In Florida, right-wing mothers lead the 'parents' revolution'
A school board campaign event in Vero Beach, Florida, gets under way inside a church.(AFP)

A conservative group known as "Moms for Liberty" is triggering a minor earthquake in Florida school board elections, hoping the tremors will ripple across the entire United States.

The group demands that often-sleepy school boards wake up and yank "problematic" books from schools, and empower parents to have more say in public education.

"I am on the right side of history," said Jacqueline Rosario, who is seeking re-election to a school board in Indian River County on Florida's east coast.

Rosario warmly welcomed guests to a lounge in this charming seaside resort, speaking to them about a subject that distresses her: the "insane" education that young Americans get in public schools.

"Moms for Liberty," founded only last year in Florida but now claiming 100,000 members in 42 states, offers wholehearted endorsements of school board candidates like Rosario.

That support has turned school boards, historically apolitical elected bodies, into real powder kegs dealing with subjects such as gender, sexuality and racism in schools.

These days, hot-button culture and social issues ignite passions at the local level, not just the state and national levels.

Some heavyweight Republicans, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible presidential candidate in 2024, have gotten involved in the humble school board battles.

Moms for Liberty publicly endorsed DeSantis, and he in turn endorsed candidates like Jacqueline Rosario.


Rosario has made a personal battle out of one of Moms for Liberty's obsessions -- "inappropriate" books.

'Culture wars' are rocking elections even for lowly school boards, once just apolitical bodies'Culture wars' are rocking elections even for lowly school boards, once just apolitical bodies Giorgio VIERA AFP

As she explained the reasons for her anger, Rosario interrupted the interview.

"Can I read you a couple of excerpts?" she asked, warning that she might feel "weird" because some material "is so explicit."

The candidate recites a sex scene from Margaret Atwood's famous novel "The Handmaid's Tale," which also became a hit television series.

"That's disgusting," Rosario, a former English teacher, said of the work, her voice suddenly stern.

She read an excerpt from another book, "Push", which recounts in graphic detail the rape of a child by her father.

"There is absolutely no literary, scientific, political or any other value to this kind of reading, not for children," Rosario said, adding that she would like such "obscene... pornographic" books to be replaced by others of "higher quality," including ones offering vocational training.

"You're opening up Pandora's box for children who are supposed to preserve their innocence," Rosario said.

She stated that she does not want to "ban or burn" such books, but only to get them out of the classroom -- a message hammered home by Moms for Liberty.

Flags and popcorn

Later in the afternoon, Rosario campaigned at a small church in Vero Beach.

Moms for Liberty espouses both patriotism and deeply conservative ideasMoms for Liberty espouses both patriotism and deeply conservative ideas Giorgio VIERA AFP

The audience seemed to be behind her. Between a tray of cheese and a bowl of popcorn, Terri Privett, a 53-year-old who loves former president Donald Trump's rallies, worries that "the left is indoctrinating our children with things that are just not American."

During the reception, the song "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood played on a loop -- interrupted, however, when all attendees stood to pledge allegiance to the flag.

Though he is not present, DeSantis' influence is palpable. At the entrance, a lighted sign calls for people to vote for him to "save Florida."

"Our governor is a champion for parental rights," said Jennifer Pippin, head of the Indian River County chapter of Moms for Liberty, convinced that he will win re-election.

For this crowd, DeSantis' military background and his image as a family man are strong reasons to like him.

On a table festooned with small US flags is a list of candidates running in various local elections who espouse anti-abortion rights views. Flyers call on the citizenry to pull children from public schools.

Organizers have also brought two piles of books -- around 150 they deem problematic -- that Jennifer Pippin said contain scenes of "rape, incest" or even "oral sex." Colorful post-it notes indicate the pages of the books with the material deemed questionable.

Love for DeSantis

Moms for Liberty has had a meteoric rise, a sign of the simmering culture wars across the United States.

"I think you're going to see that American politics are going to be changing a lot because of this parent revolution," said Tiffany Justice, one of the co-founders.

She predicts a bright political future for politicians like DeSantis who join up with groups seeking to empower parents over educators.

DeSantis won hearts at the first Moms for Liberty national conference, where he gave a speech.

Moms for Liberty members "wished Ron DeSantis was their governor," Justice said. "You could hear them say we can't wait to vote for him for president of the United States."

© 2022 AFP