Over the past several months, it’s become rather obvious that “Help Students Learn and Play” doesn’t like Freedom to Learn. They don’t like our mission, our message, our tactics. They probably disagree pretty strongly with our beliefs. They have tried to label us as West Coast liberals, East Coast liberals, partisan hacks, tax frauds, defenders of the status quo, Socialists, Communists, and alleged contributors to failing public schools. (Obviously, we are not any of those things.)
Their distaste for us seems to run so deep, in fact, that it wasn’t enough to run countercampaigns or to make accusations. Justice demanded naming names:
- “This person from California is their chairperson”
- “No, this school board candidate is their chairperson”
- “No, this other person from California is their chairperson”
- “Here’s a list of names of parents that we don’t like that we want to publicly shame”
- “Here are a couple of elected officials that seem aligned with Freedom to Learn on policy”
- “Here are some journalists that have written things we don’t like”
We’ve done our best to ignore this noise and stay focused on the more important priority: supporting great school board candidates in Kansas. It wastes time and energy to even be writing about this. But when groups start dedicating entire Facebook pages to “unmasking” members of volunteer advocacy groups, you shouldn’t stay silent.
Follow the Money?
One of the noisier complaints has been about our “California money.” Our records are only current through October 2023, but just so there is no ambiguity:
- Since our inception in January 2022, we received 9 donations from California.
- Over 300 donors from Kansas have contributed, acounting for over 90% of total donations.
- 13 donations came from other states, all from relatives of our original organizers.
- We have not received any donations from political parties, party-aligned PACs, or “SuperPACs.”
Simply put, we really are just a locally organized community response.
The Help Students Learn and Play PAC is also a locally organized group, although not quite as diverse. As of the end of 2022, they had 12 donors; principal members Mark Beemer and Paul Schmidt have been notably vocal in their criticisms of us and others, both organizationally and individually. (Jim McMullen, the school board member elected to Blue Valley in 2021, was also an early contributor to this group, although that money was refunded a few weeks later so we don’t include him as an official donor.)
To be clear: Messrs. Beemer and Schmidt have the same rights that we do, to organize and advocate on behalf of causes and candidates they support. But when their PAC is the first money in for a slate of alt-right candidates; when their primary response on all social media is to attack and accuse; when they take joy in making others unhappy; when they constantly invite people they disagree with to make themselves target for harassment; these are not serious people or leaders. These are the tactics of bullies.
Bullies will always exist. In the case of Help Students Learn and Play, we have no delusions that our blocking them from a Facebook page will change their behavior, but we draw the line at targeting volunteers. We are not affiliated with Stand Up Blue Valley, or with a political party, or with any other Facebook group; we are simply Freedom to Learn Kansas. But it’s our individual interconnectedness with other groups and communities that has made it possible for us to speak together this year with a unified voice.