By Abhinanda Datta
The Trump presidency has ignited a will to lessen shared feelings of hatred and fear, but a 68-year-old retired IT project manager is using her passion for books to create an environment of bias-free rhetoric.
Diane Scholten’s brainchild, The Progressive Book Club, was designed for people who are passionate about social justice and issues pertaining to racism, feminism, environmentalism and immigration reform.
“Unlike the political action groups to which I belong,” Scholten said, “the book club is just that – a book club – in which we read books with a progressive slant and engage in meaningful discussion about the topic at hand, through the lens of the book we’ve just read.
“The idea behind it is to dig a little deeper into the why’s and what do we do’s,” Scholten continued, “rather than wring our hands or just jump directly into action. And because it is a group, it allows us to temper our own ideas through interaction with others.”
The club had its first meeting last Monday and is set to meet on the second Monday of every month from 7 to 8 pm. at Read Between the Lynes, a bookshop in Woodstock. Currently there are about 30 people in the club.
Scholten explains how the book club got off the ground, starting with signs promoting brotherhood and ethnic diversity. Scholten said she was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last fall when she saw a sign that read, “Our Muslim and refugee neighbors are welcome here.” She immediately knew she wanted something similar for her yard.
Scholten’s search for such signs led her to a GoFundMe page, which had the design in a PDF that she could take to her local printers.
“So I texted three neighbors to see if they’d want a yard sign,” Scholten continued. “When one of my neighbors showed interest, it occurred to me that this was a popular sentiment.”
Scholten said a young man came to pick up his sign, saw her book-filled home office, and “ [It] turns out he’s an English major, and we got to excitedly talking about books. He said that we should start a progressive book club – so I did.”
Prior to working in the IT sector, Scholten was a book seller. She said reading has always been an inherent part of her life. She has also been politically active and worked on Bernie Sander’s campaign last spring. She is also a part of various non-profit organizations dedicated to social issues.
“I’ve been interested in politics since 1968, and I’ve seen a lot,” Scholten said. “For goodness sake, I survived the era of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, Kent State, then the horrid Bush era. Honestly, I think most of us thought we’d seen it all. But [Trump’s election] is an abomination.”
Scholten established the book club because reading and books have always comforted her.
“I think the book club really struck a chord with me as it is a different form of politics – self-education, self-reflection, forming bonds with people,” Scholten said. “My hope is that it will lead people who have not heretofore been politically active to now have the courage to get out and do so.”
Scholten said she is not certain about how this book club will evolve, but she is elated that people are awakening to the power of the written word.
“In the end, the book club is a finding of tribe, a giving back,” Scholten said, “and, one hopes, planting a seed.”