The Facebook rumors said a statewide group called “Moms for Liberty” was going to blow up this week’s school-board meeting—hundreds of angry, roving anti-maskers swarming our little town’s high-school auditorium and decrying our district’s newly reinstated indoor mask mandate.
I arrived just minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting, and when I registered for public comment there were only a dozen or so names on the list above me. I walked in and saw only a few dozen people, total. No signs, no chants, no angry horde. But everyone who had shown up, showed up ready for a fight.
Mask discussion was not on the agenda; the superintendent and board had already made the decision. But from the first words of the first public-comment speaker, it became apparent we were all going to have to be angry about it anyway.
The mother of an old friend of mine gave an impassioned speech about how kids have an emotional need to feel safe enough at school to not wear protective equipment. That’s true! But as the fourth wave of COVID crashes over America, it isn’t safe enough at school for kids to go without masks. It was a perfect encapsulation of the current conservative mindset: We need to feel like the world is how we want it to be, so indulge us—no matter how bad it makes the world for you or for us.
I was sending blow-by-blow reports of each speaker back to interested parties via email, text, group chat, etc. Everyone in the auditorium was applauding (or not) strictly on whether each speaker agreed with them (or not), and thus the battle lines were quickly drawn.
It turns out a handful of Moms for Liberty did show up. One demonstrated why coming up to a podium with a prepared speech and then impulsively tossing aside and saying, “I was going to read this speech, but I’m not going to” doesn’t work unless you’re a character in a movie. She was cut off by the timer immediately after saying, “Do we look like a ‘band of idiots’?”
When an older gentleman named Glenn was called up, I braced myself to add another notch to the anti-masker tally. But what he said gave me pause.
“First, what a wonderful thing it is to be a part of the United States of America, to be able to have this kind of dialogue,” he said. “Second, let me say what an honor and a pleasure it is to be among like-minded people.”
Which half of these people, I wondered, are you alike with in mind?
“Whether I agree with them or not,” he continued, “I do believe people are here, particularly on this stage, that love our children and want to do what’s best for them. Want to keep them safe and educate them.” He and his wife had worked for the district in different capacities for 50 years, he said, and he was proud of our community.
I’m not going to both-sides this. I am very firmly on one side: The side of reality, science, and the common good. It’s long been known that the “facts not feelings” crowd has little patience for facts, and considers their feelings paramount.
I have no patience for our national newsmedia’s continual fascination with those feelings
. The desperation to understand why
white Midwesterners like my friend’s mom reject our reality and substitute their own. The excuses and apologia for widespread ignorance, fear, and hate. The disingenuous framing of imaginary white Iowans as Real Americans, even as strong majorities of real Americans
consistently support progressive, inclusive positions and policies.
Like many progressives, I’m left to conclude that the David Brookses of the world
are even more clueless about people beyond Manhattan than they think they are. They lend credence to and engage with the stupid ideas of hateful, bad-faith trolls, never realizing they’re bringing a pen to a swordfight.
But at Mondays’ school board meeting, everyone who spoke thought they were fighting the good fight.
Even the complete Froot Loop who went on a profanity-laced, abeist-slur-filled rant urging everyone to “critical think” about how “science” had brought us thalidomide, asbestos and lead paint truly believed she was standing up for truth—even though the truth is that scientists also discovered the harms those compounds caused, and led the charge to get rid of them.
As the right wing completes its fascist turn, finally deciding that “free speech” means people who disagree with them should go to jail for doing so
, it’s important to remember that the reason we protect free speech for everyone—even for trolls, even for Froot Loops—is because we’re all in this together. We have to have these discussions, have to fight these fights, have to do this work
in order to live free.
Go to your next school-board meeting, or city hall, or township board. You’ll see money being spent, permits being approved, contractors being paid, usually with zero discussion or debate. If you, like me, have keyboard-warrior tendencies, save some of that energy for the big decisions that are actually impacting you and your neighbors every single day.
For instance: I didn’t go to that meeting to talk about masks.
Instead, I was representing our district’s equity-and-access team for the second straight meeting. I urged the board to consider the outcome of (and take action on) our year-long effort to collect, record, and have a mediated discussion about the opinions of students, parents, teachers, staff and community members on the police officer permanently stationed inside our high school.
Last month the Sherriff asked the board to rubber-stamp the funding for one more year, despite the report. They didn’t. This month, the Superintendent said the district’s new DEI officer will be looped in on the decision—the same one who pulled police from his last district’s schools in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Judging by what was going around the local Facebook groups, there was plenty of pent-up public opinion on both sides of that issue, too. But I was the only one who showed up.