This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screenshot-2024-06-12-at-11.01.54-AM.jpg

Transcript portion posted with permission. Co-hosts Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal are both journalists. Herzog is a lesbian, which may contextualize a few of her asides here. I have made some corrections in the auto-generated transcript posted at the Blocked and Reported site and apologize for any mistransciptions.

HERZOG: So our story today is about a conflict that appears on the surface to be about one thing. But if you dig deeper, you will find that it’s actually about something both much more complex and much more mundane. And it takes place in Oak Park, Illinois. It’s a suburb of Chicago.

One local described it to me in an email as, “Very lefty. We pride ourselves on our diversity. In the 1970s, neighboring parts of Chicago flipped from all white to all Black. Oak Park heroically resisted this and became integrated. That’s our modern origin story.Before that, we were almost all white and famous for Frank Lloyd Wright and Hemingway.”

So today it’s diverse. It’s about 60% white, 20% Black. And it’s the sort of place with in this house yard signs, little free libraries, high taxes. And according to our local correspondent, lots of blowing things out of proportion, which could really be the theme of this show.

Okay, so our story takes place at the Oak Park Public Library. And this is a very well-regarded library. It’s won dozens of awards. And in 2022, it was ranked the third best library of its size in the entire nation by Library Journal. And the library, like the town, espouses progressive values. So, for instance, the library’s top stated values are things like equity and anti-racism. They have an elaborate eight-part anti-racism plan with goals like “Create opportunities to discuss how we all have internalized racism using affinity spaces and collective and intersectional spaces.” Should we do that, Jesse?

SINGAL: Yeah, this sounds really cutting edge. Sounds like good stuff. I’m excited.

HERZOG: Yeah, I know what I’m doing for my next birthday. They’re also big on queer shit. So lots of LGBTQ programming. They actually have a rainbow services librarian who is a trans children’s librarian and looks exactly what you would guess down to the blue hair. They had an event earlier this year where an author named Lindz read from their new picture book. “Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!” So social justice is very big there.

SINGAL: OK. And this was I mean, is this a recent occurrence? All the social justice stuff in the library?

HERZOG: It’s relatively new. They first hired a social worker in 2016. They went fine-free in 2017. So well before most other libraries. And that’s a sort of equity thing. You know, the idea that maybe poor people wouldn’t be able to pay liabilities. library fines. So they got rid of the fines.

And the principles of DEI and anti-racism have become really the driving force behind the library since the Great Awakening, whenever we can pin that to. And it really does infuse a lot of the decision making at the library. So in 2022, the then executive director, he was a white guy.

He retired and the board hired a recruiting firm called John Keister and Associates to find his replacement. And that firm specialized in finding executive directors for libraries. But there was a conflict between the board and Keister. Because Keister wanted to find someone with a master’s degree in library science and a background in public libraries,

So someone with experience. But the board wanted more of a DEI focus. And by that, I mean they didn’t want to hire another white guy. So Keister left, and they hired a diversity consultant named Reesheda Graham Washington to replace him. And she specialized in finding diverse — so that means non-white — candidates.

And she had worked for the library system before. She performed an equity audit in 2020, and she explicitly advocated for lowering some barriers in order to increase diversity among candidates. So doing things like not requiring a master’s degree at the director level. And this is a controversial position among librarians, many of whom feels like it devalues the position and the work that they’ve done to hire people who don’t have a degree or background to lead these institutions.

SINGAL: And you yourself have a partial degree in library science. So this is like personal for you.

HERZOG: Yeah, totally personal. Mine was technically an information science, but I skipped orientation. So I never found out what that is. Anyway, Oak Park, the board is all-in with social justice. Social justice is king. And this is true at a lot of libraries.

But of course, it depends on where you are and who runs the library and who’s on the board. So, I mean, there are probably libraries in Texas that are currently heating the building by throwing copies of “Gender Queer” in the incinerator.

But libraries do tend to fall on the woke part of the spectrum, as far as I can tell. I mean, yeah, I went to library school for a year. It was very queer. I presume my classmates have all covered their Harry Potter tattoos up with the trans flag by now. I mean, at least in my program.

And this like 2008. So this is sort of before this big shifts. But people even then did have big feelings about social justice. And so I was not surprised at all to recently read in the newsletter “Heterodoxy in the Stacks,” which is a sort of anti-woke library newsletter, that at the 2024 Public Library Association Conference, a third of sessions were related to DEI and social justice. This is a trend.

SINGAL: So did Oak Park find an executive director who ended up being diverse?

HERZOG: They did. They actually found the perfect candidate. Her name is Joslyn Bowling Dixon. And they didn’t even have to lower their standards for her because not only does she have a master’s in library science, she was at the time the executive director of the Newark Public Library. And she had roots in Oak Park.

SINGAL: Newark, New Jersey?


SINGAL: Yeah, I’d want to leave there for like a nice suburban Illinois city too.

HERZOG: She’d actually worked at the Oak Park Public Library like 20 years before. So roots in the community ,experience and, even better, she’s not just Black, but she’s a Black woman. So for the board, it was like, jackpot! She checked all the boxes. And. Jocelyn is really the central character of the story.
And while she’s definitely on board with a lot of the DEI stuff, this is just not her primary concern.

