up in the Boston Review makes the point that Andrew Carnegie’s style of giving, for instance, when he donated libraries all over this country (whatever questions his style raised), was far less problematic than what is going on now with the modern style of “philanthropy.”  The article’s case in point is Apple’s takeover of the Carnegie donated Washington Public Library.  See: The Boston Review: Apple's Newest Store and the Perverse Logic of Philanthro-Capitalism- The Apple Carnegie Library embodies recent developments in philanthropy that should trouble us: the uncritical valorization of philanthro-capitalism and the privatization of public goods and public spaces. Benjamin Soskis, May 21, 2019.

Benjamin Soskis, the article’s author, says: “The Apple Carnegie Library betrays the core goal of Carnegie's giving: to create fully public institutions. . .” and that Apple’s approach to an expensive physical restoration of the building “was not merely architectural.”  (“The library’s marble façade now glows, as do the two Apple logos that flank the entrance like totemic laptops.”)

Soskis observes:
It is true that plenty of knowledge will be diffused on the screens sold there. But in two fundamental respects, the Apple Carnegie Library embodies recent developments that betray the principles that animated Carnegie’s giving: the uncritical valorization of philanthro-capitalism and the privatization of public goods and public spaces. Carnegie’s philanthropy was certainly not unimpeachable—it was often warped by his own ego and eccentricity—but we don’t need to idealize it in order to admire elements of it, especially his library campaign. Indeed, reexamining that campaign should help us appreciate the problem with using Carnegie’s philanthropic legacy to promote the opening of an Apple store in the shell of Washington’s old public library.
He contrasts the Tech industry’s self-promotional furnishing of benefits with Carnegie’s ideal of truly public institutions:
    . .   Apple, and the tech industry more generally, has embraced a particular approach to philanthro-capitalism, one in which the products and services they profit from are presented as powerful forces for good themselves—today’s tech products forge social networks and connections, offer ladders for the aspiring to rise, and, yes, diffuse knowledge.

    . . . . Fundamental to Carnegie’s library campaign was the idea that they be fully public institutions—that is, democratically supported and tax-funded. In order for a town to receive funding to construct a Carnegie library, it needed to provide the site of the building, as well as an annual appropriation of 10 percent of the construction costs, in order to cover maintenance and upkeep, staff salaries, and books. . . .
Soskis’ analysis, citing Carnegie own words, that a man of wealth must consider himself “a mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer” tracks that of Carnegie biographer David Nasaw.

Nasaw at BPL
Speaking at the Brooklyn Public Library (of all places!) Mr. Nasaw made this point precisely, that Mr. Carnegie was actually very different from many of the wealthy today.  Saying that Carnegie had a lot in common with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Nasaw said that Carnegie was a  proponent of the “dangerous but cogent belief” that the wealthy hold their wealth “in trust for the benefit of the public.”  Carnegie did not believe that he should die possessed of wealth that he had not directed toward the public benefit (he actually failed to give his money away fast enough because of the rate at which it was coming in).  Nasaw said that, although, Carnegie considered himself to have a superior ability to administer and direct wealth, he viewed his ascendance to wealth as somewhat accidental, the luck of his being where two rivers converged at Pittsburgh where iron ore and coal for smelting were also plentiful.

We should mention that David Nasaw was also a co-plaintiff with Citizens Defending Libraries in two lawsuits seeking to stop the NYPL “Central Library Plan” selling and shrinking libraries and getting rid of books and librarians.  That plan was being funded in part, by Mr. Schwarzman, the ostensible reason his name was put on the 42nd Street library that it put in jeopardy.

Using Apple’s ambitions as example, Soskis’ speaks about the erosion of the public commons as private sector branding takes over:
    The Apple Carnegie Library is one of thirteen that the company has recently opened and introduced as “town squares,” shifting attention from the stores’ commercial purposes to their civic ones. . . .

    . . .  The “town square” label is an impressive branding effort, but no amount of rhetorical silting can hide the erosion of public space that has taken place on Mount Vernon Square. The Carnegie Library Apple store—let us call it that—is fundamentally a commercial venue, run by a corporation accountable to its shareholders. And it arrives on the scene when actual public libraries are both starved for resources and dramatically expanding their own civic functions . .
Soskis is thus echoing concerns raised by two prescient librarian authors of books we have written about before: John E. Buschman “Dismantling the Public Sphere– Librarianship In the Age of the New Public Philosophy” (2003) and Ed D’Angelo  “Barbarians at the gate of the Public Library: How Postmodern Consumer Capitalism Threatens Democracy, Civil Education and the Public Good” (2006). Each of those authors cite back to the concerns of Henry Giroux, who in a cover blurb endorsed D’Angelo’s book.  (One source to hear interviews with Giroux is the Project Censored Radio Show, a recent segment of which was an interview with Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White about the dismantlement of libraries.)

