Tucked away in the back of an office in a Florida strip mall is a tidy storage room filled with hundreds of navy blue t-shirts, hats, flags and even Christmas decor.
“We have ornaments,” Tiffany Justice points out proudly, quick to show a version of a Thomas Jefferson quote on the ornament: “God that gave us life, gave us liberty.”
Liberty is a word she uses often.
Justice and fellow mom Tina Descovich are the two women behind Moms for Liberty, a group of conservatives that came together in January to fight for parental rights in Florida and has since spread across the country.
They are now focusing on the 2022 midterm elections – from school board and county races to federal offices – and are harnessing a lot of the anti-government sentiment stoked by the coronavirus pandemic and public health orders. With the balance of power up for grabs in both the US House and Senate, analysts say “parent power” could become a potent national force after already impacting the Virginia gubernatorial election and local races last month.
These two moms, both former school board members, joined forces when they say they found they had similar mounting frustrations about being unable to stop Covid-related mandates. They felt too much power was given to unions and school districts in the education system, they say, and that the system protects itself instead of helping students.
“I think Covid has allowed all of America to see behind the education curtain,” Justice told CNN. “So, we just thought we could take the skills that we have learned and the inside information that we learned about the public education system to help parents advocate more effectively for their children.”
The duo’s initial goal was to establish 67 chapters, one in each Florida county. Two weeks after the organization launched, however, a mom from New York reached out, expressing interest in starting a chapter there, Descovich said.
“I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,” Justice said. “From that moment on, it’s been like a wildfire all across the country.”
The duo credits “word of mouth” for their growth, which has also spurred groups of parents who oppose their stance. The Moms for Liberty use social media and their website to spread their message.
“Just like with any successful organization or business or anyone that’s successful, if you fill the need that’s out there, people will be drawn to it,” Descovich said.
The organization grew exponentially in a matter of months, according to the founders, who say they now have 167 chapters across more than 30 states with 70,000 members. They say their goal is to have a Moms for Liberty chapter in every school district, showing up at every school board meeting in the country.
With Moms for Liberty t-shirts that carry slogans such as “We do NOT CO-PARENT with the GOVERNMENT,” members are taking to podiums at school board meetings and rallies to protest mask and vaccine mandates, materials in books and curriculum related to race and LGBTQ rights, and critical race theory (CRT), among other concerns, including falling literacy rates.
As the group gains momentum, the moms are turning their focus to expansion and elections. Next year, they say, will be the “year of the parent” at the ballot box.
“We want people to show up for that school board race that’s at the bottom of the ballot and affect the ballot all the way up on education issues,” Descovich said.
Moms for Liberty has set up three political action committees and its chapters are now endorsing candidates in school board elections, although Descovich and Justice insist the group is non-partisan.
According to Descovich, the organization has “cleared $300,000” in funding through T-shirt sales, small donations and fundraising events. Moms for Liberty recently hired a part-time assistant and Descovich is now receiving a stipend as the executive director. The organization is so new, however, the chapter’s tax records are not yet available.
At one of the group’s major fundraising events in June, sponsors included Florida Republicans running for office.
They have also publicly praised Florida Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis, referring to him as “the Parents’ Governor” on social media. They’ve appeared by his side for announcements at news conferences. In a statement to CNN, the governor’s office applauded the moms “for speaking out and fighting for their right to be involved in their kids’ education.”
“We haven’t seen Democrat governors standing up for parental rights in this country, and I think that is going to be a rude awakening,” Justice said. “And I think what happened to Terry McAuliffe in Virginia is going to repeat and repeat.”
Capri Cafaro, a political commentator from American University’s School of Public Affairs, says harnessing parent power could be key in 2022. She compares the group’s growth to that of the conservative grassroots tea party movement in 2009 and 2010. The tea party’s platform focused on lower taxes and reducing the national debt through less government spending. Dozens of tea party-backed newcomers joined the GOP caucus, helping the Republicans win back the House in 2010.
“It was kind of structured very similarly, seen as a grassroots movement with local chapters across the country,” Cafaro said. “I think that it is possible that an organization like Moms for Liberty could have an impact on the midterm elections and maybe even going into 2024, particularly because it is encapsulating in a very important demographic in the electorate which are women and mothers, particularly in an age demographic generically between like 25 to 35.”
The group is also energizing opponents. Support Our Schools, a new group of parents in Florida, calls Moms for Liberty a danger to democracy.
“The disinformation that they have been putting out, and the vitriol towards marginalized groups, is a true danger to society, because we need to, we need to work together,” said Support Our Schools co-founder Jules Scholls.
Some members of Moms for Liberty insist masks can be harmful to children and don’t work. But studies have shown they are effective in preventing the spread of Covid-19. And they are recommended for children over two years of age by the American Academy of Pediatrics to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Diving into another hot-button issue, a Moms for Liberty chapter in New Hampshire offered a $500 bounty last month for anyone who turns in a teacher using CRT in the classroom. The founders said it was not an approach they planned to use nationally and admitted the chapter ‘could have handled the issue better, but said they ultimately supported the moms’ fight against CRT. Last June, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill banning public K-12 schools from teaching that any person or group is inherently oppressive, superior, inferior, racist, or sexist – one of the arguments made about CRT.
When asked by CNN for examples of where CRT is taught in any K-12 classrooms, Descovich pointed to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools in North Carolina.
In a statement to CNN, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Earnest Winston said, “Our schools do not teach and do not promote a doctrine of Critical Race Theory.”
Justice and Descovich later shared a video of a woman in a “Moms for Liberty” T-shirt apparently at a public meeting for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools railing against a lesson she said her son had been assigned called “My Identity and My Bias.” That woman said her son had been required to examine his white privilege and his male privilege.
Like CRT, many of the issues taken up by Moms for Liberty are echoed by many on the right, and, at times, have led to heated debates in school board meetings across the country. They have already proven to be campaign talking points and even a driving force in some elections.
If Moms for Liberty have it their way, voters will still have parents’ rights top of mind the next time they head to the polls.
” I think that they certainly can become a political force to be reckoned with,” Cafaro said.