SINGAL : Whoa, wait, wait, wait. That’s fucked up.

HERZOG: I know.
SINGAL: How did they let her in if her primary concern… What is her primary concern if it’s not DEI stuff?

HERZOG: Running the library.

SINGAL: Isn’t that white supremacy culture?

HERZOG: Mm-hmm. So I spoke to a number of her colleagues and her admirers, and there are many of them perceived her as very good, excellent even. They said she was personable, friendly, she treated everyone equally, and she was tough. Tough but fair. I kept hearing that.

But she could also rub some people the wrong way because she was a rule enforcer. So she didn’t abide by slackers. And according to several of my sources, there were a handful of problem employees at Oak Park, people who showed up late, who underperformed, who just didn’t get their shit done.
And a couple of them were people of color. And the prior executive director, this white guy, he just would not or could not discipline these employees because how would that look? I mean, especially in an institution with an explicitly anti-racist mission.

SINGAL: Right.

HERZOG: But Jocelyn wasn’t worried about being called racist. She had the melanin force field, as our friend Camille calls it. And if people weren’t doing their jobs, no matter who they were, they would hear about it. There would be consequences. There would be trainings. It would be in their permanent records.
And this tendency to keep people in line made her both loyal admirers and some enemies. And that’s key to understanding everything that would happen next. So remember that.

. So in addition to considering DEI in hiring, Oak Park also considers DEI in event programming. So Jesse,, do you know much about the fights that have gone on in public libraries over the use of their space in recent years?

SINGAL: Yeah.I mean, there’s a couple of strains here. One is that there’s been a backlash to LGBT events going on in libraries. And we also talked about a story where a gender critical type of event was canceled, I believe, at a Pacific Northwest library. So a lot of this just comes down to these are public taxpayer funded spaces. And I think legally, it’s pretty close to an anything goes situation.

HERZOG: Yeah. So that wasn’t the Pacific Northwest. That was in Davis, California. But this is a recurring issue at some libraries because libraries are publicly funded. So they can’t ban groups from using their public meeting rooms based on the group’s ideology or whatever topic they’re going to be discussing.

So if you want to have a meeting about protecting women’s sports, so a meeting about keeping trans women out of women’s sports, the library can’t say, no, that’s transphobic. You can’t use our meeting rooms. But as you mentioned, some libraries have tried to do this.

And yeah, we did a show a few months ago about the public library in Davis, California, where the head librarian did, in fact, in the midst of a meeting, shut the event down. This is just blatantly unconstitutional.

And the American Library Association, to its credit, has been very clear about this. It’s on their website.

“A public library that opens its facilities for public use may not exclude a group from its facilities to avoid controversy or public disapproval.”

But there’s a difference between a library actually allowing event in a public meeting space and a library actually hosting an event.

SINGAL: What’s the difference there?

HERZOG: Endorsement, basically. So as an example, a few years ago, I went to an event at the Seattle Public Library that featured Meghan Murphy, Kara Dansky, and a few other feminists who oppose trans women in female only spaces. The event was held at the public library. It was not a library event.

So the library offered minimal support aside from the space and security to keep the very enraged they-thems protesting outside from burning the place down. When they actually host events, they offer more support, more resources, they advertise the events, and the events basically have the library’s stamp of approval.

At the end of last year, the Oak Park Library agreed to hold an event called the Palestinian Festival as a community-led event, not a library-sponsored event. It was held in January of this year and it was basically a cultural celebration. There were dance workshops, embroidery workshops, a drum circle, art projects for kids, spoken word performances.

hey screened a film about life in the West Bank. And by all accounts, the event was great. There were, like, 400 people there, no drama, no calls for cancellation, just a totally normal cultural event at a public library. But there was some confusion about the sponsorship.

So, Jesse, I’m going to show you a screenshot of the event description that was posted on the library website in advance of the event. You see that in our notes?


HERZOG: So if you look at the event description, It reads, “This is not a library-led event.” Then there’s the description, “Come join us as we celebrate the diversity of Palestinian culture”. And then, Jesse, okay, you see there at the bottom right of the page under organization info, like a sidebar? Yeah. Read that.

SINGAL Organization: Oak Park Public Library. Okay, that’s confusing.

HERZOG: Right. So that one thing, the fact that this website had conflicting information would become a giant scandal in Oak Park. But we will get to that later.

SINGAL: I know we’ll get to it later, but I don’t even… Okay. I was going to say something extremely stupid. That stupid thing was, how could celebration of Palestinian culture be controversial? But as I say that out loud, I realize I’m being an idiot. I look forward to finding out. Okay. But who actually organized the festival? I’m guessing it was not Hamas.

HERZOG: It was not Hamas. It was two groups, the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine and the Oak Park and River Forest High School Middle Eastern North American Student Alliance….

HERZOG: Okay, so the event is held at the library in late January. No issues, just a normal community event like they have every week. But not long after the event and unrelated to the event, two staff positions at the library were eliminated due to budget cuts because this library, like many libraries, has money problems.

And one of those jobs was DEI related. It was on the community engagement team and the position was restorative practices coordinator, which was held by a woman named Tatiana Swancy.