Our near final stop on this series of stories about so-called philanthropy as a guise for diminishing the public commons, including libraries, is our report on the Brooklyn Public Library’s May 22nd `charity’ gala honoring the private Ratner/Prokhorov Barclays basketball arena and the Nets basketball team.  See:  As The Brooklyn Public Library Holds Gala At The Barclays Arena Honoring Nets And Barclay’s Arena, Citizens Defending Libraries Is There With A Message: End Faux Philanthropy; Take Less And Don’t Sell Our libraries!

Citizens Defending Libraries was leafleting outside the gala.  Our chant (borrowing a bit from Mr. Giridharadas) was: “Put a stake in faux philanthropy: Take less and don’t sell our libraries!”

There was much that was especially troubling about the gala.  Linda Johnson, the president on the Brooklyn Public Library said when she arrived in her position at the BPL that turning libraries into real estate deals was her biggest priority. Topping the list for those deals: Two libraries next to Forest City Ratner property, including Brooklyn’s second biggest library.  The Ratner organization headed by mega-subsidy collector Bruce Ratner created the “Barclays” arena as part of the ill-famed Atlantic Yards eminent domain project.  The dots to be connected concerning library sales, the real estate industry and Ratner are myriad.  The latest connection: BPL president Linda Johnson has literally shacked up (in a Brooklyn Bridge Park apartment) with Bruce Ratner.

Yes, that, indeed, is the background for the BPL “honoring” (i.e. advertising) the private basketball arena.

The BPL’s press release for the event made several points about how this public commons is  “partnering” with arena.

In our flyer that we handed out we made the point that a huge amount of tax dollars had been diverted into subsidies for the private Barclays area while city public libraries were simultaneously starved.  Specifically, what was spent on the Barclays and sports arenas was “a sum more than one-third greater” than “the city committed for capital improvements to the its 206 branch libraries and four research centers” even though those libraries serve “roughly seven times as many people a year as attend baseball games.” (That’s not to mention that the teams are getting an additional $680 million in subsidies spread over 40 years.)

A basic point of the flyer that we handed out that evening is that we the taxpayers pay for our libraries, that "NYC Public Libraries Are Mostly Public Tax Dollar Funded," and that when taxpayer money is diverted into huge subsidies for projects like the private Barclays arena and then the BPL is induced to use our publicly funded libraries to advertise that private arena, it's not charity, and our public tax dollars are being stolen to support private interests. . .

Plus, as essentially all of the stories above observed, this amounts to a dismantlement and privatization of the public commons.

This `philanthropically' funded dismantling of the public commons is not the way it has to be: We make these rules up.

In a May 2017 interview, Jane Mayer, author of  “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” (it’s on another “On The Media Segment,” recently reprised) said that a lot of what we are looking at today in terms of the working of modern day politics is “set up as sort of an arm of `philanthropy.’”   That includes, as noted at the beginning of the interview segment, a general deployment of philanthropy to support the “preservation of capital for rich people.”  That includes, for example, concerted and well funded efforts to ensure we keep polluting the atmosphere with fossil fuels creating climate catastrophe.

It's all the result of rules created in 1916 to allow the wealthy to get tax breaks for giving money to charities.  It's money that is supposedly to serve the `public good.'  See: Dark Money and the Rise of Conservative Orthodoxy, May 31, 2019.

From the very beginning the danger of this was understood, in a way that it too little spoken about today.  Mayer says that when the Rockefeller family wanted to set up the first of these big philanthropies, the Rockefeller Foundation:
 it was incredibly controversial. There was bipartisan opposition from across the board. All of these congressmen and senators said, this is an undemocratic thing, to have a rich family be able to spend its money on public policy and get a tax deduction. They saw foundations as unaccountable to anybody but the super rich and playing a undemocratic role in the midst of our democratic society.
Stephen A. Schwarzman in Jane Mayer's book
The previously mentioned Stephen A. Schwarzman makes an appearance as one of the powerful billionaires in Mayer’s “Dark Money” book as a class warrior agitating to have the poor pay more in taxes and for the wealthy, like himself, to pay less, including through tax loopholes that make his own real estate exceptionally low.  Schwarzman, of course is the man who hopes to get a pass on “pretending to be something good, but actually advancing something bad” by having his name on the NYPL’s 42nd Street Central Reference Library.
(PS: For more about how money is being used to so that the public doesn't get what it wants, but should, see- Everybody’s Realizing It Now: The Political Establishment Is Not Willing To Give The Public The Things The Vast Majority Of Americans Want And That We Could Easily Have)

