May 12, 2022
The leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision telling us that a five-justice majority appears ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away the hard-won basic human right to decide about abortion, their bodies, and parenthood has raised a lot of speculation about how far these conservative zealots and those have empowered their efforts, will go. Will they, as I fear, continue in their decades-long quest to remake our nation in the image of a puritanical, white, male-dominated society, which will deperson anyone who does not fit their vision.
Over the past months, conservative Republican voices and those even further to the right (the MAGA crowd) have shown us where they are moving us in their protests against masks and vaccines, in their attacks on libraries and schools, in their continued efforts to control who can vote and how we hold our elections.
Last month the Florida Department of Education (FDE) provided us with one more example of where their agenda is set to take this nation.
In a press release dated April 15th, the FDE, which says its mission is “to increase the proficiency of all students…by allowing them the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills…” decided to censor 41% of the new textbooks they were considering because they contained “prohibited topics – the most in Florida’s history. Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core, and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics… ‘We’re going to ensure that Florida has the highest-quality instructional materials aligned to our nationally-recognized standards,’ said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. ‘Florida has become a national leader in education under the vision and leadership of Governor DeSantis…as we continue to reinforce parents’ rights by focusing on providing their children with a world-class education without the fear of indoctrination or exposure to dangerous and divisive concepts in our classrooms.’ “
On April 15th we knew little beyond these words. Since then, details have become available, and we now know the content that was seen to be dangerous and harmful. We now see their desired future.
Florida empowered a group of its citizens, some teachers, and some activists, to review these books. The FDE gave them hazy directions and then used this process as a smokescreen behind which they could do what they intended to do and control what is taught in our schools. As described by the New York Times the effort was powered by conservative politics more than by mathematics. “Many of the textbooks were rejected by the state despite strong reviews from math teachers, who complimented the books for being engaging and thorough and having rich digital resources. Some teacher reviewers gave detailed feedback on how the various texts would help or hinder students in math, often referencing their own classroom experiences. But in the end, for dozens of books, those comments were less important than those flagging issues of race, gender, and social-emotional learning.”
As noted by the Washington Post, for these zealots truth is dangerous to children. A textbook that set up a math problem with this background statement, “The United States has eradicated neither poverty no [sic] racism” went too far and therefore that book was deemed to be in violation of state policy. One of the reviewers, Chris Allen who is affiliated with Moms for Liberty, explained to the Tampa Bay Times what makes truth dangerous. Of the book which contained that dangerous sentence, she said, “the content contained CRT (Critical Race Theory) because it put an ‘emphasis that racism is embedded in American society…’ the book violated a rule that said schools could not use materials from the New York Times’ 1619 Project, saying there was ‘no mention of the Federalist Papers to understand why the Electoral College was established. The American history of context is presented as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence…”
The efforts to control what is taught, what is read, or how a woman decides on the health care that she needs, all link back to a common root: men and women who wish to exploit any issue that they can to maintain their power, political control, and wealth. The think tanks and political influence organizations they support look to end efforts that will address the historic imbalances of gender, race, and wealth because they know that greater equity and equality means they will have to give up their control and special status. They play on the fact that social changes are disrupting and scary. They have learned how to keep those in the middle of the wealth and status ladder focused on those they perceive to be below them rather than looking upward. They have learned to play one religious group against another and to wrap their self-serving efforts in the robes of false religiosity.
Do you think this is a bit too conspiratorial?
The judges who are set to overturn Roe were the products of decades of investment in The Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, the behind-the-scenes forces who spawned Moms for Liberty. As reported by Media Matters, “According to a recent report by the UnKoch My Campus campaign on “ultra-right think tanks and critical race theory,” the Heritage Foundation and other groups have “used their influence to generate and spread talking points, briefed state and federal legislators on model policy, and attempted to generate grassroots mobilization against local school districts.” The “resources for parents” page on Moms for Liberty’s website is almost exclusively composed of links to the Heritage Foundation. The page first directs parents to a “Heritage Action for America” guide to filing an open records request. Next, the page directs parents to the Leadership Institute — an organization run by Morton Blackwell, who received the Heritage Foundation’s “Titan of Conservatism Award.” The Heritage Foundation’s website is listed as the next resource. After that, the Heritage Foundation’s guide to the Constitution is listed.”
Former US Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley Robert Reich captured the essence of this battle for our national soul when he recently wrote “what Republicans want to preserve isn’t freedom, it’s power. The power to impose their narrow ideology on everyone else, no matter who suffers. Don’t let their propaganda convince you otherwise.“ And behind this wave of what we now call MAGA Republicanism are a cadre of wealthy men and women who have invested parts of their fortunes in providing the financial fuel to fan the flames that are now burning so brightly.
Yes, we have to take on each specific challenge. Standing up for a woman’s right to the health care that she desires, standing up to protect public education, standing up for affordable housing and health care, and ensuring that our elections are not subverted and all voters can vote are “must-dos.” (And that list does not capture all of the fronts where this battle for our freedom is being played out!) But as we do, we must be like Dorothy, be ready to pull the curtain back and expose the real Wizard of Oz that is hidden behind it. We must understand that there is a larger contest being played out; one that is about the ability of our nation to limit the power of the wealthy to shape our nation; and if we allow them t0o do that we will be entering another dark age, one of ignorance and pain for too many of us.