In a largely Hispanic neighbourhood on the lower west side of Chicago, parents and their kids have been occupying a field house, demanding that it be turned into a library instead of being torn down and the land used for a soccer field. This is a neighbourhood where 40% of the students live below the poverty line.
With shouts of “We want a library!”…as many as 30 parents and children have defied local police since September 15, occupying the building and spending their time creating signs and saying the rosary.
So far, the Chicago School Board is unpersuaded, evidently indifferent to the fact that La Casita, as the small building is known, has been unofficially used as a community centre where English as a second language can be learned. The problem is that the building is unsafe and fixing it would cost much more than destroying it. Surely some billionaire philanthropist can save the building for these parents. Bill Gates? Oprah?
Even better–something ought to be done about American funding for public structures. Whittier, the local elementary school of the striking families, only has classroom libraries, which, according to a spokesperson for the Chicago School Board, is okay because 160 of their schools only have classroom libraries.
I find that very sad, especially in Chicago, which is home to one of the earlier and most beautiful public libraries in the U.S., with a ceiling made by Tiffany. I saw it years ago when I was visiting Chicago to promote The River Midnight, and researching the (later to be cut) Chicago section of my next novel. The library had amazing archives and an inspiring interior. If only it was still inspiring Americans to build more libraries.
It would cost about a million dollars to fix up La Casita. What does a million dollars get the American military in Afghanistan–a paperclip? Surely President Obama, formerly a resident of Chicago, could turn his sights to these brave and struggling families yearning for books.