SINGAL: What does a restorative practices coordinator do?

HERZOG: I also wondered this. I can sort of imagine that position at, say, a prison, but I wasn’t sure why this would be something a library would employ. So I looked it up, and I found a Library Journal article by Oak Park Library’s first director of equity and anti-racism.

His name is Stephen Jackson. And he said it involves something called peace circles. Now, Stephen is an interesting character. He’s going to come up later. But as background, he’s a Chicago native. He joined a gang as a teenager. He did some crimes. He got caught. He served 12 years out of a 25-year prison sentence for armed robbery.

While he was in prison, he turned his life around and eventually started working in mentoring, restorative justice, and he got this job at the library. And he was promoted to the director level despite not having a master’s of library science, which, again, that traditionally would have been required for leadership.
But this was eliminated as part of their equity agenda.

Okay. So Stephen wrote that article in 2021. And at the time, they had 23 staff members trained in peace circle keeping. And then during COVID, they shifted to online peace circles. He also says in that article that their then-newly hired restorative practices coordinator –that’s Tatiana Swancy — was responsible for, “developing, implementing, and promoting practices and programs that support the library’s anti-racist journey and peace circles.”

SINGAL: I still don’t quite know what a peace circle is and why a library is doing them. … A Peace circle is part of the process of making– for our purposes — making the library less racist?

HERZOG: Right. It’s a restorative justice thing.

SINGAL: Okay. And then Tatiana Swancy, who works in this area , was laid off?

HERZOG: No. Both Tatiana and the other person whose job was eliminated were reassigned. They were offered jobs that were deemed more vital to keep the library functioning, and the plan was to fold some of the DEI stuff into other jobs. But Tatiana Swancy did not accept the reassignment, and she was very unhappy about being reassigned, and the fact that they only gave her a few days to decide.

And soon after this, a user in a local progressive activist group called Activate Oak Park posted a call to action on Facebook. Jesse, I’m going to ask you to read from this Facebook post, starting with, are you aware?

SINGAL: “Are you aware that the community engagement team is at risk of being dismantled? Not an exaggeration. As of today, we do not have a restorative practices coordinator.”

Sorry. I just find it funny. It’s like this thing that was invented 30 seconds ago. . Could you imagine a library without a restorative practices coordinator?

“Another member of the team was forced to pivot to other tasks, cutting community engagement to only 25% going forward. And BTW, direct manager, was not informed of the changes beforehand. Employees had no input. If you have friends at the library, I’m sure you’ve heard about this already. In addition to accounts of disrespect and abusive managerial practices.”

That’s quite an accusation.

“If you attended the very successful Palestinian Culture Day in January, thank you. You should know that library leadership treated our event differently from other events (in a racist way) And eventually led to reprimands and silencing tactics against the community engagement team Coincidentally staff that attended the event on their own time became targets. This is not OK. Let’s send a clear message to our board: Oak Park Library is a library for all.”

HERZOG: OK, so this post sets off a massive chain reaction. The Facebook user, her name is Melissa. She claims that the event was handled racially and now this DEI position is being eliminated. Ergo, Oak Park Public Library is racist. And yes, then she ends the post with a call to action.” Let’s go to the board meeting tomorrow.|”

SINGAL: So when she says the Palestinian celebration thing was handled differently and racistly, what does she mean by that?

HERZOG: Okay. So that refers to the fact that the event was not designated as an official library event but as a community-led event. And these critics believe that this was because of some bias within the library against Palestinians in light of the October 7th attack and the fallout from that.

And so this rumor spreads and mutates really quickly online and throughout the community: The library is racist. And not only that, the library mistreats its staff. It abuses its staff. It’s a hostile work environment. And one name in particular kept coming up. Joslyn Bowling Dixon, the executive director.

So people started posting these almost cartoonishly evil rumors about her. Like one guy in the group posted a whole slew of allegations against Jocelyn. He said his trusted sources told him all manner of negative things about her. Like he says that she tried to get the board to give her a Tesla and a driver.
“She told people, ‘stay loyal to me and you’ll be rewarded.’”

No one I spoke to who actually worked at the library heard anything like that from Jocelyn.

SINGAL: They’re trying to maker her out to be a Donald Trump-like tyrant running a small town library. How did the library respond to all this stuff?

HERZOG: So the next day, the library posts its own statement on Facebook. This was attributed to Joslyn Bowling Dixon. That post has since been deleted, but we have an archive. She doesn’t name Activate Oak Park, but she alludes to this post and she says she wants to address some misinformation that’s been going around about the situation. “The narrative about the library has many inaccuracies claiming practices directly opposed to who we are and how we operate…. At its core, it is hurtful to multiple library staff members who are committed to this community and to the library’s equity and anti-racism work.”

SINGAL: Okay, so she’s just being like, no, this didn’t happen, but in a more polite voice.

HERZOG: Yeah, so there’s a board meeting right after all this becomes public. The board meeting that that Activate Oak Park Facebook post urged people to attend. A local media outlet called The Wednesday Journal covered it under the headline, “Public lashes out at Oak Park Library over management of Palestinian cultural event,” with the subhead, “Many are criticizing the library for mishandling the event and eliminating at least one DEI position.”

