Part 2 of 2: It’s time to speak out against Moms For Liberty
by Regie Stites
In August and September 2023, the Yolo County Library and schools in Davis, California received a half-dozen emailed bomb threats containing homophobic hate speech. These threats were inspired by a campaign by the local Moms For Liberty chapter aimed at banning books that center on LGBTQ+ characters and issues.
A crowd of people hold signs saying “Stop Banning Books,” “Our Students Deserve Better,” and “Teach the Truth” at a protest against book banning in Atlanta, GA, 12 February 2022. Photo by John Ramspott. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Book_Banning_Protest,_Atlanta,_GA_2-12-2022_P2120167_(51878411104).jpg
Moms For Liberty (M4L) was started in 2021 in Florida to organize opposition to COVID-19 mask mandates but soon moved on to promoting book bans and supporting extreme-right candidates in school board elections. The group supports school board candidates who will aid them in banning books they consider “obscene”—a broad category in the M4L view that includes a wide variety of books that touch on the topic of racism or contain LGBTQ+ themes.
In the short time since the group’s founding, M4L has grown rapidly and spread across the U.S. An October 10, 2023 report by the Brookings Institution counted more than 103,000 members in county chapters distributed across 45 states.
Despite the relatively inoffensive rhetoric to be found on the national M4L website—the organization claims to be defending parental rights and standing for liberty—the group is known to spread extremist anti-government and anti-inclusion messages. In July 2023, the Southern Poverty Law Center placed M4L on its list of anti-government extremist groups.
The concept of “parental rights” as it is understood and used by M4L and like-minded MAGA agitators is a cover for their desire to impose a curriculum constrained by the fears of a minority of parents. But public schools have a responsibility to educate all children in ways that prepare them to live and thrive in a multicultural, multiracial democracy. Although M4L claims to be concerned about the safety of all students, their efforts to ban any serious discussion of racism and gender identity are aimed at creating a learning environment in public schools in which BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students will feel unsafe and unwelcome.
Pushing right-wing extremism and censorship under the guise of motherhood and parental concerns for child safety has a long history in America. In her 2018 book, Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, Elizabeth Gillespie MacRae chronicles the grassroots role of conservative white women in organizing support for racial segregation and Jim Crow from the 1920s to the 1970s. Michelle M. Nickerson, in her 2012 book, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right, tells the story of Cold War era housewives in Southern California whose red-hunting activism shaped the agenda of the Republican Party from the 1950s to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
PEN America has tracked the recent rise in efforts to ban books from public schools and libraries. They counted over 3,000 such efforts in the 2022-2023 school year alone. The PEN America report on book banning clearly states the danger to public education posed by censorship:
"Classrooms and libraries are meant to be places of discussion and inquiry, with cultivated collections that help students learn to grapple with diverse, and even controversial, ideas. At its core, today’s movement to ban books does not just endanger individual libraries and classrooms; it is putting the very notion of a public education system that prioritizes information sharing, knowledge building, and acceptance and inclusion of all students at risk."
When extreme right-wing groups such as M4L demand removal of books from schools and libraries and if they don’t get their way, bomb threats and other forms of intimidation are never far behind. Tragically, school bomb threats have become commonplace in the U.S. A recent article in Education Week counted almost 6,000 such threats in 2022, the vast majority unrelated to book bans. But the bomb threats in Yolo County coinciding with the M4L censorship campaign in the fall of 2023 were a continuation of a disturbing trend. Having tracked at least 50 bomb threats related to book bans in the 2022-2023 school year, the American Library Association has condemned the threats and asked for help from elected officials and the public in standing up to the people who make such threats.
Now is not the time to ignore MAGA-inspired expressions of extreme homophobia, racist rants, and threats of violence. These are not isolated acts by a few individuals. They are a direct result of polarizing and hate-filled messaging from MAGA politicians, groups like M4L, and extreme right-wing social media amplifiers. Homophobia and white supremacy are very much alive in America today and extremists who espouse these views all too often resort to threats of violence in an attempt to cow their opponents into silence and inaction.
White anti-racists cannot remain silent. Our voices matter. As the results of 2023 school board elections across the country demonstrate, exposing the homophobic, racist, and anti-democratic aims of M4L is a winning strategy. On November 7, 2023, organized opposition led to the defeat of M4L school board candidates in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, Kansas, New Jersey, and other states.
The stakes in the upcoming 2024 elections could not be higher, not just in national elections, but also in local elections. MAGA extremist groups like M4L will continue to push an agenda of hate and exclusion while hiding behind seductive and misleading promises of “parental rights.” Anyone who cares about the rights of all children to a quality public education must be ready to stand up and expose the injustice of M4L attacks on inclusive public schools and libraries.
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1: "It's time to stand up against White Rage."
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