Quick Take:

A coalition of 44 local organizations has united to denounce the group Moms for Liberty, which participated in a meeting in Watsonville last weekend. Moms for Liberty says it advocates parental rights, but is also labeled extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here, the 44 organizations denounce the tactics, ideas and motivations of Moms for Liberty, which include banning books and limiting discussions about race and LGBTQ+ identities in schools. “We will fight their efforts with vigor and passion every step of the way to protect our most vulnerable kids and their families,” the groups write.

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Last Sunday, at a private farm in Watsonville, a collection of groups with national affiliations and links to the Proud Boys,insurrectionists and even actual Neo-Nazis gathered to recruit local adherents.

We are unclear why the groups came to our community, but they met under the umbrella of Moms for Liberty, which calls itself a “parental rights group,” but has been labeled a far-right extremist organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Born out of the civil rights movement and renowned for winning legal battles against the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacist groups, the SPLC has been tracking Moms for Liberty’s actions at and on school board meetings in its ongoing “Hate Watch” program.

The groups that met here did not advertise all of these connections, of course.

Nor did they mention that some chapters of Moms for Liberty have quoted Hitler at the top of their newsletters, for which some members later apologized and some did not.

They falsely tout themselves as “nonpartisan,” seeking only to advance what they call “parents’ rights” and to “protect the innocence of children,” while calling themselves names like “California Parents United” and “Our Duty.” But their causes align alarmingly with far-right Republicans, and they invite only Republican speakers to their conferences, including: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Republican presidential candidate and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

They are also working hard to get elected to school boards across the country.

Because we are committed to assuming the best in others and seeking to understand hurtful behavior, many of us have attempted to dialogue with the few local and public cheerleaders of this group and its affiliates in a kind and reasonable manner.

We have attempted to meet in person for dialogue and we have, in the end, been met with false and defamatory accusations of the most heinous nature — in alignment with accusations hurled at parents, families and educators across the United States who are attempting to protect the gains and human rights of LGBTQ+ people, people of color, migrants and women.

And so, we now collectively must make an unequivocal statement denouncing “California Parents United,” a state-level affiliate of Moms for Liberty, and all affiliates of Moms for Liberty.

Moms for Liberty began with two women in Florida and gained traction and positions of power under DeSantis. The group moved quickly from anti-vaccination and anti-mask advocacy to book banning (they call this “curating”). They also work alongside Republicans in that state to remove curriculum (Advanced Placement African American Studies, AP Psychology) and with a small handful of national actors, attempt to ban books for, by and about people of color, LGBTQ+ students and even about the Holocaust.

In 2022, slightly more than half of the 500 school board candidates they endorsed across the country won. Those numbers might be declining as voters become educated about who they are and what they are after.

The two most insidious aspects of the “Moms for Liberty” strategy are:

1. Scapegoating. Moms for Liberty will scapegoat, demonize and dehumanize the most misunderstood (and wrongly feared) population within the LGBTQ+ population: nonbinary and transgender adults and kids. By creating unreasonable fear, people from across the political spectrum can be galvanized and recruited. Any attempts by community members to advocate for these groups — especially LGBTQ+ groups — is then met with accusations of “sexualizing,” “grooming” or “indoctrinating” children. This technique of using children’s innocence (“protecting children’’) has been the central theme of QAnon and other conspiracy theories, with roots in the antisemitic conspiracy theories of Russian pogroms and Nazis.

2. Incrementalism. Moms for Liberty attempts to recruit parents through appeals to seemingly “reasonable” requests, like ensuring the American flag is in place in every classroom. Not long after, they go after all Pride flags at schools. And soon, as in Chino and Temecula, they are banning state-approved curriculum and ejecting the Black state superintendent of schools from school board meetings. People of color are silenced in meetings, according to Defense of Democracy regional director Jenn Reeves and Temecula mom Christina Johnson, and they report even young children of color are harassed and physically bullied at meetings by men four times their size. Meetings and Pride activities in communities where Moms for Liberty and their affiliates have coalesced have devolved into shouting and violence.

Educational and organizing resources via the authors

“Disclosure”: Netflix documentary on the history of nonbinary and trans depictions in the media and resulting impacts over the past century.

Via Salon, details on Moms for Liberty national agenda.

On the deeply troubling links (direct and ideological) to Proud Boys, Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

Defense of Democracy: nonpartisan advocacy group.

Via Lancaster Online, details on Grandmas for Love, formed as a counter to Moms for Liberty.

Parents with LGBTQ+ children and others who advocate for the safety and inclusion of their own children at school board meetings become the target of harassment and smear campaigns, get accused of being “demons,” “groomers” and worse.