Candidate Films For Social Justice Film Series (by Brooklyn’s First Unitarian Universalist Weaving Social Justice Committee)

The following is a list of candidate social justice films that is being aggregated for discussion and consideration to create a Social Justice Film series to be sponsored by the Weaving social justice committee of Brooklyn's First Unitarian Universalist congregation in Brooklyn Heights.  The list is a work in progress and will be added to as people make suggestions of other films.  The series is expected to start, some time in the fall of 2019 or a little later and to be preceded by open discussion of films that might possibly be selected.   Information about the time and place will be furnished when determined.  (Note: It is possible to comment on this post as a way of participating.)


Citizens Defending Libraries and CDL co-founder Michael D. D. White are participating in the formulation of his series.

This list will be modified to include links to trailers for films that may be available.
LIST OF POTENTIAL CANDIDATE FILMS BEING AGGREGATED FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE FILM SERIES

Are some of films more valuable or less valuable for this series if they are potentially more controversial than others?
•    13th - (2016) by director Ava DuVernay.  Nominated for Academy Award, this film is about the mass incarceration of people of color in the Unites States as a perpetuation of slavery.  One consequence is the loss of the right to vote thus changing the shape of politics and who puts who into power. (100 minutes)

•    The Corporation - (2003) A Canadian documentary about how the structure of corporations (according to the rules we made up for them- and we do make up those rules) makes corporations antisocial in their behavior.  (145 minutes)

•     Ain’t I A Woman? - About the grueling work conditions of underpaid medicare paid 24/7 home health care workers.  The film, which has already been shown, is being refined in the process of being finalized.

•    The Lobby - (2017) This four-part documentary was censored and was not shown as a condition for Saudi Arabia agreeing not to launch its threatened militarily attack (in 2017/2018) against Qatar.  Following a young reporter who went undercover with hidden cameras and recording equipment to infiltrate AIPAC, it is about AIPAC’s hardball tactics to influence British and American politics and elections, including passage of laws against criticism the Israeli state’s conduct, equating such criticism with antisemitism.  The film also serves as primer on the working of politics and the ways that subsidies circle round to come back as lobbying for more speacila treatment. (Four one-hour episodes)

•    The Best Democracy That Money Can Buy - (2016 and often updated) A film about U.S. voter suppression by reporter Greg Palast told with a comic film noir solve-the-mystery style that focuses particularly on the contrived purge of minority voters from the voting roles in multiple states accross the country by Crosscheck and Koch-funded Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach who was later brought into the Trump administration to continue working in a similar vein in Washington D.C.. Does this affect election outcome?: A reason to see the film.  (115 minutes)

•    Roadmap To Apartheid - (2012) Alice Walker narrates, comparing and looking at the connection between apartheid in Israel and South Africa.  (95 minutes)

•    Wormwood - (2016) A six-part documentary by Errol Morris (“Thin Blue Line”)  unfolding, in peal the onion fashion, the mystery of the 1953 likely murder of a United States employee scientist by the U.S. government.  The film fascinating explores how what the public and the scientists family think they have known about the death has kept changing over the years due to the misdirection of clever cover stories structured in their engaging sensationalism (think LSD and psychedelics) so as to ensure distraction from some things the film ultimately explores such as bio-warfare research during the Korean War. (Six one-hour episodes)
               
•    Three Identical Strangers - (2018) A fun film that turns dark in its last segment when it goes from what you think you know and remember concerning the headline-grabbing pop culture fun of events concerning the discovery of identical triplets to segue to a history of secret experiments.  (96 minutes)

•    Where To Invade Next - (2015) Michael Moore’s most joyous and fun film about the solutions and better lives we could have as found in other countries around the world.  (120 minutes)

•    Wal-Town the Film - (2006) This film about Walmart follows six student activists and a journalist as they visit 36 Canadian towns over the course of two summers to raise public awareness about Wal-Mart's business practices, and how, with its increasing dominance, it is affecting cities and towns across Canada. (66 minutes)