According to that article, about 30 members of the public submitted comments or spoke at the meeting, basically accusing this incredibly progressive organization of being reactionary, if not racist, because they eliminated this DEI position and because the Palestinian cultural event was a community sponsored event rather than a library sponsored event, which is what started all this.

SINGAL I don’t get how this little thing became such a big deal.

HERZOG: That’s the theme of our podcast. But I think it’s just optics, like it seems like such a small thing to get pissed about especially because the event went well. Who cares if it was library sponsored or not? But there was some genuine confusion over whether or not this was a library event because of that listing on their website yeah it was confusing. It said “this is not a library event” and then listed the event organizer as the library.

SINGAL Was this just like some weird error? Do we know how it happened?

HERZOG: One of the event organizers, her name is Rebecca Levine, and she was from the Committee for a Just Peace in Palestine, Israel. She spoke at that board meeting, and she said that they’d been holding this event at the library for 22 years, and these were always community-led events, always. She also said, “We have always had tremendous support in setting up and running these events, from security to IT support to tables with library materials that people might want to check out related to the events, to staff coming by and seeing the exhibits and hearing the speakers. We have never asked for library co-sponsorship, but we had the backing and support of your staff.”

She said that this year she once again proposed an event at the library. Then she met with Juanta Griffin, a staff member on the community engagement team, and she left that meeting thinking that the library was co-sponsoring the event.
I’m not sure what Griffin told her or why she had that impression. Griffin didn’t respond to my request for comments. But we do have an email from Juanta Griffin that was sent to the executive director, Joslyn Bowling Dixon, who and the Director of Programs and Services. Her name is Lori Pulliam. It’s dated December 12, 2023. Jesse, please read this in full.

SINGAL: “Hello, Lori and Jocelyn. In regards to this event, I am approaching it as I do the Asian-American Heritage Festival, as a collaboration. We will pull books, provide space, help with setup, and allow the group to celebrate their heritage in a safe space. It is not a library event. However, we do offer basic library support to these community members. Respectfully, Juanta K. Griffin, M-A, she, her, hers.”

HERZOG: So Juanta is clear there. This is not a library event. She says that. But apparently she told Rebecca Levine, the organizer, something else, or they got their wires crossed and there was some kind of miscommunication because Rebecca, for some reason, was under the impression that the library was sponsoring this event.

Then Juanta went on medical leave and her replacement emailed Rebecca and was like, actually, this is not a library-led event, so I can’t promote it on social media.

So Rebecca is confused about this. But again, the event went marvelously. And then a few months later, there’s this agitating behind the scenes and on Facebook, all of this burst open.

Here’s what she said at that board meeting. “What happened in these three short months to our library? What was gained by reclassifying and demoting this event from a partnership to a non-library event? The only thing that we can see that came out of it is that a whole part of our community was told that their event was less, was welcome, but not with an embrace, could not come in the door. Please use the side door.”

SINGAL: This is, dude oh my God so many people just need better uses of their time. like get a hobby –maybe like a board game night. This is such a little thing for an event that went well and attracted 400 people it’s a small library

HERZOG: Yes. It’s almost as though people want to be offended

SINGAL : And it’s all unclear to me like who was hurt by this. Okay they got 30 people to make comments at this meeting but on the basis of what sounds like a fair amount of misinformation. Anyway so what happens after this?

HERZOG: Okay, so after that first board meeting when the community members show up to voice their anger, the board releases a statement. It begins, “The Board of Library Trustees acknowledges there have been multiple examples of damage caused to the Oak Park area community , to our community partners and to members of the Oak Park library staff, and we have much work to rebuild the broken trust. We apologize for the relationships that have been compromised during our tenure as a board. We take accountability for this harm in our community, and we thank the community for your patience while we work on best steps towards repairs.”

SINGAL: Sorry, why are they doing that? Why are they throwing themselves under the bus when it’s very unclear anything went wrong here other than a pretty simple misunderstanding?

HERZOG: The psychology of the modern American progressive is a complex subject, Jesse. So there are repairs, of course, you know, that includes restorative justice. But unfortunately, they eliminated the restorative justice manager. So I guess they’ll have to freeball the peace circle.

And they say that they’re working on a plan that includes a way for staff to give anonymous feedback. What could go wrong there? And they’re going to hold a special board meeting to figure out how to be more accountable to the public.

SINGAL Statements like this never, it never helped. It’s never like, oh, well, thanks for apologizing because the initial accusation was so vague. Apologizing for the vague, like there’s no way this helped, right?

HERZOG: Never in history has a statement smoothed anything over. Statements can only make things worse, which is what happened here. So they post a statement on Facebook. More fighting and criticism ensue in the comments. One Jewish woman weighs in and say the library shouldn’t have sponsored the event because an Israeli cultural event would have led to a meltdown, which leads to more fighting in the thread.

SINGAL: Probably true, actually.

HERZOG: Yeah, and the whole thing devolves really quickly, which is why you should never post a statement you shouldn’t have written in the first place on Facebook. After that, the executive director, Joslyn Bowling Dixon, she wrote an apology of her own. It begins,” Dear Oak Park Public Library community, I am sorry. I am accountable for this library and to this library. I am deeply sorry I contributed to the hurt experienced by community members surrounding the celebration of Palestinian cultural event.”

