Letter: The Library Garden And Free Expression

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Public libraries are on the front lines of free speech and free expression. But in the name of “neutrality” our local library took down the Ukrainian flag and peace symbol from the library’s little flower garden developed and maintained by Laguna artist, Jessica DeStefano. Jessica placed her display in a show of solidarity for the people of Ukraine.

I spoke with our librarian, Nadia who explained that the library needs to be “neutral” because some people felt that Jessica’s Ukrainian flag display was “political.” Nadia said, “There is a fine line of freedom of speech and expression and the library’s mission and vision of Orange County to have a safe place for everybody, where everybody feels welcome.”

That “fine line” feels more like a gulf. Why is Jessica’s display considered political? Whose safety is threatened? Why is it “unwelcoming?”

“Neutrality” is about not taking sides. Are we to supposed to reflexively accept neutrality over not siding with the millions of people whose homes and villages have been pillaged, the thousands who have lost their lives, the women raped by Russian soldiers in front of their children—only to make those same children orphans—because we are concerned about offending those who support President Vladimir Putin, the Butcher of Bucha? The war criminal!

What is happening in Ukraine is an existential threat to our democracy and a crime against humanity. Benjamin Franklin famously said of our new nation—“It’s a republic if you can keep it.” Keeping it, is defending it and defending democracy. Yet, it seems the concept of defending democracy is lost on many Americans. While many of us sit on the sidelines in the comfort of our homes, the people of Ukraine are defending not just their democracy but ours with their lives. Should Putin win, Poland and the Balkans will be next. And if they are dragged into this war, we too as a member state of NATO will be dragged in.

Sadly, the library administration is playing politics ironically in the name of not wanting to be political. So please let’s not talk about neutrality when it comes to Ukraine. There should be no neutrality here. This is about a fight for our souls, for our way of life, for our democracy, and for our humanity.

We need to step up our support for Ukraine. We can show support for Ukraine. We can begin in a small way with a little flag in a little garden at a little library in our little town and we can be thankful to artists like Jessica DeStefano who are showing us the way.

Alan Boinus, Laguna Beach

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