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‘Survival of America’: Moms for Liberty summit hits Philly; Lehigh Valley protesters rally

Moms for Liberty Protest
Sarah Mueller
Protestors rallying against the Moms for Liberty national summit in Philadelphia June 30th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA — When Moms for Liberty national co-founder Tiffany Justice speaks about public education, she talks about students’ poor academic performance, reading, writing and math in major government reports that have been recently released, including most recently by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“And we're going to say we demand more for our children,” she said. “We demand that more than two-thirds of kids read on grade level in America. Right now, in fourth grade, we have nearly 66% of kids who are not reading at grade level in fourth grade. That is unacceptable.”

  • Moms for Liberty "Joyful Warriors" National Summit takes place in Philadelphia through the weekend
  • Protestors from the Lehigh Valley and across the region convened outside the convention center
  • Nazareth Together organizer said she travelled to Philly to take stand against the group's "extremism"

But inside the Moms for Liberty “Joyful Warriors” National Summit taking place in Philadelphia this weekend, much of the focus turned to the "survival" of America, students’ gender identity, alleged “sexualizing” of children in schools and restricting access to books.

“We know, you know, the high price that has to be paid in this fight,” said Marie Rogerson, Moms for Liberty executive director for program development.

“Some of you experienced it last night as we tried to go to our welcome reception and you experience it every single day in your chapters everywhere you are. It is perhaps strange that something that we're doing is so controversial when we're really just standing for our kids," Rogerson said, "But we also know that the price that you're paying will come with a very glorious triumph and we are grateful for what you're doing.”

Convention goers were met with protests outside the Thursday evening reception at the Museum of the American Revolution, according to reports.

Civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has described Moms for Liberty as an extreme "antigovernmental” group "seeking to undermine public education."

Lehigh and Northampton counties both have active Moms for Liberty chapters. The groups' endorsements in local elections could impact the ideology of school boards on the ballot in November. For instance., the Northampton chapter is backing Cindy O’Brien in the Bethlehem school board race, and candidates Elmo Frey Jr and Melinda Gladstone in Nazareth.

In Southern Lehigh, a slate of candidates calling themselves the “true Republicans” have signed a pledge vowing to create policies restricting LGBTQ rights and eliminating “woke” teachings. The East Penn "Your Voice on the Board" slate of Republican candidates denied collaborating with right-wing groups Restoring Excellence in East Penn Education and Moms for Liberty - Lehigh County.

“I think it's an opportunity for us to, you know, and I say us, people that are against Moms for Liberty, and everything they stand for, to ... send this message that, you know, we will just not absolutely not tolerate their extremism, and the fact that they're trying to actively strip away the rights of others.”
April Gabriel-Ferretti. founder of Nazareth Together

The first full day of the summit included several strategy sessions, including “mastering the spin,” “driving the narrative,” “protecting kids from gender ideology” and “the first 100 days: getting flipped school boards to take action.”

The events were closed to the media.

Justice says Moms for Liberty chapters in Pennsylvania have grown like wildfire.

“You see a little spark, a fire start, right, a chapter opens up. And then you see another chapter in the next county, and then another chapter in the next county,” Justice said. “And I think it's really a testament to the fact that parents are concerned about what's happening in the schools, especially here in Pennsylvania, the curriculum, some of the different books that they found in the libraries. And so you know, they're stepping up and wanting to have their voice heard.”

Summit participants were met with protestors from Philadelphia and surrounding areas, including Nazareth resident April Gabriel-Ferretti. Gabriel-Ferretti is the founder of Nazareth Together and she held a Pride event in Easton on June 10.

“I think it's an opportunity for us to, you know, and I say us, people that are against Moms for Liberty, and everything they stand for, to kind of come together collectively, and in solidarity in order to, you know, send this message that, you know, we will just not absolutely not tolerate their extremism, and the fact that they're trying to actively strip away the rights of others,” Gabriel-Ferretti said.

Cindy Apostolico was enmeshed in the protest Friday at the corner of 12th and Market streets. She is on the board of PFLAG Philadelphia, a nonprofit that promotes diversity, and regional director of Free Mom Hugs, covering Lehigh Valley, the Poconos and the greater Philadelphia area. She said she was there to show love in the face of hate.

“What we're trying to do with Free Mom Hugs is to support and celebrate the LGBTQ community with visibility, communication and education. And so we're not only a visible support to LGBTQ people who know that they're safe around us,” she said. “But in some ways we're showing parents and other family members and neighbors and co-workers. We're giving them somebody to see supporting them, and not just tolerating them, but loving them and celebrating them. So I think we all need to see good examples in our community.”

Pennsylvania school board elections are in November. An email to the Lehigh County chapter of Moms for Liberty for comment about the summit received no reply.