After dozens of interviews at the Moms for Liberty “Joyful Warriors” National Summit, one common theme emerged. M4L members feel left out, left behind, and abused by the mainstream – even when, as in the case of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the leadership of their choosing is in office.
While nowhere near a statistical study – anecdotally, nearly everyone who spoke with the Bucks County Beacon complained about mask mandates (they’re over), school shutdowns (also done), and school-based vaccine clinics. The exceptions to the rule? Any newcomers to the group.
As Covid shutdowns and mandates fade into the past, M4L has had to fish for new membership with different bait. For some that’s been the villainization of everything from schoolteachers to trans kids. And their faith-based invocations have proven inviting to people who feel their Christian faith is unwelcome in other community organizations.
Consequently, M4L, founded by some annoyed former school board members (funded by deep dark money, hoping voters don’t look beyond their folksy, and fictitious, origin story) in the spring of 2021, has cast a purposeful net, welcoming new members who feel resentment and have grievances. In southeastern Pennsylvania, that would include Sheila Armstrong – former democratic candidate for Philadelphia City Council – now a registered Republican – and current chapter president of the Black Conservative Federation (BCF) which identifies as “a grassroots organization committed to promoting conservative principles and values within the African American community.” She is the leader of the new Philadelphia Moms for Liberty chapter.
For Armstrong, one of those conservative principles is her devout faith – and M4L lets her wear that faith on her sleeve. The conference began every public segment with a prayer, including a brief lecture about old testament references to castration and name change.
New to M4L – indeed the Philadelphia chapter was the newest as of the start of the group’s summit – the national organization displayed their embrace of Armstrong by inviting her on stage to inspire the general assembly with a quotation from a founding father. Armstrong chose Philadelphia’s own, Benjamin Franklin. “Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.” A message that few in the audience seemed to hear as they sported anti-wokeness slogans and practices. Highlighting their version of villains in virtually every school union or administration.
Armstrong, herself an outspoken advocate for education, housing, and children with autism, took a few moments to explain why she would knit herself and her reputation so tightly to M4L after the way they have attacked Black history as wokeness and targeted LGBTQIA youth and their parents. “This is Philadelphia,” Armstrong explained, “those things are protected here. That’s just not going to happen here. We will have our own chapter that represents our needs. We can’t be concerned with what other chapters are doing or how they behave.”
When confronted by M4L’s offensive and misleading practices, including using their newsletter to quote Adolf Hitler, Armstrong was aware but felt that it didn’t take away from what she wanted to do for her community, “We’ve already proven ourselves. I’m part of the class action lawsuit, William Penn vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We want our children educated. I’m not really against any of that [LGBTQIA rights and social-emotional learning]. I’m focused on parents’ rights and we have been told that they allow chapters to run themselves.”
If Armstrong gets her way – and she’ll make use of her M4L affiliation if it’ll help – she’d like to have books sectioned off in her local libraries. “Not banned. But put in an area where children need permission to get them.” She’d also like a ranking system – with stickers placed directly on the books – “like video games” or movies. “The books with older rankings,” ones that talk about “girls kissing girls… shouldn’t be easily accessible,” to younger children.
When Bucks County Beacon asked why Armstrong would lend her decades of activism to such a new and marginalizing group that has participated in gay bashing and censorship in the schools – things Armstrong says she is against, M4L’s newest leader replied, “This is Philly. We have safeguards in place. It can’t happen here because of our politics.”
The security Armstrong feels because she lives in a blue city engulfed in a purple state, might have vanished on the national level had the 2022 U.S. Senate race shaken out differently. And while this Black activist had no control over the outcome in Georgia – the state that ultimately decided which party would control the upper house – Armstrong worked tirelessly supporting Mehmet Oz who could have exploded federal protections of the rights she now takes for granted.
As for the state level? When asked if that might all have changed had Doug Mastriano won the governor’s race, Armstrong replied, “We knew he’d never win. I was disappointed in him. His wife though, I could have voted for her. She is a woman of God.”