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Zachary Parker Delivered Another Win for Progressive Organizers in Ward 5. Can They Keep Repeating This Success?

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Zachary Parker

Zachary Parker wasn’t up against a Green Team incumbent in Ward 5, but in many other other respects, his convincing primary win sure feels a lot like the one Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George pulled off two years ago.

In both cases, most politicos were expecting things to come down to the wire; instead, both won handily. The candidates themselves aren’t so different either: young, Black, and generally outspoken about their left leanings. Lewis George even endorsed Parker, one of just a few sitting elected officials to do so.

And perhaps most crucially, both benefited from a small army of volunteers from D.C.’s coterie of left-leaning groups, such as D.C. for Democracy, a constellation of labor unions, and the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The latter group alone says its 60 volunteers knocked on a total of 40,000 doors for Parker since late January—for context, there’s about 53,300 registered Democrats in the entire ward, per elections officials’ latest estimates. Loose Lips is beginning to suspect they’ve found a model for winning ward races that’s replicable.

“DSA has a very focused strategy and it’s clearly a smart one,” says Zach Teutsch, who helped manage Lewis George’s 2020 bid and supported Parker this time around. “They knew that if they could knock 30,000 to 40,000 doors it would be the difference in the race, and they were correct.”

It’s difficult to see what else could’ve helped Parker win so decisively. The candidates all raised pretty similar amounts of money via the city’s public financing program, so it’s not as if Parker had some huge cash advantage.

It wasn’t exactly a weak field either: Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie bowed out, but proven Ward 5 vote-getter Vincent Orange was in the race (for full disclosure, Orange is suing LL for defamation over several past articles). Gordon-Andrew Fletcher and Faith Gibson Hubbard have deep ties in community organizing there, too, and Gibson Hubbard specifically had the benefit of McDuffie’s backing (and the implicit support of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration).

Yet Parker won in a walk anyway, with his race one of the first called on election night (he beat second-place finisher Gibson Hubbard by more than 18 points, according to preliminary results). Parker himself says his message of “bringing change to Ward 5” plainly “resonated” with voters and put him over the top, but the on-the-ground organization was probably just as important.

Tom Lindenfeld, a longtime political strategist in the city who’s run organizing efforts for both Bowser and Adrian Fenty, suspects that Parker’s success in lining up that much volunteer support was the decisive factor. He rejects the notion that most voters care much about the moderate-progressive divide among D.C. Democrats, arguing that if a candidate can present as an “advocate” on issues people care about (and then reach people with that message at the doors) they don’t need a rigid ideology to win votes. He’s no great fan of the Democratic Socialists, per se, but does suspect they’re embracing the right tactics.

“There’s a reason why progressive people win: There’s a lot more of them knocking on doors,” Lindenfeld says. “If mail turned out voters, we would’ve had a million people voting. Mailboxes were filled everyday in wards with competitive races. But it was the canvassing that got people to come out.”

Of course, Teutsch cautions that those volunteers wouldn’t have come out with such zeal had Parker not won them over with his “extremely clear” support for issues that lefty groups care about. He wasn’t “wishy washy,” Teutsch says, so organizers were actually energized to devote so many weekends to hitting the doors for Parker. DSA, for instance, saw a clear example of a candidate who would “fight to create social housing, defend Initiative 82 and expand worker protections, invest in alternatives to policing, and raise taxes on the rich to fund housing and early childcare” and was inspired to support him, the group’s 11-member steering committee writes in a joint statement to LL.

“He doesn’t shy away from his values, but works really hard to find common understanding with people,” says Ed Lazere, an early supporter of Parker who helped him build credibility among progressives. “And it’s pretty clear he occupied a progressive lane by himself, while the other candidates were swimming together in much murkier waters.”

The real question for D.C. politicos is whether these tactics can work elsewhere. Progressives pulled off these wins in two very different wards, so there’s reason to believe it could happen again. What happens, for instance, if Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray decides to retire when his term expires in 2024 and sets off an open-seat contest there?

DSA’s steering committee argues that its last two victories were valuable not only for adding Parker and Lewis George to the Council but for “building the power necessary to win a harder race next time.” “Knocking a bunch of doors is never enough—making sure you can knock more next time is just as important,” the committee writes.

But can this success translate citywide? Progressives were heartened by Parker’s big win (alongside apparent victories by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau and Matt Frumin in Ward 3) but the races for mayor, Council chair, and the at-large seat were all disappointments. Lazere himself has seen how hard it is for a lefty candidate to win citywide, having lost races for chair and a different at-large seat in consecutive cycles.

Part of the problem for lefty groups is winning over poorer voters, particularly those living east of the river. Ari Theresa, an Anacostia activist and lawyer who backed Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White’s mayoral bid, observed on Twitter that the city’s old guard was still very successful in precincts below the city’s median income.

“If progressives are for all D.C., lower income voters did not appear to believe it,” Theresa says in a tweet.

But Teutsch notes that the margins of victory for Bowser, Chairman Phil Mendelson, and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds all declined compared to four years ago (including those in wards 7 and 8). Lindenfeld agrees, seeing it as “perfectly possible” to run a progressive, citywide campaign based on door-to-door organizing with enough dedication. That strategy was a big part of Fenty’s success back in 2006, he notes.

The DSA certainly seems eager to try someday, arguing in its statement to LL that this ward-level work is “part of a strategy that gets DSA into a position to win things like the mayor’s office down the line.”

