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Rochelle on Codrescu

Rochelle Hartman provides more color for the Codrescu kerfuffle.

I appreciate Rochelle stating that Codrescu changed her thoughts about the 2005 Council vote. That event has been so distorted by so many different people in so many different ways that it’s worth revisiting.

Here’s the Midwinter 2004 nut graf, as my journalist friends say: brave people who fought for the ideals you espouse from your well-defended turrets lie in jail indefinitely, and Council couldn’t muster up the balls for seven more words on their behalf. ALA’s International Relations Committee had issued a tepid report that expressed “concern” about Cuba. (Not everyone on the committee agreed with the report–which is in fact how I became involved in this issue.)

I asked the committee to consider changing the report’s language, and they refused. I marshalled a vote to the floor of Council to marginally strengthen the report with a slightly stronger seven-word modification; I barely found a second. The vote failed spectacularly. I debated leaving ALA, but several people, including Nat Hentoff, told me to stay and fight from within.

I’m still glad I stuck by my guns. It was one of those moments when I felt distant from ALA and closer to other (but similar) organizations–Human Rights Watch, International PEN, Reporters Without Borders–that aren’t uncomfortable identifying with the crisis in Cuba and articulating their stakes in it.

When people say they don’t “agree” with me about Cuba, it’s hard to know how to respond. So you agree that ALA should take strong stands about intellectual freedom in some countries, but not others? You’re saying that your threshold for concern is the accredited ALA library degree? Or are you saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to jail people for what they read, and write, and share with others, as long as it’s not in this country? Or have you truly drunk the KoolAid and think Cuba is a happy swell place and those dissidents in prison got what they deserved for advocating free speech in Cuba?

Don’t tell me “ALA shouldn’t get involved” when in the past ALA has managed to vote on Iraq, Alito, nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam War, and a flotilla of other issues. At least free speech in Cuba is something I can connect, LEGO-fashion, to ALA values and statements; I have to say, as opposed as I am to Alito’s nomination and the Iraq War, I wonder what political foothold we gained by taking those positions, and whether we lost credibility with librarians who might well wonder whose government Council thinks it is running. So of course today on Council list we see posts about Cindy Sheehan’s arrest, and it’s all I can do not to respond, “But she doesn’t have an MLS.”

And don’t tell me Council doesn’t change reports or edit on the floor. Council seriously hearts public sausage-making. Council can spend hours making mush of statements when it wants to.

I won’t go as far as Luke in issuing a blanket disclaimer about supporting the theoretical ideals of the Cuban revolution (though I understand the urge to do so, since oddly, those of us opposed to authoritarian regimes are immediately labeled right-wingers). Most revolutionary proclamations are like state of the union addresses: the proof is in the pudding. The Cuban pudding has been pretty lumpy for the last four decades, and no amount of shouting-down changes that. It’s going to take at least one funeral for Cuba to find its next direction. I only hope that a lifetime of censorship and hamhanded control doesn’t result in yet another poor outcome when Fidel finally shuffles off this mortal coil. Cuba hasn’t been free for hundreds of years; it deserves to be unshackled.

During that Council vote in Midwinter 2004, I had a lot of people whisper to me that they wanted to vote with me, but just couldn’t, and they hoped I understood. I don’t truly understand, but I can forgive and move on, and hope that like Rochelle someone more gifted than I in the powers of persuasion can lead them to enlightenment. In the end, hope and forgiveness are all we have.

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