Messages of solidarity for Boston Public Library workers echoed through Copley Square in Boston on Feb. 19 as more than 75 supporters gathered on the steps leading up to the Central Library. The rally was organized in response to recent incidents of harassment of BPL staff by a group protesting COVID-19 mask requirements.
The right-wing group called We The People entered the building unmasked and harassed and intimidated BPL staff in the children’s section of the Central Library on Feb. 5, claiming to protest the library’s policy of asking patrons to wear masks inside their buildings. The group next targeted the Hyde Park Branch on Feb. 10 for a similar disruption.
Right-wing disruptions put staff and public at risk
Prominent We the People member Michelle Efendi posted two videos of the harassment on Twitter. The disruption at the Central Library lasted over two hours, closed the Children’s Library, and required hours of cleaning.
Members of We the People brought their own children as an excuse to enter the Children’s Library. Community member Laura Cantazaro told Liberation News, “I am appalled by the fact that there were people coming into the children’s room of the library to impose the fact that they did not believe in masks, with their children who are vulnerable.”
“We are still in a pandemic,” Cantazaro continued, “I’m not a librarian, but I’m a supporter of librarians, and I see it from the outside. I see it very clearly that this is organized aggression against people who are trying to do the right thing.”
Police response pales to worker response
The Boston Police Department refused to escort the disruptors out of the library. Many speakers at the rally noted the contrast between this and the BPD’s use of excessive force with Black library patrons struggling with mental and emotional health challenges.
Taking action, Boston Public Library Professional Staff Association of the Massachusetts School Library Association Local 4928, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts called this rally to support BPL patrons and workers.
“When we are met with challenges that threaten to denigrate our public spaces, we rise up to meet them,” BPLPSA member Maty Cropley said. “And today we rise up to meet them with positivity and solidarity with our friends and colleagues.”
Children’s librarian and BPLPSA member Hope Genty said, “We are that place for young moms who want community and story time, for a bullied kid who just needs a safe place to go during recess, to a queer teen who is just trying to find their place in the world, or a homeless patron who needs shelter from the elements.”
‘We must organize with love’
“One thing I want to make very, very clear,” warned another speaker Laura Foner, a former BPLPSA member who worked as a children’s librarian for 18 years, “This is not just a few people and some kids who want to come in and use the library and not wear a mask because they don’t want to wear masks. This is part of an organized effort. … It’s part of a right-wing movement to fight against things that we all cherish and believe in, and are values of the library.”
Despite the circumstances, the rally remained optimistic. Andrew Maxcy, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1526, representing library assistants as well as clerical, custodial, and mechanical workers at the BPL, said: “It’s an organized, multinational working class that will shift society away from hate. Love may conquer all, but it must be organized, and we must organize with love.”