Parents, educators organize against Moms for Liberty

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Moms for Liberty, a conservative advocacy organization focused on reshaping school districts, has been active for a little over two years, having filed its papers of incorporation in January 2021. In that time, M4L has achieved remarkable growth, having established multiple county-based chapters in almost  every state in the U.S.

M4L’s growth has been particularly rapid in Pennsylvania. Presently, 29 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties have active M4L chapters, including Pittsburgh in Allegheny County and Harrisburg in Dauphin County. Notably there is not yet an M4L chapter active in Philadelphia County.

M4L’s activist agenda centers around county school districts, seeking to dominate school board elections that would enable them to remove from school libraries and curricula books and materials containing LGBT themes, racial themes, or any discussion of sex, gender or discrimination. This is an agenda they are assiduously pursuing across the country, often with success.

About a year ago, in Spring 2022, a retired Florida educator named Liz Kelly Mikitarian, dismayed and outraged by the progress the Moms were having both in Florida and nationwide, decided to take action. In short order, what is now known as the STOP Moms for Liberty movement was born.

STOP Moms is different from Moms for Liberty in that it is a more informal affiliation of like-minded parents and other citizens who are dismayed and outraged by Moms for Liberty’s right-wing agenda.

“We are a totally grassroots movement,” Mikitarian explains. “We’re not incorporated, we’re not funded the way the Moms are — who are funded by a lot of Republican heavy hitters.”

Mikitarian identifies as an independent, and insists that STOP Moms is strictly non-partisan. “Stopping book bans, protecting the rights of LGBTQ and minority kids is not a Democrat or Republican issue.”

Like its stated adversary Moms for Liberty, STOP Moms has shown impressive growth since its relatively recent organization. Using social media as the primary means of outreach, STOP Moms has established chapters and/or created active Facebook pages in about half the states in the U.S., including Pennsylvania.

Ariel Franchak, an educator residing in Cumberland County, is the ostensible head of Pennsylvania STOP Moms for Liberty. “I’m the administrator of the Pennsylvania STOP Moms Facebook page,” she said. “Since we’re not an official incorporated organization, I mostly act as a coordinator, making sure news and information gets disseminated. I try to make sure people know what’s going on, when something is happening that they need to be aware of, and what they need to respond to.”

Franchak has a simple answer as to what motivated her to get involved with the movement. “Books,” she says bluntly. “Books are what are getting banned. Anything about LGBTQ people, or minorities, they’re targeting. It’s dangerous.”

Despite the absence of an overall agenda or plan of action, other than education and opposition to M4L’s efforts, STOP Moms has managed to spur significant reactions from M4L, both locally and from the national organization.

One example of such a reaction occurred in Monroe County, where the head of that county’s M4L chapter has been charged with harassment of a local STOP Moms member and making threats against her family. The police duly issued certified and non-certified summons, and the case is currently working its way through the county’s Magisterial District Court.

Another example is that several prominent members of PA STOP Moms received a letter from a high-powered Republican lawyer based in Georgia. It was a cease-and-desist letter that charged, among other things, that  “…Your members publicly and online refer to M4L as a “hate group,” with frequent references to M4L’s members “hiding behind hoods” and their meeting places designated as ‘KKK’ sites. Demand is hereby made that you immediately cease and desist in making such egregious assertions and further take down these false and slanderous statements.”

Such letters from private law firms have no legal authority to compel, but are often used as a tool of intimidation.

One issue that Franchak and her friends and allies are starting to focus on is organizing responses and protests to the national event that M4L will be holding in Philadelphia this summer. Called the “Joyous Warriors National Summit,” it is to be hosted by the Marriott in Center City June 29 to July 2.

“We’re trying to reach out to people in Philadelphia,” explained Franchak. “We want to coordinate with activists, with as many people as possible to let them know what we think about what they’re doing. It was even on my list to reach out to the Philadelphia Gay News to see if it could help get the word out.”

Franchak added, “And we want to put pressure on Marriott as well, to let them know how angry we are that they’re facilitating the Moms’ hateful agenda. They’re not talking, but we’re going to keep trying.”

Marriott has not responded to repeated calls from PGN for comment about the summit.

In addition to her work with STOP Moms, Franchak volunteers her time (what’s left after taking care of her family) with Defense of Democracy, a relatively new non-profit organization with a mission similar to STOP Moms but with a more activist approach.

“Defense of Democracy works alongside STOP Moms,” Franchak says. “It’s for people willing to get out there and do the work. Knock on doors, protest.”

With right-wing activism expanding throughout multiple counties all over Pennsylvania and the U.S. as a whole, and with new battles being sparked in schools and city councils daily, the work of STOP Moms is becoming ever more urgent.

With that in mind, Franchak echoes the intent of all her colleagues when she says, “My goal is to ensure that people in the LGBTQIA and BIPOC communities feel safe, respected, and valued in schools and communities. I would like to see an end to harmful and discriminatory policies that harm the groups who have been historically marginalized.”

She continues, “I would like students to have access to texts that give a true and accurate history of our country, and books, literature and resources that paint a vibrant picture of who all of us are as Americans.”