I read the other day that Occupy Wall Street and its librarians are suing the New York Police Department for destroying the OWS library of 3,600 books. The librarians had carefully catalogued every book they received. People checked them out and returned them, no questions asked.
When the police destroyed the OWS encampment at Zuccotti Park last fall, they swept up the OWS library, threw the books into a Sanitation Department truck (i.e., a garbage truck), and carted them off to a Sanitation Department depot, where they remained–soiled, crushed, torn, ruined.
This was of more than passing interest to me. Of course, I was outraged to read that the police had treated books with such disdain. I love books. I like to hold books. I like the smell of books. Books are precious. When I learned about the destruction of the OWS library, I had thoughts of book burnings, a bit melodramatic, but not entirely far-fetched.
I had a personal interest in these events. A few weeks before the OWS camp was destroyed, I was invited by email to speak at the park and to donate a book to the library. So I showed up early, donated my book, and searched for the organizer who invited me. I had a first name and a cell number, but I couldn’t find him. He was nowhere to be found, and I ended up wandering around among a mass of friendly, happy people. Some wore silly hats, some wore T-shirts or carried signs declaring their love for the earth or animals, whatever. There was nothing menacing, just a congregation of disparate views and causes.
It was only a matter of time until Mayor Bloomberg–apparently acting in concert with mayors across the country–decided to disperse OWS. They did so with a level of force that was unnecessary. As I watched the scenes of protesters dragged away, I kept thinking of that clause in the Bill of Rights that guarantees the people’s right to peaceably assemble. I thought that OWS was peaceably assembling and that this right was protected. But the mayors decided that this was an assembly they could not tolerate, and so the encampments in cities across the nation were destroyed.
But the books! My book. My book in a dumpster. How did it feel to know that one’s own book was thrown into the garbage by the NYPD? I was angry. But in some way, the idea of crushing books seemed ludicrous in this age of free-flowing information. So, the trashing of the books was a symbolic action. It’s not as if we don’t have the Internet and free public libraries. What NYPD did, what the mayor authorized, was a symbolic book-burning (ironically, his own book about his success in business, was in the OWS library).
I am hoping that the courts decide in favor of OWS. And that OWS returns in full vigor to remind us of the many unaddressed grievances of our increasingly unequal and increasingly uncaring society.