The lead headline in yesterday’s Washington Post read, “U.S. School Officials Face Dark New Reality,” with the subhead, “Board Members Resign, Or Consider It, Amid Wave of Threats and Abuse.” The lengthy article by Hannah Natanson citing the patterns of intimidation and threats against school board members in Northern Virginia jurisdictions adjacent Falls Church and nationwide notes in conclusion that, “They’re not going to stop.”
The article cites “right-leaning advocacy groups and political action committees” that “dumped large sums into school board races this fall, as did some left-leaning groups such as teacher unions,” and then cites the case of Freedom Works, which it describes as “a conservative non-profit that adopted deceptive advertising in service of President Trump’s reelection campaign.” That outfit, founded with funding from the Koch brothers, was a key player in the rise of the Tea Party following the election of Obama in 2009 and led a series of disruptions of congressional town halls that summer that were fertile ground for and morphed into the Trump movement. Freedom Works is a so-called “grasstops” effort, meaning it masquerades as a grassroots effort while in reality it is run by a political entity from the top-down. Arch-rightwinger former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas was among its earliest public faces.
Now, according to the Post article, Freedom Works “has developed a six-week program that teaches parents how to run for the school board so they can combat mask mandates, lockdowns, or critical race theory, according to the group’s website.”
The Post article doesn’t mention the City of Falls Church’s election earlier this month, which, had it done so, would likely have been seen as reflective of its description of how the City of Alexandria, where “mask and vaccine mandates have drawn almost no opposition,” with “no organized parent group waging war against critical race theory (and) public comment portions of board meetings have generally remained short and decorous.” Although not exactly. Falls Church saw a concerted effort to upset the apple cart albeit in a low key way, fueled with a lot of outside money and Washington, D.C. Koch-backed special interest involvement.
So Falls Church did not show up in this Post article not so much because of its small size as perhaps for the anomaly it represented. In the election, the four best and most qualified candidates prevailed who exhibited consistent, thoughtful and critical support for the excellent leadership of the Falls Church Public Schools, including as coming from their superintendent, staff and teachers. While a few yard signs called for the entire school board to be removed, the excellent execution of candidate debates by the Citizens for a Better City, the PTAs, VPIS and the League of Women Voters along with published candidate statements and overall coverage by this newspaper helped keep the discourse civil while insightful.
The lesson is that an informed and committed electorate is the best remedy for extremism.