Community leaders fended off efforts to close the only public library branch in the area
Photo: Italic serif font in gold reads, “Columbia County” with words in all caps in white underneath that say, “Proposition 2 struck down” on a black background and a gold silhouette of Columbia County on a map of Washington with surrounding counties in gray.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
These words, by the great American writer James Baldwin, was how Neighbors United for Progress closed a recent message celebrating the Columbia County Superior Court’s decision to stop Proposition 2 from appearing on the ballot this election. The measure would have dissolved the county’s only library and was initiated by an angry few who did not agree with the branch’s offerings of books on gender, sexuality, and race. You may have heard how this story started; it even made it to national news.
We ourselves cannot offer a more perfect quote that encapsulates the will of Columbia County’s people. Across Washington state, communities of all sizes are building power for racial justice and equity. Rural communities like those in Columbia County play an especially important role in this transformative work. That’s why Inatai Foundation is proud to celebrate the legal victory of Neighbors United for Progress, a political action committee, whom we supported with a $25,000 contribution earlier in September.
Neighbors United for Progress knew Proposition 2 was never about which books are on the shelves. It was about power–the power to control information and the power to silence others. Libraries are a vital hub of knowledge, services like internet and cooling shelters during heat waves, and diverse perspectives–especially in areas with fewer public services like Columbia County. When public resources like these are taken away, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and those living on low incomes are often the most affected.
The closure would have also been the first in the nation shuttered by such far-right censorship efforts under the guise of “parental rights.” It would have marked a dangerous precedent for public libraries across the United States. Columbia County and the rest of Washington are better than that and the success of Neighbors United for Progress shows what it looks like when communities exercise their power.
As we celebrate this victory, we also know it won’t be the last fight against homegrown and out-of-state forces that target overburdened communities by infiltrating elected bodies, spreading disinformation, and oppressing those committed to racial justice and equity. This is why Inatai Foundation strives to support organizations that historically have had limited access to philanthropic funding in every part of Washington. As communities across the state have shown, however, these forces are no match for the joy and determination communities bring to this work. We deeply respect and appreciate these leaders who are making our state better each and every day.
Photo: Ken Graham (left) and Elise Severe of Neighbors United for Progress outside the Dayton Library in Columbia County. Photography by Nick Allen.