Philly libraries will stay open

February 16, 2009

Joe Cleffie and Matt Pillischer report on a victory for the movement that mobilized against plans to close 11 Philadelphia library branches.

PHILADELPHIA MAYOR Michael Nutter announced that 11 libraries slated to be closed would stay open for the fiscal year. This was an important concession--when the cuts were announced in the fall of last year, they were said to be done deal.

Almost immediately after the cuts were announced, citizens and activists in the affected neighborhoods sprang into action. Rallies were held, protests at city hall organized, and angry people flooded into town hall meetings set up by the city in various neighborhoods.

The town halls were meant by the Nutter administration as a way to justify the cuts and let people blow off some steam, and generally give an appearance of inclusiveness and transparency. Instead, some of them became protests against various planned cuts in general, and library cuts in particular, as well as the lack of transparency and input from citizens.

Still the mayor pressed ahead with the cuts until a lawsuit was brought against the mayor by residents and city council members, claiming that the mayor didn't have the right to unilaterally close the libraries without a council vote. On December 31, a judge issued an injunction to keep libraries open until the lawsuit could be resolved.

Demonstrators march down Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to protest planned Mayor Nutter's library closures
Demonstrators march down Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia to protest planned Mayor Nutter's library closures

Meanwhile, the movement came together in the citywide Coalition to Save the Libraries, which played a vital role in keeping up the pressure and supporting community activists. From street theater, to informational pickets, to packing the courtroom in support of the lawsuit, the coalition kept the issue of library closings front and center.

Because of this pressure, Nutter agreed to keep the libraries open, and he also announced he would drop the challenge to the lawsuits.

This is an important victory for Philadelphia and all of the people who contributed. But the struggle is far from over. There is still a fight to make sure the libraries stay open full time, and not under some reduced hours.

Also, Nutter plans to release the following year's budget at the end of February or beginning of March. With a $1 billion-plus shortfall in the coming years, more of our essential services are sure to be on the chopping block. The movement must broaden (and is broadening) to take on cuts to fire services, public health, community centers and more.

The coalition and other activists are calling for no cuts in essential services, closing tax loopholes on corporate profits that currently cost the city over $600 million a year, progressive taxation to make the rich pay their fair share, and an end to the 10-year tax abatements that have also cost the city millions per year in revenue.

We've won an important victory that should give us all confidence to fight the battles that lie ahead.

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