By: Frederic Murray
The biggest questions concerning intellectual freedom in this country have always revolved around the right to speak, write or otherwise express dissent on any given topic — most importantly on political or social issues.
In Mexico, an ally, a trading partner, a nation with which we have much in common, more than a hundred journalists have been murdered since the beginning of the century. Jesús Javier Valdez Cárdenas, director and founder of the weekly newspaper Ríodoce, and Jonathan Rodriques, were killed this month for investigating corruption and organized crime.
Article 19, an important Free Press advocacy group, reports that the majority of attacks on journalists in Mexico go unpunished. The Mexican government has shown itself to be powerless, or unwilling to act, in a degraded environment that betrays the promise spelled out in Article Six of the Mexican Constitution.
These are criminal acts. The Mexican state and federal governments are not censoring or preventing journalists from doing their work. But they are not protecting their own citizens, citizens who after speaking and expressing themselves as defined under the law, find themselves subject to intimidation and violence.
And where are we now? After six months of a Trump in the White House, are the rights and freedoms enshrined in our own Constitution stronger or weaker by the actions, or inactions, put into play by this administration and its adherents?
It is unnerving to hear reported that Trump urged the head of the FBI to jail reporters who publish classified information. It’s unsettling to learn that 18 states this year are attempting to curb the right to protest with overreaching laws designed to stifle political dissent. It is unconscionable that in my home state of Oklahoma a statute has been signed into law with language written so broadly that an act of graffiti could lead to $100,000 fine and felony charges.
The ACLU published a travel advisory on May 9 concerning SB4, a Texas law that empowers police to investigate your immigration status during a routine traffic stop. This is not normal. When the law goes into effect this September it no doubt will be challenged in the courts.
There is a great deal that is going on politically in 2017 that is not normal, but people are pushing back. They are using the lawful tools provided. Ultimately, does the right to read, think and express how you feel mean anything if you’re busy being profiled, handcuffed or shot?
My library and my students don’t, for the most part, feel threatened by the current of political decisions flowing out of Washington or the State Houses around the country. They’re too busy planning their lives and their futures. Unless they are a single working mother poised to lose health care, unless they are from another country and face the possibility of being unable to complete their education, unless they don’t fit the profile and speak another language. Unless, unless, unless…
I have seen signs of greater engagement among the young people with whom I am fortunate to teach and work. This gives me a great deal of hope. I don’t believe we will descend into lawlessness, but I do believe the expansion of rights this country has fought so hard for is being checked and countered by reactionary and fearful people. As a librarian, I feel our collections, the work we do with the public, is an important part of this drama. In fact it is more important than ever.
There are 66 programs slated for elimination under the fiscal 2018 Federal budget proposal. Among those slated as negligible and unworthy of funding is the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Culture heritage, lifelong learning and public access to knowledge are the cornerstones for the IMLS. I have evaluated grants for the IMLS. The programs it funds are inspiring and enriching, but apparently now have no role to play in the life of the Republic.
It’s time to push back. It’s time to defend what we believe.
Frederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org