Dance the Fascists Away!

"Phuck Youse, Moms for Liberty!"

Moms for Liberty (M4L) came to Philadelphia under the banner of being “Joyful Warriors,” looking for a fight. They didn’t manage the Joyful part unless you consider a four-day, two-minute hate session joyful. Fortunately, Philadelphia’s queer community and all their allies showed them how it’s done with a four-day dance party, with story time, chalking, drag performances, and even a few unfortunate arrests for failure to disperse, obstructing traffic, or disorderly conduct. Let’s be honest; it’s not a real party unless someone gets arrested, especially when everyone’s sober.

Look, there were elders and kids, and the sun was blazing for most of the twelve hours each day activists were partying in front of the Marriot where Moms for Liberty held their Klan-Karen soiree; you gotta keep it sober.

“Moms for Liberty wants to protect cis white children; they want to protect cis white parents’ rights, and they want to teach cis white history and erase everything outside of that,” said Jazmyn Henderson, an organizer with ACT UP.

“This is why they’re targeting schools and banning books,” said Dom Shannon of the Young Community League. “They’ve engaged in queer-phobic behaviors, such as unjustly pushing openly queer teachers or teachers who choose to use these books in their curriculums out of their jobs. Their values do not protect children, liberty or freedom; this is about instilling bigoted beliefs about Black and trans people from a very young age.”

The fight they got, just not in the way or with the outcome they expected.

Protesters introduced M4L to the ‘bad things that happen’ in Philly at their opening gala at the Museum of the American Revolution on June 29th, but Philly being Philly, they didn’t leave it there; protesters met them everywhere they showed up. Joyfully making M4L’s stay in Philadelphia miserable just by being present, queer, and lovingly having fun while telling the Klan Karen Bleach Brigade their hate isn’t welcomed here.

“We lit out here. We not boring like these fucking people!” Someone yelled as the sound system blared hip-hop.

Of course, a queer activist was arrested for walking in the same street M4L event attendees had just been walking in without being molested by police. Later that night, someone smashed some windows at one of the federally-run buildings in the area. According to police, no arrests were made, and Federal authorities were still looking for those responsible.

Protesters didn’t just show up at places where M4L were but also at libraries across the city to show their love and support for people having access to a diversity of books and for the librarians and teachers that dispense them.

Even Mayor Jim Kenney released a statement: “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 BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ community. “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 visits our city.”

Protesters showed up early on Friday, June 30th, to get the weekend started and ensure Ron Desantis, Trump, and the rest of the GOP candidates for dictator knew what Philly thought of them and the Karens they rode in on.

Some activists came from as far away as the east coast of Florida, others from the Carolinas, and still more from as far as Maine, where no currently active Moms for Liberty chapters exist. But the steady stream of Philadelphians gave the party its flavor.

“We’ve been out here for weeks, trying to tell Marriott Philadelphians didn’t want these extremists in our community, and they stood their ground for this hate group; of course, we’re devastated this is our city, the people that work in there are our neighbors, and these fascists think they can just walk in here and not be met with push back,” said Sam Rise, a long time organizer in Philadelphia. “But we’re going to make sure that we’re having a better time, that the Street in front of the Marriott is filled with love, loud music, and true joy for all our loved ones. We’re going to show these flavorless Kerens what joyful democracy looks like.”

“There’s a spirit of camaraderie in Philadelphia. I think the people who I love leave people alone. I want you to live your life and be your best self, be free to be who you are, and that means I can be who I am,” Rise says of Philly’s sense of community. “As someone who’s very explicitly dedicated and deeply committed to Black liberation and abolition in our lifetime, a world where we can’t be policed or erased, Philadelphia’s spirit of protecting each of our peace and our freedoms, that’s all there is. We’re all we’ve got, and it’s such a beautiful world when we’re doing this together.”

As the day progressed and the heat racked up points, protesters grew more energetic, the music got louder, and so did the voices of Philly’s LGBTQIA+ community. The hordes of Philly cops grew hotter and more bored with the day’s heat, humidity, and Canadian smoke; their hollow eyes staring out at their fellow Philadelphians living it up in the face of hate.

Throughout the weekend, anytime someone from the Moms for Liberty conference felt compelled in their Karenicity to leave the confines of their police-fortified cage, they were met with reminders that their hate had no place in Philadelphia, nor did they.

A video began circulating on social media Friday of a few conference attendees in Reading Terminal Market, being shown the exit as some residents hounded them “Racists have never been welcome here, ever! And you’re still not welcome here!” In true Karen fashion, conference attendees seemed shocked that anyone would dare oppose them.

Another group was chased into a parking garage PPD forgot to secure for the fascists. No matter where they went, Philadelphians ensured they knew it was time for them to go and never return. It reminded me of when the Patriot Front thought they would march in Philly and was promptly chased out by random Philadelphians.

Early Saturday morning, the party picked up where it left off Friday night, with more food, music, dancing, and expressions of love and care. The Street and sidewalks from where the police barricaded the road on Filbert Street around the corner on 12th Street, where the double-decker tour buses rounded up the tourists, were filled with chalked signs and kids’ art.

Protesters extended their dance party into 12th Street, partially taking over the intersection while letting traffic through when the light was green. They were able to keep up their two-step for a few hours until the police came over and threatened everyone with arrest if they didn’t stay on Filbert Street.

