On the eve of the affirmative action decision, right-wing activists are lining up a legal assault on inclusive education in California.
Political activity is heating up across California. The extremist group, the Proud Boys, and other January 6 Insurrectionists are popping up at various Southern California schools to terrorize PRIDE celebrations and deride LGBTQ history. Playing their assigned role in producing political theater for Fox News, the Proud Boys, and other outside instigators are amplifying fear in the hearts of parents, educators, and students working to create (and celebrate!) more inclusive schools. (Read more about those attacks here.)
Inviting Proud Boys to school board meetings doesn’t keep kids “safe.”
Last week was out of control in LA, my “hometown.” The same folks radicalizing Christian Armenian families in Glendale…
The purpose of this uptick in violence at school meetings is meant to demand our immediate attention (as it should.) Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of other political activities happening across the country.
As the SCOTUS decision on affirmative action looms large on the horizon this week, right-wing political opportunists are already mobilizing to dismantle civil rights gains due to Brown v. Board of Education. We can expect more and more activity focused on dismantling “race-conscious” education policies, specifically in CA schools.
In that vein, I wanted to share information with those fighting for education justice, our public education system, and democracy. Please share this post with folks in your networks: in parent email groups, with K-12 educators, and at the university level.
Dr. Wenyuan Wu, “anti-CRT expert”
First off, I want to draw folks’ attention to the type of misinformation that permeates the media on the topic of affirmative action, even in California. This article in CalMatters about Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7 is an excellent example. In it, Dr. Wenyuan Wu, a so-called CRT “expert,” is highlighted. She is the very same consultant hired to disparage CRT in Temecula Valley Unified schools last spring.
The meeting was canceled when chaos erupted after a Black resident was ejected for exercising his 1st Amendment rights and told to “get out of the country.” (The woman who made the disruptive remarks was not asked to leave the meeting.)
Dr. Wenyuan Wu, was one of the anti-CRT consultants hired to speak on the panel put together by Moms for Liberty endorsed school board members. This is what she posted on Twitter immediately after the event:
Dr. Wenyuan Wu is the Executive Director of Californians for Equal Rights (CFER), a dark money anti-affirmative action organization originally formed to fight the adoption of Prop 16 when it was on the ballot in 2020. While it has largely gone unnoticed by the greater public, it is obvious CFER is gearing up to take advantage of a projected “win” to dismantle affirmative action that many believe will happen when SCOTUS makes its final decision this week.
Despite what CFER says on its website, CFER is far from non-partisan. This becomes evident based on the prominent announcement of a prospective workshop CFER plans to host with Ed Blum this August. Based on Dr. Wu’s Twitter activity, CFER is also actively seeking plaintiffs to file lawsuits across the state.
Enter Ed Blum, stage left
This should not be surprising. Ed Blum has a long history of targeting affirmative action and voting rights. (Remember Abigail Fisher?) As it states in this New York Times article:
“Mr. Blum is not a lawyer. But he is a one-person legal factory with a growing record of finding plaintiffs who match his causes, winning big victories, and trying to erase racial preferences from American life.”
With over two-dozen lawsuits under his belt, Ed Blum’s role in the right-wing political media machine is focused on recruiting plaintiffs and matching them with conservative pro-bono lawyers paid by dark money sources to dismantle civil rights protections.
Recently, he worked with the Friends of Lowell Foundation (a Moms for Liberty affiliate in San Francisco headed by Diane Yap, a woman who works for the Manhattan Institute) and Coalition for TJ, a parents’ rights astroturf group in Northern Virginia opposing race-conscious admissions enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School. Coalition for TJ and Friends of Lowell Foundation representatives spoke against affirmative action last fall at SCOTUS demonstrations in Washington DC when cases were initially filed along with… you guessed it! Frank Xu, President of CFER Foundation.
“Parents” Defunding Education
CFER is working in partnership with Parents Defending Education (PDE) which is proudly listed on CFER’s webpage as a sponsoring organization. PDE was recently listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist group alongside Moms for Liberty.
Parents Defending Education, and other “parent rights” organizations like Moms for Liberty, pretends to be grassroots while receiving political, legal, and financial support from dark money sources.