Again, the event was fine.

SINGAL: we’ve talked about other instances of like people summing up controversies out of nothing I’m not sure I can remember one where there was solittle kindling for such a big fire

]HERZOG: Right so, Jocelyn, she continues in that vein for a while and she says they’re going to have two Ramadan events that will be library sponsored and she emphasizes again how very sorry she is and says she’s committed to repairing harm so it’s do better with more syllables

SINGAL: But there’s still no, unless I’m missing something, no evidence anyone did anything wrong here. It sounds like there’s a paper trail suggesting a misunderstanding and that they treated this similarly to the like the Asian heritage thing. Who is actually complaining about this?

HERZOG: OK, so I filed a public records request to get that information. I wanted to know if anybody had written the library and said, like, look, as a Jew, as a Jewish person, as an Israeli, anything like this, I condemn your holding a Palestinian event and that would make them, you know, rethink co-sponsoring it.

It was sort of a long shot because what terminology do you use, right? Like I filed FOIAs for like the terms Jew and Jewish and Israel and Israeli and Palestinian festival, thinking that someone might have used those terms. Nothing came back. And a spokesperson for the library told me, no, they were not aware of any complaints either before the festival or in response to the festival. I mean, regardless, I don’t think any of this would have happened had the event been scheduled for before October 7th, 2023. No one would have cared if the event were library sponsored or not. But the event was held in January. And during that period, you know, tensions were high. This is right around the time there were those university presidents who were pushed out for being insufficiently anti-anti-Semitic. There were viral videos every day of people tearing down hostage posters.

Events and people were being canceled on both sides of the debate. So I don’t think it’s totally unreasonable for the bystanders to assume that the library was trying to avoid conflict by not sponsoring the Palestinian event. But again, like the event had been held there for 22 years and they’d never sponsored it before.So why would they start now?

What the community didn’t know was that there was more going on behind the scenes that had nothing to do with the event. Like many of these organization fights, this looked on the surface like it was a battle over values. Right? Racism vs. anti-racist. But in fact, it was actually about something much more pedestrian. So remember the name Stephen Jackson? I mentioned him earlier. He was the director of anti-racism and equity. Okay, so I’m not going to go into the details here, but there were some issues with Stephen’s performance at work, and there had been complaints about him from colleagues.
And Joslyn Bowling Dixon, the executive director, as you’ll recall, she’s an enforcer. She does not tolerate bullshit. She doesn’t tolerate underperformance.

What I can disclose is that one conflict between Stephen and Jocelyn had to do with a restorative practices conference that was also held in January. So Stephen headed the committee that organized the event, and the committee invited a guy named Tyrone Muhammad as the keynote speaker at the event. And Tyrone Muhammad is the CEO of an organization called Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change, which does sound perfect for a restorative justice event, but he’s also a bit problematic.

Jesse,please read from this email sent to the board of directors by gay rights and other social justice organizations. I got this via public records request.

SINGAL “In March 2022, Mr. Muhammad violently interrupted a rally organized by many LGBTQ plus organizations in support of trans rights aftr the deaths of two Black transgender women. Mr. Muhammad and other members of the ECCSC — that’s Ex-Cons for Social Change — pushed their way through the gathering, forcibly moving many of the participants. Using intimidation, wearing bulletproof vests, and screaming through bullhorns, they used physical force to silence Black trans women and other LGBTQ plus people who were there participating in the rally, including a number of residents of Oak Park and Forest Park, … . In addition, Mr. Muhammad received $250,000 from anti-equality individuals and organizations such as Dan Proft’s People Who Play By The Rules.”

HERZOG: He’s a conservative talk radio host in Chicago.

SINGAL: Okay, back to the letter. Muhammad has, ” worked with anti-equality leaders and elected officials who are actively working to erase protections for LGBTQ plus people. Mr. Muhammad was also arrested last year protesting the use of a Woodlawn school to house migrants, fueling divisions and anti-immigrant rhetoric, “

HERZOG: Yeah. So they asked the library to rescind his invitation: “Restorative practices are unquestionably essential. Giving a platform to Mr. Muhammad and his organization, knowing that his previous actions suppress the voices of Black trans women do not reflect the values of this community.” And I mean, it is kind of funny that the very, very, very woke library invited a guy who’s anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT to keynote this event. .

SINGAL: And did they rescind the invitation?

HERZOG: They did. And again, this was Stephen Jackson’s event. So his keynote got canceled. So between that and some performance issues, there’s beef between him and Jocelyn. Now, Stephen had an important ally outside the library. She’s a community member. Her name is Susan Lucci, like the soap star who lost the Daytime Emmy 18 times, but not her.

She’s just a community member. But she’s been advocating for Stephen for years. So remember, Stephen did 12 years in prison for armed robbery. And I found an article from 2016 about a clemency hearing. He was trying to get a pardon from the governor. And Lucci was quoted in that as one of his supporters
So Lucci declined to talk to me or answer any questions and, in fact, asked me not to do this because the community needed healing.

For anyone listening to this, a fantastic way to get a reporter to continue looking into you is to ask them not to look into you.