•    Requiem For The American Dream  - (2015) In this documentary (with a corresponding book) the academic and activist Noam Chomsky describes the systems that have led to financial inequality, and the current concentration of wealth and power. The films deals with the deliberate concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a select few, the death of the middle class, and the idea of a functioning democracy in America. (73 minutes)       

•    The Black Panthers- Vanguard of the Revolution - (2015) A documentary film by Stanley Nelson Jr. that tells the story of the revolutionary black organization Black Panther Party using archival footage and interviews with surviving Panthers and FBI agents.  The film deals with the strengths and appeal that caused the party to grow, how it was perceived a threat to the establishment, and the COINTELPRO behind the scenes measures that government took to divide, hobble and dismantle the movement, including the execution of an emerging charismatic and eloquent leader, Fred Hampton.  (115 minutes)

•    The Murder of Fred Hampton - (1971) - Emerging Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department during this documentary film’s production.  The film was begun with the intent of being a portrayal Hampton and the Illinois Black Panther Party.  One part of the finished film is the a portrait of Fred Hampton, another part of the film is an investigative report of his death that makes the case that Hampton’s killing by the Chicago police was murder.  (88 minutes)

•    Let the Fire Burn - (2013) The story of the Philadelphia Police bombing of a liberation group black liberation group living in a communal setting in West Philadelphia.  The bombing killed eleven members of the group, including five children aged 7 to 13 and destroyed 65 houses in the neighborhood.  The survivors later filed a civil suit against the city and the police department, and were awarded $1.5 million in a 1996 settlement.  (95 minutes)

•    How To Survive a Plague - (2012) A finalist for an Oscar, about the history of AIDS activists changing the healthcare system to accelerate the discover of effective treatments for AIDs. (109 minutes)

•    Battle For Brooklyn - (2011) Nominated for an Oscar but too controversial a film about the NYC real estate industry to ever be played on the NYC PBS station- About the mega-subsidized, mega-monopoly Atlantic Yards eminent domain project. (93 minutes)

•    My Brooklyn - (2012) Director Kelly Anderson's film about gentrification and understanding the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. The film reframes the gentrification debate to expose the corporate actors and government policies driving displacement and neighborhood change.  (77 minutes)

•    Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream - (2012) Alex Gibney’s documentary about the increasing wealth gap in the United States that makes is points focusing on 740 Park Avenue where some of the wealthiest and most politically influential billionaires live, including fossil fuel magnate David H. Koch and the library-selling anti-egalitarian, tax loophole advocate, NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman, the first CEO to make more than $1 billion a year on which he pays especially low taxes and wants to keep it that way.  (70 minutes)

•    Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992 - (2017) Documentary by John Ridley about the decade preceding and including the 1992 Los Angeles riots (also known as the Rodney King riots).  (144 minutes)

•    Harvest Season - (2018) Bernardo Ruiz focused on the Mexican-American influence on California’s multi-billion-dollar wine industry. Three winemakers navigate the changing situation of their business, affected by climate shifts, new technology, and immigration policies, in the Napa and Sonoma valleys of California. (83 minutes)

•    The Weather Underground - (2002) documentary film based on the rise and fall of the American radical organization Weather Underground. Using archive footage from the time as well as interviews with the Weathermen today, the film constructs a linear narrative of the organization.  (95 minutes)

•    Oliver Stone’s Untold History Of The United States - (2012) A twelve-episode review of the history of the United States (with an accompanying books that has just been updated with an additional 100+ page to cover current history) from the McKinley era through to relatively recent years that is likely provides quite different information and insights than what you were taught from your school textbooks.  Do you know about the attempted “cocktail” military coup to remove FDR from office?  The major factor in defeating the Nazis?  What may have been the most important threat that caused the Japanese surrender?  The differences between FDR vice-presidents Henry Wallace and Truman?  JFK’s purge of top CIA leaders?  (Twelve one-hour episodes)

•    Appalshop Films - A series of completed films to choose from with more films still in the works seeking funding contributions.  The films are intended bring forth and amplify new and often unheard voices and visions from the people of Appalachia and rural communities across America and abroad.  The films seek to support grassroots efforts to achieve justice and equity, meaningful social and economic change, and to celebrate cultural diversity telling stories commercial media doesn’t tell and  challenging stereotypes.  Some films may also appeal to the youngest in the congregation.