PDE’s role in the right-wing media ecosystem is creating political communications assets and fueling legal attacks. Thus, it is no coincidence that Ed Blum serves on PDE’s Board along with Karol Markowitz, a conservative columnist for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. The organization was founded by Nicole Niely, a member and founder of various right-wing organizations, including Speech First, the Federalist Society, and others.
Another founding member, who now works for Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), is Asra Nomani, who at the time served as VP of Strategy. Nomani is a former Washington Post journalist and a regular Fox News pundit. She regularly shows up as a “concerned Mamabear” at school boards nationwide even though she no longer has school-aged children. (Posting this video below for more info on IWF and Asra Nomani.)
All of these organizations are Koch Donor Network funded and aligned.
Thus it is not surprising to see Dr. Wu retweeting Asra Nomani’s tweets encouraging Asian Americans to show up at an anti-affirmative action rally in Washington DC.
Maurice Cunningham is a retired associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston with expertise in researching dark money in education reform. As he shares in this Forbes article:
“PDE has all the marks of a professional advocacy group, but in May of 2021 Neily was telling the Columbus Dispatch, “We all just work from home. We’re all working moms.” PDE announced its launch on March 30, 2021; the very next day, Fox News reported on the group. Press coverage quickly spread through the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Examiner, and the Federalist.”
PDE focuses on press releases and website content providing right-wing talking points about “CRT-indoctrination” and “gender ideology .” PDE advises parents on filing FOIA requests against school equity curriculum and policies and has filed lawsuits nationwide.
“Equal Rights NOT Equity”
Marketing itself as a grassroots nonprofit focused on “equal rights”, CFER is utilizing similar strategies to target California laws and policies that promote equity:
- CFER celebrated its success in stopping a San Diego high school district from approving a resolution to address hate speech.
- CFER is suing SF to stop programs that support transgender people of color.
- And, targeting Morgan Hill Unified in their efforts to develop an Ethnic Studies course in alignment with CA state law.
Even more nefarious, CFER has been working to build a brand of respectability by weaponizing the Stop AAPI Hate movement. Dr. Wenyuan Wu recently testified before the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights on March 24, 2023 regarding “The Federal Response to Anti-Asian Racism in the United States,” arguing for increased policing and reduction in education equity policies which they say are discriminatory against Asian Americans. (Note: Friends of Lowell Foundation is listed as a member of their coalition of AAPI organizations in a letter submitted to the commission.) Many of their talking points reflect Asian American Disinformation Table outlined in this report.
What’s at stake for the future of California
As we prepare for the SCOTUS decision, CFER is already mobilizing to leverage the “win” against affirmative action to target education equity policies across the state. These attacks will likely include Assembly Constitutional Amendment 7, proposed revisions to the CA Math Framework, Ethnic Studies and Fair Act implementation, and anti-discrimination policies for LGBTQ, Black and Latinx students.
Parent organizers across CA (and across the country) have shown we can fight back by exposing the people behind these dark money attacks on our schools and democracy! One such group of parents, Safe Redlands Schools (SRS), has found an effective strategy, which all starts by building a “community within our community.”
The Proud Boys Came to Their School District. These Parents Fought Back.
Despite nasty billboards and a campaign of intimidation, an unlikely group of parents has fought a far-right takeover…
“We managed to anticipate the extremism in our community and get ahead of it by educating our neighbors and asking them to push back,” said SRS co-founder Erin Mason. “We have tapped into our actual community and created a real cool network of people who are actual stakeholders in this community and will show up for it.”
Please share this Medium post (and the Daily Beast article!) with friends, neighbors and colleagues. Start building community within your community. California schools are some of the most inclusive in the country. Because of this, we now find ourselves on the front lines of attack. It will take all of us to stand up and speak up for the values we believe in. And for the safe, inclusive, and affirming schools all our children deserve.
Dark Money And Education Parent Grass Roots Groups
Maurice Cunningham has long been on the trail of dark money and behind the scenes influence in education policy.
Group's IRS filing reveals nexus of right-wing dark money and "critical race theory" media hysteria
Parents Defending Education (PDE) is a national membership nonprofit organization formed for the purpose of defending…