SINGAL: Yeah. By the way, yeah. Okay. I didn’t realize the community needed healing. We won’t do the podcast. …,

HERZOG: So Lucci didn’t talk to me, but judging purely from her social media, she strikes me as a quintessential performative progressive activist. Like she’s got photos of Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kamala Harris on her Facebook page. She wears an RBG face mask and you can just tell she’s got an “In this house we believe…” sign in her yard and probably a non-binary teenager in the house.

And she’s one of the loudest voices trying to get Joslyn Bowling Dixon fired, both publicly and behind the scenes.

And this goes back well before the clusterfuck over the Palestinian festival.

So in July 2023, for instance, six months before the festival was even on the books, she emailed the board president. His name is Matt Fruth. I got these emails via public records request. And she begins. “Hi, Matt.” She then goes on to say that what she’s hearing about Jocelyn is, “quite unsettling, if not scary. People are fearful of retaliation.So much wonderful equity and community work has been accomplished over the past years, which I fear is now being set back. I heard the environment is becoming toxic quite fast.”

SINGAL: Sounds, seems like a smear campaign. Who is she supposedly hearing this from?

HERZOG: So she doesn’t say and she wouldn’t talk to me. But again, she’s close with Stephen Jackson. Stephen has conflict with Jocelyn. This is speculation on my part, but my guess is that it was him. I would have asked him, but he didn’t respond to my request for comment either.

Anyway, the board president, Matt Fruth, he doesn’t respond to her. She tries again in November and you can tell she means business because this time it’s not “Hi, Matt” It’s “Dear Mr. Fruth. Four months ago –“, that’s in italics — “I emailed you very concerned about inappropriate behavior reported to me by
numerous library employees about the executive director of the Oak Park Library. This behavior persists. People are being harmed. “

And she says she’s surprised she didn’t hear back from him. Maybe he didn’t receive her email?

SINGAL: But she never laid out… It’s not like in the initial email she laid out specific accusations. She just said she heard stuff, right? So it’s so entitled to be like, you didn’t respond to my vague allegations.

HERZOG: Yeah. And he writes back and he says there have been no complaints from the staff either before he got her email or after. And if the staff have problems, they can go to him directly. So that’s one of many emails from Susan Lucci to board members, all of which were obtained via FOIA. And she’s explicit that she wants Jocelyn out.

So in one email to board members in January, she writes,” I will not stand down. My concern over the new executive director’s attempt to erase a decade of really good, impactful, effective equity work continues and, in fact, is heightened. Her continued silencing of the leadership team and specifically our director of equity is a serious cause for concern. I have repeatedly reached out to both of you on this matter to no satisfaction.”

Again, the director of equity is her friend, Stephen Jackson.

SINGAL: I looked her up, by the way, and this appears there’s a Susan Lucci in the community who has, this is her website,” led more than a thousand circles over the past 15 years. What is it with Oak Park and circles? They’re big on circles there. Covering a variety of fascinating topics, including “living more mindfully, creating community, pursuing purpose with passion, activating activists, transitioning thoughtfully, and aging consciously.” There’s a mystical sisterhood podcast. She appeared on or runs. Well, I hate that we have to bring race into this. She does look pretty non-POC to me. I guess we can’t know for sure. The reason I say that is because in any other context, people would be like, oh, a white woman trying to get a Black woman fired. That’s not our move, but that is what people say.

HERZOG: Right. That is what she was trying to do. And in another email, quoting someone unnamed, she says that Jocelyn left a, “ trail of traumatic tears”, in her wake.

SINGAL: Do you think that’s somewhat different from the trail of tears, the trail of traumatic tears at the library, flooding the library?

HERZOG: It is copyrighted. It’s a copyright violation. She also sent the board quotes allegedly from an anonymous forum for POC library employees in which someone complained about Jocelyn back at her old library in Newark.

SINGAL: This is like, I don’t know. There’s like, there are, I guess it would depend on Jocelyn being a public figure, but there’s like, if you’re actively behind the scenes trying to remove someone from their job, it could get a little bit legally problematic. This sounds like a really intense campaign to get this woman fired. Did she do anything wrong at Newark? Did she have enemies there?

HERZOG: She did. So I reached out to several of her former colleagues in Newark. And the ones I talked to gave her really strong reviews. Again, she was seen as tough but fair. One said she’s not a puppet, but also said that she’s not so headstrong that she won’t take direction. That said, there was some drama during her time at Newark because when she got there, it was August in 2020. The library was still closed for COVID. She wanted to reopen the library, and she did that just a month later. And for this, she was accused of naturally putting Black and brown bodies in danger.

I mean, maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise considering who tends to work at libraries — women. But it turns out they are as dramatic as knitting groups.

SINGAL: One way to view this story is that this is a very competent, accomplished Black woman who continually ran afoul of the priorities of progressive white women, such as keeping shit closed forever and making sure not only that you have a successful event celebrating Palestinian culture, but that no one feels at all offended or slighted. There’s a pattern here.

HERZOG: I don’t know if the people who complained about her putting Black and brown bodies in danger in Newark were specifically white. Newark is a pretty Black city, isn’t it?

