PHILADELPHIA — Moms for Liberty flexed its newfound political muscle when a series of top Republican presidential contenders made the pilgrimage to woo support at the national summit of the seedling activist group focused on parental rights.
The appearance of former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley was a testament to the group’s exponential growth and influence since its 2021 launch at the height of the pandemic.
“In school board races, PTA meetings and town halls across the nation, you have taught the radical left Marxists and communists a lesson they will never forget. Don’t mess with America’s moms,” Mr. Trump told the crowd Friday in a Philadelphia Marriott ballroom.
GOP presidential hopefuls Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also addressed the four-day summit that kicked off on Thursday.
This is the first presidential election in which Republicans are running on children’s education curriculum as a galvanizing national issue. For years, Republicans had mostly ceded K-12 education issues to Democrats and their teacher union allies, but the pandemic energized parents opposed to liberal-leaning school establishment and opened a new front in America’s culture wars. It is a movement Republican candidates have tapped as soccer mom voters morph into parents-rights voters.
The Moms for Liberty activists say the teachers unions and school systems created the movement by mistreating parents and children during the pandemic — from the shutdown of schools to the mask and COVID vaccine mandates.
“The nation recognizes that it’s the year of the parent and that parents are tired of taking everything that the government dishes out with regards to … our children in the schools. I think that the parents are finally tired of it,” said Moms for Liberty Chairwoman Cyndi Roberts, 50, of Colleton County, South Carolina.
Summit attendee Deb Feldman said that parents have a voice that has finally come to the forefront.
“Politicians are realizing this is now an important constituency that they need to listen to. And I think that’s legitimate because taxpayers pay for the schools,” said Ms. Feldman, 57, who traveled from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to attend the summit.
It’s as simple as parents taking a stand, she said.
“Between the pandemic and the shutdown of schools and then seeing what virtual learning has done to the learning loss in many cases, I think parents just sort of got activated and realized we need to be more front and center with this.”
The group has also drawn fierce opposition from the political left.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently labeled Moms for Liberty as an “extremist” group and put them on the SPLC’s “hate list.” They accuse Moms for Liberty of harassing LGBTQ people, promoting anti-gay misinformation and fighting against diversity and inclusion in school materials.
Moms for Liberty has over 100,000 members in 45 states, and they used their numbers to elect like-minded candidates to local school boards and other offices and lobby state legislatures for measures.
This included working in support of a new Florida law that banned teaching gender-identity topics to primary and middle school students. Liberal critics dubbed it the “don’t say gay” law and a book ban, and they pummelled Mr. DeSantis for singing.
Mr. DeSantis trumpeted the necessity of the law when he spoke at the summit.
“You have a book in Florida that was found in one of the school districts, instructing middle schoolers how to use sex apps on their phones. So, this is totally inappropriate. And so parents blow the whistle,” he said. “And obviously, no one defends this stuff. And so it gets removed. Now, the Left and the media try to say that that means you’re banning books. Well, let me tell you something, in Florida you can buy any of those books that you want. And there’s not been a single book that’s been banned.”
Liberal advocacy organizations demonstrated outside the hotel during the summit. Before the event, activists from Agenda PAC, an LGBTQ activist group, placed hangers on hotel room doors that read: “Please Disturb. Fascism in Progress.”
Florida resident Leslie Kirchenbaum said the GOP candidates were drawn to their summit because they, too, suffer attacks by leftwing activists.
“DeSantis said it best. ‘You guys are getting a warm welcome from everyone. Now you know what it feels like to be me. Because you receive so much hate when you’re trying to do the right thing,’” said Ms. Kirchenbaum, 39.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what’s happening in our country, and many of us are fighting back. And this comes with the territory,” she said.