March 16, 2018

John Chrastka | Movers & Shakers 2014 — Advocates



Executive Director and Founder

Work toward BA, Stage Management, University of Illinois, 1998–2001

Photo Courtesy of John Chrastka

Leader of the PAC

This past fall, Lindel Toups, the council chair of Lafourche Parish, LA, proposed a ballot measure that would strip $800,000, or about 11 percent, from the budget of the parish’s ten-branch public library system in order to build a new prison. Toups’s justification, beyond prison overcrowding? “They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English,” and library patrons are “junkies and hippies and food stamp [recipients].”

EveryLibrary founder and executive director John Chrastka pulled no punches. “The Worst Library Election in the Country,” he called it—and then put $5,000 behind the get-out-the-vote campaign to block the ballot measure. EveryLibrary marshaled library defenders (including Neil Gaiman) from across the country, who donated, posted, tumbled, and tweeted about the vote. It also bought eight Facebook ads targeting Lafourche.

“I am so unbelievably grateful for the help and support I was given by John and EveryLibrary,” says Laura Sanders, director of the Lafourche Parish Public Library system. “He got the word out at such a crucial point in the election, which is why our fight went national and then international.”
Lafourche voters chose library books over prison bars by 56 percent to 44 percent.

It’s one of seven campaigns (and five successes) that EveryLibrary has worked on since it launched in September 2012 as the only national organization to finance library voter campaigns. Unlike 501(c)3 nonprofits such as Friends groups, which can do only limited direct lobbying (e.g., using a maximum 20 percent of their funds to influence policy, legislation, bond issues, etc.), EveryLibrary is a registered Political Action Committee (PAC). That means it can openly finance campaigns and local ballot committees, conduct get-out-the-vote training, and offer libraries technical assistance, social media consulting, and more, all without dollar or percentage limits. (Chrastka has written several articles for LJ’s Advocate’s Corner column.)

In its first year, EveryLibrary raised more than $35,000, about half from hundreds of individual donors, the rest from publishers and library vendors, as well as unions. “For every dollar we spent that first year, we helped secure $1,140 at the ballot box,” says Chrastka, who was American Library Association membership director (2002–11) and is president of the Board of Trustees for the Berwyn Public Library, IL (since 2006).

In total, EveryLibrary has helped secure over $8.5 million in tax revenue for libraries.
Chrastka keeps tabs on library elections nationwide. In 2013, EveryLibrary identified 69 local elections, with a total of more than $230 million in funding at stake. And in November 2013, EveryLibrary California launched to help pass a constitutional change eliminating the supermajority to win library tax measures.

EveryLibrary’s successes underscore how important it is to be politically active when funding is on the line, says Chrastka. “Election Day impacts the other 364 days of the year so dramatically that we have to pay extraordinary attention to it,” he says.