Moms for Liberty Came to Philly. Philly Came for Them.

Moms for Liberty Came to Philly. Philly Came for Them.

Moms for Liberty Came to Philly. Philly Came for Them.

This city is welcoming to just about everyone—except hateful fascist bigots, as the Moms for Liberty found out.


None of this should have come as a surprise to anyone. The barricades, the protests, the arrests, the drab counterterrorism units bobbing in and out of the powder-blue sea of police—it was all to be expected, and could have easily been prevented weeks ago. A couple of canceled reservations, maybe some refunds, a cautiously worded public statement or two, and boom! Everyone in Philadelphia could’ve gone about their weekends in peace.

But Moms for Liberty, the far-right hate group that has pushed both book bans and their own anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric across the country while masquerading as a defender of “parental rights,” chose Philadelphia as the site of their annual “Joyful Warriors” summit this past week. And, with typical subtlety, they decided to hold their opening reception at the Museum of the American Revolution, in the heart of Old City, and booked the conference itself at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, just steps away from City Hall.

There was a certain logic behind choosing this particular city ahead of the Fourth of July holiday—we’re the birthplace of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and all that jazz—but it was also a taunt, a challenge: This city, this country, belongs to us, not to you. So what are you going to do about it?

The museum and the hotel could have canceled the events. Both had been asked to do so, multiple times, by many voices (in the museum’s case, including their own workers and collaborators). They would have had the support of the majority of the city. Instead, the people of Philadelphia have had to show up in force to reject a flood of hate oozing its way into our city, to defend ourselves and our community from the violence being preached from chintzy pulpits, and to voice our displeasure with the hundreds of unwanted guests that we did not invite and refused to tolerate. (Oh, and we also had to foot the bill for whatever it costs to both pay cops even more money than they already get and fortify an overpriced chain hotel against the city it occupies.)

Moms for Liberty had invited Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and other assorted far-right hate-mongers to speak, ushering them into a majority-Black, heavily Democratic city that has repeatedly rejected their toxic rhetoric at the ballot box and in the streets. For some reason, though, the conference organizers appeared to assume that they would be able to live it up in Philly unchallenged, protected by police escorts and their own privilege. Maybe some of the moms had planned to do a little shopping at the Fashion District, or trundled down to gawp at the Liberty Bell from behind a barricade of its own. They thought they’d be welcomed into the City of Brotherly Love.

They were wrong.

As soon as the news of the oncoming summit became public, ACT UP Philadelphia, the local chapter of the iconic direct action group formed in 1987 to end the AIDS crisis, mobilized. Beginning on May 12, they rallied in front of the Marriott multiple times, each time calling on the hotel to cancel the event and deny hate a platform. Week after week, ACT UP members gave speeches, waved trans pride flags, and explained why it was so important to deny Moms for Liberty a space to tout their dangerously homophobic, transphobic rhetoric. The hotel seemingly ignored them, and in doing so, silently made clear where it stood on the issue.

ACT UP wasn’t alone in calling on the hotel to do the right thing. Philly’s Young Communist League played an instrumental role in organizing the weekend protests against Moms for Liberty, and other local groups spoke out and got involved in organizing against the event. Elected officials also voiced their opposition to Moms for Liberty’s incursion. In May, state Senator Nikil Saval and Representatives Mary Louise Isaacson and Ben Waxman sent the Marriott a letter saying, “Hosting an organization with a track record of promoting discriminatory practices and divisive policies goes against the principles of inclusivity and respect that should be upheld by a reputable establishment like yours.” Even Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement, writing, “We oppose this group’s policy goals, which include attempts to disregard history, ban books, and silence conversations about race, gender, and sexuality.” Celena Morrison, executive director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, went a step further and acknowledged the direct threat that Moms for Liberty’s convergence posed to the community itself. “We know that the presence of Moms for Liberty may stir up fear or distress for our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities,” she said. “We urge all those affected to take the appropriate measures to ensure their well-being while Moms for Liberty is visiting our city.”