SINGAL: Okay. For what it’s worth, I think in a lot of places, the fighting tended to be between… Don’t you think the reopening schools and libraries tended to break down in a certain way and white progressives led that charge? But maybe not Newark. You could be right. Yeah.

HERZOG: I mean, it did, yes. And in fact, it was oftentimes, it seems like this was being really spearheaded by people who maybe worked from home, who weren’t essential workers, so they weren’t leaving their house to go deliver fucking DoorDash. They could be home with their children, while poor people, underclass people who are disproportionately people of color were ones who needed childcare because they actually had to go to work.

Anyway, back at Oak Park, things were getting hairier for Jocelyn. There’s all sorts of shit flying around online within the library. Factions had formed. And on the surface, this is about the Palestinian festival not being sponsored by the library. But beneath it all, this is really a standard HR battle between slackers and doers.

And I just cannot emphasize how common this sort of thing is. So many of the cancellation stories I’ve looked into that are supposedly about values and social justice are really just about everyday conflicts that happen in any workplace. They’re just laundered through the guise of anti-racism or social justice.

So Jocelyn posted her apology. I mentioned that a moment ago. She posted that on March 4th. The same day, the library updated a page on their website called Library Fact Checker.

This page isn’t new. It’s been around since at least 2021. And at that time, it had fact checks about COVID-19, finances and levies, local elections, stuff like that. I’m not sure why the library felt it was necessary to fact check that kind of stuff. But after this latest kerfuffle, they fact check a bunch of the rumors about what was going on. So it started, “ Fact Check No 1: The executive director, Joslyn Bowling Dixon, eliminated two equity, diversity, and inclusion positions. False.Two positions were moved to one team”.

And they explained why. Again, budget cuts. They also said that the two positions had a lot of overlap and redundancy. “These position shifts were envisioned as both an evolution and a continuation of the work.

“Fact Check No. 2: There is a culture of fear among the library caused by the executive director.” The fact check reads, false.

“Twice per year, all library staff members are asked to complete a brief survey to gauge how they are feeling about the culture of the library and their well-being as employees of the library.”

And they say, “the results of those surveys found that the staff were largely content and felt valued and Bowling Dixon received high marks from the staff.”

And I should say this does seem largely validated by the people I spoke to as well as the public testimony at various board meetings. So at one board meeting, the children’s services manager said there’s a small but vocal minority who have disparaged the executive director. But she also said, “we feel that Jocelyn is the best director this library has had.”

SINGAL: So they publish an online fact check just responding to like basically online rumors, right?

HERZOG: Yeah, part of it was rumors that had been circulating on Facebook and at board meetings, but part of it also seems to be things that this media outlet — this local outlet, Wednesday Journal — was publishing. So, like, the fact check has a whole section about the Palestinian event, and it included this quote.
“Deputy Director Susie Wulf suggested the library avoid politically sensitive programming. False.”

That’s a reference to something that was reported in the Wednesday Journal. They quoted Tatiana Swancy– so that’s the DEI worker whose job was eliminated. She said Wulf, “told us that it was the wrong time to support the event because there was a war going on over there.” And the library contends that this was taken out of context.

“Wulf discussed internal team miscommunication surrounding event promotion ,and promised to work toward developing clearer guidelines. She also brought up the war in the middle east as a way to illustrate the need for sensitivity when planning events. She never said it was the wrong time to support the event because of the challenging political landscape.”

SINGAL: So they’re saying that someone misrepresented the conversation, right?

HERZOG: Yeah, I mean, they don’t give any names and they’re obviously not going to accuse a former employee of lying. But to me, the implication is that, yeah, someone misrepresented what went down and the Wednesday Journal published it.

And after Swancy’s position was eliminated and she declined the reassignment, she was active on Facebook and in talking to the local paper, basically disparaging the library at any chance she got. I reached out to her. I didn’t hear back.

The library was not the only people taking issue with the Wednesday Journal’s reporting on this.

There’s a Substack newsletter called “Stack Thoughts.” The author of that is herself a former librarian. Her name’s Kelly Jensen. And she did a ton of research to figure out what was actually going on here, although I think she missed a lot of the behind the scenes HR stuff. And she’s been very critical of the Wednesday Journal’s reporting and basically feels like they’re elevating these bad faith, overblown, uninformed complaints about the library and the executive director from both former staff, disgruntled former staff in the community.

And after looking to this, I think she’s right. I mean, the Wednesday Journal was so focused on this Palestinian festival that they missed so much of the actual story about this HR shit. And they just got some basic shit really wrong. Like Jensen points this out in her newsletter.

he Wednesday Journal posted an article after Bowling Dixon apologized, and it contained this line about the Palestinian event: “Dixon said that the library liaison for the event, Juanta Griffin, told her that this event was not a collaborative program. However, an email between the two women appears to show that clearly Griffin explains the collaboration among groups at the library”.

And then right beside that, in the paper, they post a screenshot of the email that Juanta Griffin wrote to her bosses that you read at the beginning.

SINGAL: Yeah, the last line of that is,” it is not a library event. However, we do offer basic library support to these community members,” which is very weird to include the collaboration part, but” it is not a library event,” which could not be more explicit.

They posted the entire thing in full on their website. And the email directly contradicts what the paper is saying about the email. Very strange. Very sloppy.

