May 22, 2018

Is Change Finally Here?: It Began Slowly, but It Is Quickly Taking Over | Blatant Berry

I watched the Women’s March, saw feminist passions take over the Academy Awards, and spent all day in front of the TV to witness 800,000 mostly young Americans conduct their March for Our Lives, the compelling protest that spread over the United States and the world. I saw black Americans forced to reassert their fundamental rights yet again as Black Lives Matter, 50 years after Martin Luther King was killed.

It took me back to the Sixties and the protests of that time, when I was still young enough to march for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, stuff flowers into the muzzles of guns held by soldiers on guard at the Pentagon, and noisily push the American Library Association (ALA) to take public positions on the issues.

In one of my most poignant memories, ALA Council in 1978 debated whether the organization should join the boycott of states that had refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution.

The Council vote was tied, 70 for the boycott and 70 against. ALA president Russell Shank was the tiebreaker. We who favored the boycott expected to lose. Shank was part of the ALA “establishment” and had told his friends he opposed such things. After a long pause at the podium, Shank said, “The chair votes yes!” Illinois failed to ratify, and the ALA Midwinter Meeting would be moved out of Chicago within one year.

When I ran into Shank years later, we talked about that vote. He said his friends were angry with him but that he had felt the spirit, passion, and energy of the ALA protesters and decided to vote with them.

Few of us knew, back then, where the United States was headed. The rights for women, people of color, and other marginalized communities improved a bit, but today our politics are still dominated by tired old white men—the establishment.

Change begins very slowly and seems to take forever, but it accelerates as it ultimately takes hold. That is an important lesson for libraries as they gear up to help society welcome, understand, and adjust to new ways.

I just read Jennifer Palmieri’s new book, Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World (Grand Central, Mar. 2018). The author’s insights taught me that Hillary Clinton’s campaign, of which Palmieri was director of communications, failed to realize that change was already here. She asserts that we don’t have to remake our young women, our next leaders, into copies of the old models of leadership. We don’t need to force women to become female versions of the old white guys.

“Women of all persuasions found it to be an empower­ing moment,” Palmieri writes about the Women’s March.

“Beyond politics there was a sense among women that we had plateaued and needed to chart a new path if we were to make the progress we wanted and deserved. It was the start of a new chapter in the American story in which women decided that we were no longer following old rules and conventions,” Palmieri says early in the book.

Today’s protests, that long-ago ERA struggle (14 states have yet to ratify the 1972 amendment), and all the current turmoil tell me that change gathered momentum slowly, but it is finally building up steam. I can’t possibly predict where it will take us, but I am certain that we need that change now more than ever.

I am truly encouraged and deeply reassured as I watch the next wave of activists and political challengers define new ways to manage and govern our society. The role of libraries will be crucial. The old establishment will be difficult to dislodge, but we can’t wait for the new order any longer. I am convinced that our world will be a lot better with a new kind of leadership.

This article was published in Library Journal's May 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III ( is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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