Shakespeare, Proust Join the Protests

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The New York Sun

Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Emma Goldman are not on Wall Street, but they are there in spirit. Activists at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York have set up what they call “The People’s Library,” where books can be borrowed and read. Stretched along a granite ledge and on tables, plastic bins of boxes have been growing at Zuccotti Park.

“The library shows that we are in this for the long term,” said volunteer Sam Oliver Smith, 20, who studied a year at a community college in the Lehigh Valley Steve Syrek, 33, a graduate student in Shakespeare, calls the library “as an unambiguous good no matter what your politics.”

Books on Wobblies and Sandinistas joust with works of anthropology, history, sociology, and Norton Critical Editions of classic works. In one bin, an oversized gray hardback entitled “Essential Works of Socialism,” edited by Irving Howe, shared space with a water-logged second volume of Frankfurt school theorist Walter Benjamin’s “Selected Writings.”

Books relating to feminism and the women’s movement have their own box. There are children’s and young adult bins. The library invites readers to both take a book and donate one to the library. On a couple evenings, the library added a row of seats for readers, as they soak in knowledge amid the hubbub of the protest. The Library recently added a reference desk, which has a multi-colored sign that reads, “Literacy, Legitimacy, and Moral Authority.”

A blog created by the library organizers notes that figures such as playwright Eve Ensler, author Naomi Klein, and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel have visited the library. As shown on the blog, vanden Heuvel autographed her book, “The Change I Believe in: Fighting for Profess in the Age of Obama” (Nation Books) with the inscription stating her greatest admiration for the “spark you’ve lit.”

The blog also shows that libraries have migrated to Los Angeles and Boston, other sites of these growing national-wide protests. At the Wall Street protest, several feet away from the library is an area filled with pamphlets laid out face up on the pavement. Passersby peruse leftist leaflets and manifestos, and other printed matter, such as a green and white copy of the Monthly Review with an article on “The Worker-Peasant Alliance as a Rural Development Strategy for China” as well as the current issue of WIN, the publication of the War Resisters League, containing a piece on “Resisting West Papua’s Plantation.”

Stepping up to one of the librarians, a retired professor of education at Urbana University in Ohio, William Coffman, handed over a twenty-dollar bill to support the library. Recalling the protests of the late 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Coffman said, “This is very much like that.”

The New York Sun

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