So Kelly Jensen, this substacker, she’s very much on Bowling Dixon’s side. And librarians have been passing her article around to show that Joslyn Bowling Dixon got screwed.

I reached out to Kelly to ask if she had any prior relationship with the library or with Joslyn Bowling Dixon. And she responded to me and said no, other than she did a panel on censorship at the library and Bowling Dixon was there. And I had a few follow up questions for her.

But when I went to respond, I realized she’d blocked me. It was very strange. Like I wrote her a nice note about her piece and she blocked me. So I assume she hates podcasters.

During all this drama, a group called Freedom to Thrive Oak Park published a letter of their own. That’s also been taken offline and I couldn’t find an archive. So I’m going to read you from Kelly’s post about it.

“The letter, signed by a little over 100 people and dated March 10th, listed a series of demands from the group to the board. Among them are claims that the position eliminations were done as threats, that staff members felt disrespect, fear, and distrust in the library, that the Palestinian event was poorly managed, and that it was inappropriate to use public funds and the OPPL public website to promote a personal and political opinions falsely represented as facts at Fact Checker.”

And the Wednesday Journal also published quotes from that letter, including this one, “If the leadership had appreciated and engaged in restorative practices, the situation might not have escalated.” If only we had more peace circles. We are now at a point beyond repair.”

Again, this is about an event that went down well at a library that has put so much energy into DEI that they have 23 staffers trained in peace circles.

SINGAL: This is so weird. Yeah, this is just bizarre. Just the level of outrage over nothing. It’s such a strange story.

HERZOG: It gets weirder. So the board members, some of whom have ties to these couple of disgruntled employees and to these Facebook groups, took all of this very seriously. And on March 14th, they asked Joslyn Bowling Dixon to resign. She refused.

SINGAL: For what? I don’t even get it.

HERZOG: They hadn’t given her any kind of performance improvement plan or anything like that. And she’s like, no, you can’t just fire me. So the board held a special meeting to vote to fire her. But because it’s a board meeting, it has to be open and announced to the public in advance.

And so dozens of people showed up to support Bowling Dixon, including staff members, as well as librarians and leaders from other area libraries. So the Wednesday Journal, as Kelly Jensen points out, they covered this, but they sort of buried all the support that Jocelyn received and who it was from.

So like they quote someone that they refer to as a commentator and Oak Park resident who supported Dixon, but they didn’t name her or mention that this was the executive director of the Public Library Association. Seems relevant.

SINGAL: This is bad journalism, yeah.

HERZOG: Anyway, the board did not vote to fire her at that meeting, but they held another meeting on March 16th. Now, Kelly Jensen, the Substacker, she says that the board violated the Open Meetings Act by changing the agenda for the meeting less than 48 hours before it was held. But regardless, they did hold a meeting. It was over two hours long, and they voted to fire Joslyn Bowling Dixon. And they did this before the public comment, which is a pretty backwards way of doing it, And then when they actually did open it up for public comment, the vast majority of the commenters were on Jocelyn’s side.

So the end result of all of this is that Joslyn Bowling Dixon — the perfect candidate, she had the degree, the experience, the ties to the community, the support of her colleagues, and the right skin color — was fired. And now the residents of Oak Park and the board of the Oak Park Public Library can rest well knowing that they ousted a well-liked executive director for the crime of… I’m not even sure. Like, the event was good. The staff was happy.

SINGAL: It’s so strange. It’s a witch hunt.

HERZOG: It’s a witch hunt. And I may be missing something here, but it seems to me like what happened is that a small number of disgruntled employees used the Palestinian event to mobilize a bunch of anti-racist activist types to campaign against their boss. Because unlike the old white guy who used to run the place, she wasn’t afraid of being called racist for enforcing the rules.

And then the good progressive anti-racist folks of Oak Park, who are basically being manipulated here, they blew this whole thing out of proportion, forcing the board to respond, at which point the board fires the popular Black lady in the name of anti-racism. And that is social justice.

SINGAL: Oh, my God. Yeah. Yeah, someone should hire Jocelyn. Should we get a staff librarian?

HERZOG: You know, she will get another job. There is a lot of demand for her services. She’s an experienced Black leader in a field that is desperate to diversify. And she has the support of librarians all over the country. She’s going to land on her feet.

SINGAL: What a bizarre story, Katie. Thank you. Yeah, you got to wonder with something like this. I mean, not that this was big enough to get local news coverage, but if there’d been like competent local news coverage, just like setting the record straight on certain things early on. Maybe I’m romanticizing the role of journalism, but it’s just this crazy rumor mongering and that woman just emailing over and over to get her fired. It’s just ugly.

HERZOG: Yeah, I’m curious why the Wednesday Journal did such a half-ass job covering this. I mean, it really was not hard for me to find sources here. It wasn’t hard for me to get records. And the actual story is a lot more interesting than just like, yeah, racist Black woman.

SINGAL: Anti-Palestinian.

HERZOG: Something, something. Yeah. Right. Right. Anyway, Jesse, any questions?

SINGAL: No, I mean, yeah, it’s a lot, but none that you can answer. Why are people so crazy? Thank you very much, Katie. That was insane and infuriating.