•    Wasted! The Story of Food Waste - (2017) - A film about clever cuisine approaches to rethink and reduce what is defined as “food waste.” (85 minutes)

•    Bugs - (2016) Around the world and in many different cultures local insects are consumed as delicacies of the local cuisine and eating insects as a protein sources is a clear answer to solving many challenge of sustainability.   This film, nominated for several awards, is something of a travelogue as explores cultures and the barriers to dietary changes that seem to make a lot of environmental sense.  (74 minutes)

•    Ex Libris - (2017) Although this film about the NYPL (New York Public Library) ventures into various social justice topics through the interface of library events and programs, the film would have to included as a trick film (requiring an external guide), an example of how documentaries should not always be accepted at face value for the (sometimes neutral?) perspective they purport to provide.  The film by revered film maker Frederick Wiseman feels like a meander, a fly-on-the-wall capture of reality with no intrusion of perspective, but Wiseman was actually tightly minded by the NYPL’s top PR officer and the film operates with blinders (even to the extent it actually depicts unaware certain things).  It shuns certain elephants in the room, for instance about the Stephen A. Schwarzman funded NYPL Central Library Plan to sell and shrink libraries and the NYC  real estate industry. (197 minutes)

•    Acid From Heaven, (1983 - 31 minutes) Acid Rain: Requiem or Recovery? (1981 - 27 minutes) and If You Love This Planet (1982- 26 minutes) - This triumvirate of vintage films from by the National Film Board of Canada– two on acid-rain pollution and an antinuclear war film the last of them won an Oscar– are especially relevant for their history of being censored, banned by the Reagan administration as propaganda that should not land on the ears of the American public.  Does this sound like current efforts to scrub out references to climate change and climate chaos from government science sites and corporate media?

 •    Sweet Crude - (2009) Before the Deep Water Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, before those of us who were alert started learning through that spill about the poisonousness of the chemical dispersants used to feign alleviation of the spill’s effects, the Nigeria’s Niger Delta was experiencing ongoing oil spill contamination and  poisonings of huge, if unrecognized dimensions (the estimated equivalent of Exxon Valdez spill every year ongoing for decades).  The fossil fuel and oil extraction industry wants to be less regulated in the United States.  This story, according to film director Sandy Cioffi, who won many awards for it, is about what happens when the industry gets what it wants and is subject to no regulation at all.  It includes the Chevron and Shell oil companies militarily arming young men to fight against each other to foment chaos for the benefit of oil prices.  The film makers, who were arrested and imprisoned by the Nigerian government while making the film, had originally set out to make a film about the building of a rural Nigerian library.  (93 minutes)

•    The River and The Wall - (2019) Political ammunition against Trump’s conception of a wall.  A spectacularly photogenic and somewhat treacherously challenging trip down the Rio Grande makes clear how ecologically devastating the construction of a wall would be.  At the same time background personal stories make a pro-immigration case.  (97 minutes)  
Fictional Works
•    In the Time of the Butterflies - (2001) A feature film, produced for the Showtime television network, directed by Mariano Barroso and based on Julia Álvarez's book of the same name. The story is a fictionalized account for the lives of the Mirabal sisters, Dominican revolutionary activists, who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo and were assassinated on November 25, 1960. (95 minutes)

•    Micmacs - (2009) French comedy film by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a "satire on the world arms trade."  (105 minutes)

•    No - (2012) A docu-comedy romp that also teaches about political organizing and the kind of clever, hopeful and fun advertising campaigns that can assist, recounting the triumph where in a 1988 referendum in Chile 56 percent voted to oust repressive dictator Augusto Pinochet from power.  The film uses archival footage and fictionalized characters while many of those who worked on the 1988 campaign played themselves or other characters who were involved. (118 minutes)
                                               
•    When They See Us - (2019) Director Ava DuVernay’s new docudrama film series about the 1989 media circus (that made up such terms as “wilding”) and the subsequent very flawed prosecution and conviction (vacated in 2002) of five innocent young black men in the case of female jogger attacked, beaten and raped in Central Park. (Four one-hour episodes) There is also a documentary about the case, The Central Park Five (2012), directed by filmmaker Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon.  (119 minutes.)

•    Dancer in the Dark - (2000) A Danish musical melodrama film directed by Lars von Trier. It stars Icelandic musician Björk as a daydreaming immigrant factory worker who suffers from a degenerative eye condition and is saving up to pay for an operation to prevent her young son from suffering the same fate. (140 minutes)

•    On The Basis of Sex - (2018) A docudrama about the early professional years of future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in order to explore sex discrimination through the lens of her early cases.  (120 minutes)