December 17, 2023

Maurice Cunningham: The Rise and Fall of Moms For Liberty

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Maurice Cunningham is an expert in tracking the dark money that animates so much of the work against public education. He’s been watching Moms For Liberty since Day One, and writing for The Progressive, he explains why their success is crumbling.

While M4L frames itself as a grassroots organization, in October 2022, a spokesperson for the group confessed to The New Yorker that it is more akin to a “media company.” This is reflected in M4L’s close ties to far-right political technician Morton Blackwell. In 1979, Blackwell founded the Leadership Institute (LI) to train conservatives in political combat, and LI has trained thousands of activists—including M4L’s leaders.

The Leadership Institute also partners with M4L, in training school board candidates, and it virtually runs M4L’s national summits. A recent Brookings Institute Brown Center for Education Policy study of M4L’s membership found that it has “about 103,000 members across 278 chapters in forty-five states.” And although M4L claims to advocate for “parental rights,” its main focus has been on manufacturing chaos in public schools by, for example: pushing for book bansdisrupting school board meetings, defaming educators as groomers and opposing parents as pedophiles, placing a bounty on teachers’ heads, and generally stoking a culture of fear.

At its outset in January 2021, M4L’s “communications technology” looked like a winner. In July 2022, Media Matters for America documented how the rightwing propaganda network of media outlets publicized M4L. Tina Descovich, the organization’s co-founder, appeared on The Rush Limbaugh Show in January 2021; and since its founding through July 2022, M4L representatives appeared on Fox News up to sixteen times and on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast fourteen times. Attention from BreitbartGlenn Beck, and other rightwing media outlets followed.

But that strong start has been faltering in the past couple of months.

In Virginia, State Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg ousted an incumbent Republican state senator who sponsored book ban legislation. VanValkenburg emphasized that, as a high school teacher, he understands “the difference one book can make for a child.” Delegate Randy Willett, re-elected from a purple district near Richmond, likely won as a result of his focus on the loyalty and attachment that people have to their community public schools.

It turns out that perhaps voters don’t like the constant havoc practiced by M4L, and it may be the case that a backlash to Blackwell’s political techniques produced more effective activists who cherish public schools than M4L could deploy to destroy them.

In the Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania, which had become a model of a disordered rightwing takeover, moderate candidates regained control of the school board, soundly defeating candidates promoted by M4L. Heather Reynolds, who defeated the school board president, explained that voters had grown exhausted by the bedlam at each monthly school board meeting.

People who cherish their community public schools must continue to fight, of course. But the 2023 school board elections may have proved that while rightwing advocacy groups like Moms for Liberty can be very good at breaking things, voters generally prefer building and maintaining institutions, like public schools, which they believe are genuinely working for them.

Read the full article here. 

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