School board meetings degenerate into a nasty circus of expletives, division and exclusion. Superintendents and school board members are harassed and even driven from their jobs. In Temecula, red paint was poured on the vehicles of one member of Defense of Democracy, a national, nonpartisan organization set up in 2022 to beat back the candidacy of two upstate New York school board members backed by Moms for Liberty.

Such is the legacy of Moms for Liberty.

Individual members of Moms for Liberty may have differing views and beliefs about what, exactly, they are about, but there can be no denying their tight affiliation with the GOP at the national level.

This year, 191 House Republicans voted to completely end the federal Department of Education. At the Watsonville meeting, unhinged conspiracy theorists attacked educators and teachers unions.

The true intent of Moms for Liberty is to severely impair the United States’ public school system, if not dismantle it entirely, in favor of fundamentalist religious, private schools. Betsy DeVos said this very clearly at a summit in Tampa, Florida, in 2022.

Pajaro Valley Pride board members celebrating another successful PV Pride celebration
Pajaro Valley Pride board members celebrating another successful PV Pride celebration in August. Credit: Via Jasmin Gutierrez-Banderas @jasmingb_photos

As members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community from Watsonville to Davenport to Salinas and beyond, we stand united in unequivocal opposition to Moms for Liberty, California Parents United, California Parents Union, Our Duty and affiliated groups. We oppose their tactics and entire ideology.

We will fight their efforts with vigor and passion every step of the way to protect our most vulnerable kids and their families.

We believe our county, in the majority, supports the human rights, dignity and safety of the LGBTQ+ community and that our community will not abandon trans and nonbinary people, people of color, brown-skinned migrants, Muslims, Jews or anyone else attacked by this group nationally.

We invite our community to unite and stand in solidarity with our relatives, siblings, brothers and sisters who have struggled for centuries to achieve the rights, dignity and respect they have so far and which they rightly deserve.

We will not allow Moms for Liberty and similar hate groups to roll back the clock here by 100 years or more.

We invite everyone in our community to educate themselves properly about what it means to be born a trans or nonbinary human being and to be highly alert to the disinformation, misinformation and fear-based rhetoric that is now ubiquitous and coming from many, even surprising sources in our county.

Being LGBTQ+ is not an aberration of humanity.

LGBTQ+ people have been with us since the dawn of time, and they are all part of the beauty and diversity of global humanity. In our county, LGBTQ+ humans are teachers, kids, parents, administrators, school staff and our sisters, brothers, relatives and friends. They are us.

We reject the use of religion to divide and separate us from one another, to harness political power and to create fear and chaos even within families whose children may actually really need the love, understanding and support of their parents and caregivers.

Trans children and teens are much more likely than cisgender kids to engage in self-harm, commit suicide and become homeless due to the “rejection” of our greater society. This is why we act to uplift and protect them.

We believe that a deep and transcendent love is the basis of all organized religions and of human spirituality. We must work together to ensure that deceptive tactics do not seed hate and harm in our community.

Pajaro Valley Pride
Raíces y Cariño Family Center
Rainbow Defense Coalition
Cabrillo College
Pajaro Valley Prevention & Student Assistance
Regeneración – Pajaro Valley Climate Action
Center for Spiritual Living Santa Cruz
Chadeish Yameinu Jewish Renewal
Community Bridges
Conflict Resolution Center of Santa Cruz County
County of Santa Cruz Health Services Agency
Cradle to Career Santa Cruz County
Bitter Cotyledons
Family Service Agency of the Central Coast
GLBT Alliance of SC County
Health Improvement Partnership of Santa Cruz County
Indivisible Santa Cruz County
Kweens Kounsel
Lionel Cantú Queer Resource Center at UC Santa Cruz
Missio Dei Community
Moment of Truth radio & podcast team
Monarch Services
Monterey Peninsula Pride
NAACP Santa Cruz County
NAMI Santa Cruz County
Peace United Church of Christ – Santa Cruz
Positive Discipline Community Resources
Prophets of Hope
Resource Center for Nonviolence
Safe Schools Project
SafeRx of Santa Cruz County
Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations
Santa Cruz Area Radical Faeries (SCARF)
Santa Cruz Black
Santa Cruz Chapter of California Association Of Marriage and Family Therapists
Santa Cruz Pride
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Santa Cruz County
Temple Beth El, Aptos
Temple Beth El Jewish Community Center
The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County
The Neighbor’s Pub
Trans Families of SC County
Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center
YWCA of Watsonville

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