By Scott Beller
Daddying blog Editor
We kicked off our Fourth of July weekend in the City of Brotherly Love. The place where the Schuylkill River once nourished native tribes and, eventually, a growing population of European settlers. The Unalachtigo subtribe of the Lenape or “original people” who settled along the rivers and creeks of southeastern Pennsylvania, referred to the Schuylkill as Ganshowahanna, meaning “Falling Water” or Manayunk, which meant “where we drink” (from the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia). William Penn established the city where the Schuylkill meets the Delaware River in order to tap the region's rich agricultural resources and take advantage of the waterways that would provide the commercial lifeblood for a fledgling democracy.
We were in town for the Independence Day Regatta (IDR), in which my older daughter would be racing 2000 meters down the Schuylkill for DC's Thompson Boat Center (TBC), in both a four and an eight. I, myself, raced up Interstate 95 on Friday, making it to the IDR course just in time to catch my daughter finish in her 1st event, a fours heat. The outcome of that race wasn't what she and her boatmates had hoped, but I was there for it, cheering just as loudly as I would have if they'd earned a trip to the finals. Silver lining was that she would be able to rest until her #2 eight boat competed late the next day.
It also allowed me, my wife, and my younger daughter a chance to tour Philly all day Saturday. As luck would have it, in addition to immersing ourselves in American history, we we would be witnesses to history in the making.
That's because also visiting Philly this year was a well-funded extremist group of parents who decided the best place to spread hate, intolerance, and bigotry (despite all logic, human decency, and objections of the local population) would be the cradle of American democracy. After touring Betsy Ross's home, seeing where Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, perusing exhibits on the establishment of our government...and slavery in the U.S., and glancing the Liberty Bell, we happened by the plaza where hundreds had gathered to raise their voices in peaceful protest of the aforementioned organization's annual "summit" hosted by Marriott.
I couldn't have been happier to show my daughter the 1st Amendment in action or to talk to her about the reasons why this protest was so important to the preservation of the very foundation of our country. I say "show," because although I could easily have given her a brief lecture on the subject or allowed her to wait until next fall when her much-more-qualified history teacher could explain this particular 1A issue to her, I understand that seeing and even being part of a protest against injustice, hatred, and book bans has much more impact than I could ever have, even as her dad. But I think seeing her dad and mom spontaneously acting in support of these protesters and leading by example may have carried the most weight of all.
Like when we took her and her older sister down to the mall in Washington, DC, for the March for Our Lives demonstration against gun violence in 2018, I hope this is another field trip that has a positive impact on her, and is one she'll never forget.
Recently, the disturbing creep of regressive, anti-intellectual ideology and propaganda that began during the 2016 Presidential election campaigns, seems to have accelerated. Extremist groups have been emboldened. Mainstreamed. Their bigotry given equal weight and consideration in traditional and social media. As a dad who wants his daughters to grow up feeling safe, feeling free to be who and what they want to be, exploring ideas, reading what they want, and trusting that their parents and other adults have their backs and their best interests at heart, I hope to see more of this kind of public pushback on hate and intolerance.
The truth is the vast majority of openminded people, young and old, in this country stand for equality, public education, compassion, and intellectual curiosity. The majority of Americans are against discrimination, hate, and the spread of disinformation, but too few of us – news media, in particular – will regularly call those things out.
I was told by one of the Philly protest's volunteers that the organizers of the event were mostly current and former librarians or library staffers. No surprise given that the extremist group of moms occupying the Marriott's meeting rooms last week made attacking librarians/educators and banning books two of the cornerstones of its dangerous crusade against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and educating students about true American history – slavery, bigotry, misogyny, and all.
As my family and I moved on from the demonstration to find a place to eat lunch, the music and chants of peace and solidarity with our LGBTQ and African-American friends faded, but one thought stuck in my head:
How dare those zealots presume to speak or make decisions for me...or my kids.
All parents are free to make choices for their children and themselves. If a parent doesn't want their kid to check out or read that book? Fine. They are free to send a note to their kid's teacher and provide a list of what they deem "unacceptable reading material" for their kid. But that's as far as their rights extend.
Letting just one outraged parent decide what books get pulled from shelves or to silence a teacher's lesson plan so that nobody else's kids can make up their own minds about or benefit from the ideas contained within them is the exact opposite of how Jefferson and our enlightened founders drew things up.
The majority rules. Not "Karen."
But even the arrogant overreach to ban books pales in comparison with this extremist moms group's devastating attacks on LGBTQ youth and the social infrastructure that supports them. According to a report by Media Matters For America, "The group’s official Twitter page quoted an article in March claiming that The Trevor Project – the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth – 'is actively grooming children into a trans identity.' As recently as June 13, [the organization] described the increase of young people identifying as trans as a 'transgender contagion' and encourage parents to 'fight' it."
When an extremist group bans a book, students suffer, their education is diminished, at least temporarily. But when a child's very identity is attacked and even denied, their emotional safety net removed, and their support network (e.g., their parents) turned against them, that damage is often permanent. That can be life or death for many kids.
And that's just plain wrong.
We left Philadelphia Saturday night feeling uplifted – by our daughter's #2 boat's 2nd-place finish behind her team's #1 boat but also by the stark evidence of our country's democracy still hard at work against those that would strangle it with dangerous, regressive policies not seen during my lifetime (I'm 50+ btw).
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" sure has a nice ring to it. Thankfully, as we relentlessly raise our voices to protest injustice, fight for equality, and encourage our kids to think, read, vote, and BE themselves, it can still be heard in America.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, imperfect husband of a rock-star mom, free thinker, truth teller, purveyor of banned books, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.