Those appropriate measures started off on the morning of June 29 with a banner drop over I-95. Early birds were greeted with warnings that “Philly Protects Trans Kids” and “Bad Things Happen to Fascists in Philadelphia,” and that was only the beginning of a four-day-long protest that would bring hundreds, if not thousands, of people out into the streets. That evening, I watched as protesters encircled the Museum of the American Revolution. Armed with passionate speakers like ACT UP’s Jazmyn Henderson, a heavy-duty sound system, a fierce playlist, and hundreds of supporters, ACT UP and YCL members led the crowd in an hours-long queer dance party that doubled as an open roast of the Moms for Liberty attendees slinking in and out of the museum. “We lit out here. We not boring like these fucking people!” one speaker hollered as the sound system blared hip-hop. Another protester held up a sign reading, “Hey Moms for Liberty: if you’re scared of violent pornographic content near your kids, just wait until you read your Bible!”

The cops set up a maze of barricades to ensure that none of the protesters were able to get within a few dozen feet of the entrance, and the conference provided a fleet of charter buses to shuttle its people between the museum and the hotel. But sound carries, and they were able to hear exactly what Philly thought of them, their poisonous ideology, their hateful actions, and their terrible haircuts.

The dance party continued throughout the weekend. Protesters decamped to the Marriott for the next three days of the conference, where more barriers and an endless stream of bored-looking cops tried to insulate the attendees from the actual city. That didn’t always work, either. A delightful video began circulating on social media on Friday after a local encountered a few errant moms in Reading Terminal Market, and helpfully ushered them out with a few choice exhortations—“Racists have never been welcome here, ever! And you’re still not welcome here!” The moms in question seemed shocked that anyone would dare oppose them. That indignant air accompanied them whenever they were forced to actually interact with a Philadelphian that weekend. Perhaps simply not enough people have been telling them to their face that their hateful agenda was not welcome, so Philly was happy to oblige. While I was there on Friday afternoon, the cops forgot to barricade off an exit path between the Marriott and the parking garage across the street, forcing conference attendees to come face-to-face with the protesters. All of a sudden, panicked fascists were getting chased down the street and up into the parking garage, heckled and jeered at, and told in no uncertain terms how the city felt about them. The cops scrambled to regain control, and the dance party continued. Making fascists feel unsafe is as much a Philly specialty as a cheesesteak from John’s Roast Pork or Irish potatoes, and it felt awfully nice to indulge.

Though there were arrests on Sunday after five brave activists blocked an intersection and refused to move and another waved a trans pride flag over the Marriott barricade, there was very little police violence that weekend (besides the usual implicit violence of their presence). ACT UP Philadelphia was adamant that the dance party and associated events remain peaceful, and they did; whenever things began to heat up, organizers would grab the mic and calm everyone down. The tagline, “They can’t stop trans and queer joy!” underpinned the dance party protest, and that joyful resistance was in full bloom. The kid-centered events were especially sweet, and the protests maintained a family-friendly vibe throughout, as long as your kid could handle a few (thousand) swear words.

It was very much a big-tent effort, with the Young Communist League and a guy holding a star-spangled donkey figurine peacefully occupying the same space outside the Marriott on Friday. Rainbow dresses, assless chaps, black balaclavas, and red-white-and-blue T-shirts were all there coexisting for a common cause. Local DJs filled the air with energy. Philly Elmo and Spider-Punk showed up. There was even a gospel drag choir! It was beautiful, and it was very Philly. Elsewhere in the city, people showed up to support the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Gay News had previously reported that the library’s Pride Month events had received threats from Moms for Liberty ahead of the convention, and that staff had been cautioned to keep an eye out for disruptors. The National Parents Union held a Rally Against Moms for Liberty in Love Park; the next day, so did Grandparents for Truth and Defense of Democracy. Campaign for Our Shared Future did a banned-book giveaway next to the Marriott. An autonomous group of local activists held an “art march” that took the streets and adorned the surrounding area with pro-trans, anti-fascist stickers and graffiti. There really was something for everybody, provided you weren’t a hateful fascist bigot.

That’s generally Philly’s vibe anyway. The city’s two cardinal rules—don’t be a dick, and mind your business—are very easy to follow. We’re a fun city, a welcoming city, and definitely a weird city. It’s part of our rough-edged charm, and why so many people love to visit us. But the thing that those visitors need to keep in mind is that we are also a very queer, a very trans, a very Black, and a very anti-fascist city, and if you can’t handle that, you’re no longer welcome. We won’t be shy about letting you know that, and we definitely won’t make your time here pleasant. Moms for Liberty fucked around, and they found out what it looks like when you cross us and threaten our neighbors. That’s when the City of Brotherly Love turns into Hostile City—and you’re on your own there, bud.

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