“We gave you Filbert Street despite you not having a permit; if you can’t stay there, you will be arrested,” a police Sergeant told the crowd through a megaphone that no one could hear unless you were in the street already.

Sam Rise called for protesters to continue to dance on Filbert Street away from the police, suggesting the group turn their back on the police, then turned up the music even louder.

After a morning filled with creating art, the youthful voices took center stage.

One by one, they showcased and shared what their art symbolized for them. The child-centered protest, Fabulous Families for Freedom, was organized by Philly Children’s Movement and Philly Childcare Collective and included Drag Story Time, hosted by drag king Danny Delorian.

“Let’s make sure that they will not erase us from history,” Henderson said. “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re gonna stay.”

“We needed to let Moms for Liberty know that if you come for one of us, you come for all of us,” Sam Rise, who MC’d the protest, told the crowd. “When you make these attacks on our young people, our trans and queer youth, when you attack Black and brown futures by erasing necessary histories and refusing to reckon with your racist legacies — we come for you. When you obstruct city services, like fully funded libraries and rec centers, trying to take resources off the shelves and put them back in your pocket, we’re coming for you. Isn’t that right, Philadelphia? More than anything else, we are city workers building a workers’ world, and so when you come for our teachers and our librarians, the ones who are truly on the frontlines for our young people, you harass them, you antagonize them, you threaten them, we’re coming for you.”

“It’s not about one cause or one issue; this community cares about everything,” said Rise. If it’s an anti-Black racism issue, it is an LGBTQ+ issue; if it’s a gentrification issue, it’s a public education issue; if you come for one of us in Philadelphia, you come for all of us in Philadelphia. And best believe we will turn around and chase you out.“

As protesters danced and made fun of, belittled, and mocked M4L attendees, several attendees stood outside, live-streaming the ongoing party on Saturday and Sunday. When asked why they preferred to be out with the protesters after spending so much money on the conference, one male Klan-Karen said the meeting was over, and he was waiting for his ride home. He had been out most of the previous day and Sunday.

The party continued well into the evening, ending around 9 P.M.

Many protesters were already sunburned despite sunblock freely flowing throughout the day. The sun, heat, and humidity were brutal, but it wasn’t enough to prevent activists from showing up early in the morning on the last day of M4L’s four days long two minutes hate.

Sunday started and ended with arrests. Five protesters were arrested for obstructing traffic on 12th Street; police gave the protesters three warnings before pulling a police van near the protesters in front of the barricade blocking off Filbert Street.

“They were chanting for Moms for Liberty to go home and blocking traffic,” said Aaron Bodiford, who had been protesting M4L that morning. “We are willing to take things further than we have been. It’s not on their terms. It’s on our terms.”

Several hours later, a Trans activist was arrested for running through the Marriot property for the second time that day. Chris Elston antagonized the protesters gathered along the barricade surrounding the Marriott property with a sandwich sign spreading anti-trans propaganda, prompting Juanita to squeeze through the bicycle barrier and run through the property, eluding police until they tackled her and made the arrest.

One of the two young men sitting on the roundabout in the Marriott driveway for most of Saturday and Sunday spent the last two hours of the conference talking with protesters, listening intently.

My parents dragged me to this, but I’m more open-minded than they are,” said the teen who had traveled from Satellite Beach in Florida. “I’m not interested in speeches; I want to have conversations. I want to understand where people are coming from.”

Protesters took turns roasting Moms for Liberty attendees, asking them why Moms for Liberty was quoting Hitler. Referencing an Indian chapter’s use of a portion of a 1935 speech by Hitler where he says, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” The group retracted and apologized for the statement, but several speakers spent part of their time trying to justify the citation and gaslighting people who condemned it. Attendees outside being asked to explain the comment merely laughed and threw up heart signs with their hands.

Despite the sadness of the arrests, protesters were determined to end the day positively and joyfully while ensuring M4L knew their bigotry and propaganda would be resisted.

“Isn’t it amazing to wake up and remember that Black and Brown futures demand a reckoning with Black and Brown legacies,” said Rise. “That our histories must be taught, must be celebrated, must be shared.”

“These basic bitches can’t steal our joy or our love for one another, we protect each other, and we’re going to keep protecting each other everywhere we are, and we’re going to show them what love looks like, ” said Henderson.

Protesters took a break from dancing long enough to enjoy a Drag Gospel show. Performers out on a beautiful and tasteful show, signing several numbers wearing church outfits. Some protesters had tears in their eyes; others donated to the performers for the Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia, led by pastor Reverend Jordan. Reverend Jordan also participated in the drag performance as The First Lady of Philadelphia.

After 2 P.M., when the last of Moms for Liberty left town, protesters continued to enjoy themselves, trickling out to go to their cars or hop on the subway or trolley to go home. Organizers counted the weekend as a win despite the arrests and the fact that Moms for Liberty was able to come to Philadelphia in the first place.

“We were able to draw attention to what these bigots are doing and show people that not only can they resist, but they can do it in a fun way that centers black and brown LGBTQIA communities,” said Henderson.

About Cory Clark 68 Articles
Cory Clark is a photojournalist and writer who focuses on human rights and other social issues. His work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Philly Magazine and Fortune. He has worked as a freelancer for Getty Images, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse for many years. Currently, he serves as the Senior Reporter for both Revive Local and the New MainStream Press.

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