Clinton rallies for “Freedom to Learn & Love," contrasts Moms For Liberty at AHI
Editor’s note: The author of this article participated in the event on the Green and offered comment to the Utica Phoenix.
CLINTON, NY – About 35 local community members braved the rain and gathered on the Clinton Village Green Saturday, October 7th to support queer youth, public education, and academic freedom. The event, organized by local progressive advocacy group Indivisible Mohawk Valley, offered an affirming message to contrast the concurrent Moms For Liberty 1-year celebration hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization.
“While some organizations are for banning books, we believe that children of every race, background, and zip code should have the freedom to learn and pursue their dreams,” said Sarah Reeske of Clinton and a co-leader of Indivisible Mohawk Valley.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Moms For Liberty as an extremist “far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement.” They “use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.”
Rally-goers lined East Park Row holding signs that read “Support Teachers,” “Strong Libraries, Strong Communities,” “No Book Ban,” “Love is Love,” and more from 12:30pm to 2pm. Many wore rainbow pride colors and had pride flags to show support for LGBTQ+ youth and queer-inclusive education. The crowd included a wide range of ages, from children to community elders.
Numerous passing vehicles honked in support of the rally, and attendees cheered in response. Only a small number of passerby indicated disapproval. M4L’s event had security in front of the AHI building, and a Kirkland Police patrol car sat next to the Clinton Town Hall for the duration of IMV’s rally on the Green.
“Needing to come out as a community to advocate for the protection of freedom of speech and expression in opposition to the AHI that was allegedly founded for the same purpose is ironic,” one local parent in attendance told Monitor on the condition of anonymity. “But it really points out the coded language used by groups like Moms for Liberty and the AHI where their version of freedom is freedom from being confronted with issues of equity, inclusion, and the realities of how Western Civilization is built upon the inhumane treatment of Indigenous people, Black and African people, LGBTQ+ people, and so many others.”
The AHI has hosted M4L Oneida County meetings on a regular basis, according to their public calendar. This event, celebrating a year since its founding, included AHI Resident Fellow Dr. Mary Grabar, independent NY State Senate candidate Wil Fiacco, and Mike Fellows, a former Utica School Board candidate who placed 6th of 6 in 2022.
Chapter Chair, Mary Kay Vatalaro-Grady, told the Monitor “Our mission with Moms For Liberty is to empower and educate parents to defend their parental rights. Parents have a fundamental right to guide the education of their children, and we believe that a public school's only focus should be academics. Example: Math, English, Science and Social Studies.”
“As far as the opposing demonstration, I am not sure what they were opposing but every one has a Constitutional right to peaceful protest.”
Vatalaro-Grady ran for Clinton School Board in 2022 on a platform similar to that of M4L, and came in 5th place out of 5 candidates. Recent M4L Oneida County meeting minutes obtained by Monitor claim they successfully convinced local superintendents to discipline or fire teachers after “exposure” of some “attempting to push CRT [critical race theory] & Gender &/or Sexualized Ideology in the schools.” Monitor was unable to verify these claims by publishing time.
“We stand against that censorship. We stand against that thinly veiled strategy of injustice in the name of freedom,” the local parent told Monitor.