From one end of this Arizona county to the other, Maricopa school board districts are the latest target for right-wing, Trump and QAnon followers. They bring in outside agitators, create chaos in public meetings and protest curriculums they fear and know nothing about, but their goal is not better education; it’s simple disruption.
Recently in the Scottsdale and Litchfield Park school districts, local insurrectionists engaged in shouting matches with elected school board members, attempted to seat rogue board members and threatened violence. Such efforts will likely soon be coming to other school boards since these people are following the script of nationalists and white supremacists who attacked the federal government, and democracy itself, on Jan. 6.
At the bedrock level of democracy, our duly elected local school boards are being overrun and threatened by forces seeking the complete breakdown of educational institutions: places that offer our children knowledge, personal and social growth, and skills to face the future.
The legitimate national news media is reporting that the firestorm let loose in Washington, D.C., is inspiring and even organizing grassroots efforts. Here in Maricopa County, these agitators question our elections and attack local school boards while mobs chant right-wing conspiracies, racist ideology and opposition to current health codes.
For example, at a recent Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) in-person meeting of the Board of Governors, the current policy of requiring masks to protect everyone’s health was demonstrably rejected by numerous attendees. After multiple requests from the board to adhere to the health policy were met with loud objections, the meeting was suspended. Some of these participants were specifically brought in to disrupt the meeting. Scottsdale Police officials later said they tracked these groups of agitators to nearby school districts and warned of potential violent conflicts.
In Litchfield Park, a sea of purple shirts descended for several weeks upon quiet, normally dull Litchfield Elementary School District (LESD) meetings. Members of Purple for Parents angrily demanded to know why the district was implementing an “equity program” that they claimed was anti-white. The program — which was discussed, updated and approved by the elected board in December 2020 — was meant to address poor academic performance and high rates of suspensions of students of color.
Despite LESD’s denial of accusations of being anti-white, the mob scolded the board about critical race theory and the 1619 Project and demanded the equity program be canceled. In several meetings the raucous crowd cheered for their supporters and jeered at the pro-equity supporters, flinging insults and verbally attacking district employees.
According to parents of children in the LESD, Purple for Parents is a group that has been tied to the Patriot Movement AZ, which the Southern Poverty Law Center recognizes as a hate group. According to meeting attendees, many parents have lodged complaints with the LESD. They worry that agitators may be armed and pose physical threats for staff, board members and parents.
At the national level, democracy was attacked by seditionist Electoral College challenges along with current bogus audits designed to call into question the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election outcome (right here in Maricopa County and soon in other battleground states). Locally, at the core of our civic life, Maricopa County school boards are being attacked by home-grown versions of hate groups, white nationalists and fearmongers.
To the purveyors of both threats to our democracy, our voices must be louder, our protests bigger, and our moral outrage more visible. The civil rights and anti-war movements of recent decades showed us the way. We need to learn those lessons and tactics again. In our era, this fight to protect democracy deserves no less.
This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on The Mule News.
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