There is a striking double standard when it comes to how the media treats parent advocate groups—while some are heralded for their work, others are smeared. This contrast was on full display this past weekend when a group of parents—mostly black moms and grandmas—descended on Atlanta to express their frustration and anger over Elizabeth Warren’s education plan. The protestors were clad in black t-shirts that said Powerful Parent Network in white letters on the front and “state of emergency” on the back. When they stood up during Warren’s speech and began chanting “my child, my choice,” reporters went into overdrive to figure out who they were and what they wanted.
Within minutes, social media was ablaze with smears, mostly but not exclusively by white progressive media types, that the group was comprised of “paid protestors” with an “incoherent talking point” who were “funded by billionaires”. Right out of the gate, it appeared that many in the media simply could not believe that a group of black and brown parents, some living in poverty and zoned to failing schools, could organize themselves and make their way to Atlanta for a presidential debate and rally.
Moms Demand Action is an extremely well known parent advocacy group that burst onto the scene in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting—they call themselves “a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.” Unlike the parents in Atlanta, their entrance onto the national stage was not met with accusations of being “paid protestors”, even though billionaire (and now presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg had pledged to give them $50 million. They were not accused of being “incoherent” or having no sincere belief in their cause. No one implied they had been bought off and were doing it for money. They were treated with respect, described as a group who would model their advocacy after Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Politico described them as an “aspirational model for how a group of like-minded political amateurs can quickly move from liking each others’ social media posts to having a real impact on policy.”
There are striking contrasts, not only in how these two groups have been portrayed but also in the lived experiences of their members. One is mostly poor and one is not. One is made up almost completely of black and brown people and one is mostly white. One is mostly college educated, its leader crisply dressed for interviews with national outlets. The other boasts many members who still haven’t seen anyone in their family go to college and who don’t show up in tailored dress shirts, sweater sets and heels. One was given $50 million dollars by a billionaire. One, despite efforts, was unable to secure funding from any foundation to get hundreds of parents from all over the country to Atlanta and instead set up a GoFundMe to make it happen. I was proud to donate. (Two of the leaders of the Powerful Parent Network, Sarah Carpenter and Dainechia Fields, work for the Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy group that is funded by the Walton Foundation but the Powerful Parent Network includes parent advocates from all over the country who have zero affiliation with Walton or any other foundation.) But even if their trip to Atlanta had been funded by Walton—or ahem, Bloomberg—that would never justify painting them as paid protestors who are ill informed and incoherent.
One mom—and grandma—who traveled to Atlanta , wrote down some thoughts. Below is just part of what she said:
It is a safe bet that the members of Moms Demand Action have never been made to feel like prostitutes for their advocacy.
Despite efforts to link the Powerful Parent Network to the Walton Foundation and caricature its members as paid schills, the parents’ message has deservedly garnered national attention. They want Democratic presidential candidates to know better than to take the votes of black and brown parents for granted. They want Elizabeth Warren to understand that all they are asking for are the same quality options for their children that she had for her own children. They feel betrayed by her education plan, as well as Bernie Sanders’ plan, because of its hostility and blatant attacks on charter schools and parent choice.
Much like the parents of Moms Demand Action, the Powerful Parent Network is made up of parents whose love for their children drives them to demand change. But unlike Moms Demand Action, they have been misrepresented and smeared by hyper-left reporters, journalists and union leaders who likely support gun control but don’t support charter schools or parent choice—they have also probably never been forced to attend or enroll their children in a failing school. Their ideology is so entrenched that they are willing to hold low income black and brown moms to a completely different standard than white mothers of means.
It is racism and classism on display.