“By focusing on the ward-level race this cycle, we were able to talk to the same voters multiple times, build trust with them, and make it clear that Zachary was the people-powered candidate,” the steering committee writes. “We’re looking forward to eventually making that case again for DSA candidates citywide.”

Lazere and Teutsch both say that such an effort would really require finding the right person for progressives to back up with this organizing muscle. There aren’t any obvious answers just yet (maybe Lewis George someday, should she win again in 2024?) but recent success has them ready to start looking.

“It will not be that progressive organizations can anoint a candidate that’s going to win,” Lazere says. “It needs to be someone connected to the community, period. If that person does emerge, if there are people who have those deep community connections and the energy to connect with voters, I just think there’s a huge opportunity for a victory.”

This article has been updated to correct the number of members on Metro DC-DSA’s steering committee.

The post Zachary Parker Delivered Another Win for Progressive Organizers in Ward 5. Can They Keep Repeating This Success? appeared first on Washington City Paper.

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‘My neighbors fully support me’. The Russian man using the front of his shop to protest against the war

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Save Meduza!

47-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin, a small business owner from the village of Rusko-Visotskoye in Russia’s Leningrad region, has a “No to War'' bumper sticker, refuses to shave his beard as long as Putin is in power, and keeps the front of his shop covered in political and anti-war graffiti and posters. He spoke to the Russian outlet The Village about his small acts of protest, the reactions he gets from his neighbors, and whether he’s afraid there might be criminal prosecution in his future.

Since 2014, Skurikhin has put up about 200 political posters on the front of his shop. It all began after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, when he posted a sign that said “Peace for Ukraine, Freedom for Russia.”

“I’m a local activist who’s ready to express my position every chance I get. Whenever something happens, like the murder of Nemtsov, bam — I hang up a poster,” he said.

After the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine, Skurikhin started focusing on anti-war statements. In early March, he hung up a sign showing destroyed buildings in Kharkiv and a Ukrainian woman who had been killed. Later that month, he used red paint to write the names of Ukrainian cities that Russia had invaded. On the blue part of the store’s roof, he added a yellow banner, making a Ukrainian flag.

“I’ve blatantly sided with Ukraine. And everything is great — my neighbors greet me and nobody tells me to fuck off. I believe there’s unequivocal support,” Skurikhin said.

Dmitry Skurikhin’s store

According to Skurikhin, his signs don’t usually stay up for more than two or three hours — the local government usually sends somebody to take them down and call the police to file a report.

The police in the village are sensible, smart, decent, fine people. Not like in the city. They’re almost all on my side. It’s just that they have orders to follow and an oath to uphold.

Until March 5, the police would always fine Skurikhin for “violating appearance standards.” The initial fines were only 300 rubles (about $5.50) each, but they later increased to 3,000 rubles (about $55). According to Skurikhin, the increase was done specifically with him in mind, because he was the only person being fined for violating that particular law.

When the State Duma passed a law against “discrediting” the Russian army in early March, Skurikhin hung another anti-war sign and wrote a farewell post on Facebook: “This might be my last post, so just in case: Goodbye, my friends.” After that, he was fined 45,000 rubles (about $825) under the new law — less for the sign, according to The Village, than for a Telegram post he wrote about it.

In April, three people anonymously wrote the word “Traitor” on Skurikhin’s store and left a pile of manure at the entrance. Nonetheless, Skurikhin still believes his fellow villagers share his position.

They thought they were making me look bad in front of my neighbors. But the opposite happened. One woman came in and said, “Dmitry, don’t touch the manure, I’ll take it myself — I need it for my garden.” And then when I was taking a bucket of yellow paint to cover up the graffiti, an old man stopped me and said, “What are you doing, covering up the names of the [Ukrainian] cities?” “No, I’m covering up the word ‘Traitor.’” “Alright, go ahead. But leave the cities up.”

Skurikhin did admit that he worries about being arrested for spreading “fakes” about the Russian army, but he has no plans to leave the country. “I’m scared. So what?” he said. “I can’t just stop speaking out. If they put me in jail, I’ll do my time. If they kill me, I guess I’ll die.”

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4 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Stupid

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Have you noticed how youtube explainer videos have slowly morphed into softer versions of This One Weird Trick?

Today's News:

Thanks to all the RSS-using freaks who wrote in regarding font formatting. My current hypothesis is I'm creating issues by copy-pasting from google docs to this field. My next post about gourds and the nature of existence will be deformatted (is that a word?) before being sent out.

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4 days ago
ughhh yes, it feels like all the online political discourse is about the worst representatives of every viewpoint, rather than ever considering the best/most compelling argument.
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Union Kitchen Workers Declare Victory In Their Efforts To Unionize

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Roughly 50 retail workers across five of Union Kitchen’s six stores appear to have formed a union.

The National Labor Relations Board determined Tuesday that a majority of Union Kitchen workers voted to unionize, according to the freshly-minted labor union’s collective bargaining agent, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400. The NLRB reviewed the results of the formal election, which took place three months ago, after CEO and founder Cullen Gilchrist challenged some ballots including those of two vocally pro-union workers who cast ballots but were fired before their votes had been counted.

NLRB press secretary Kayla Blado confirmed that a majority of valid votes cast had been in favor of the union, 20 to 11. Barring no new objections, Blado says certification will happen by June 29.

The announcement underscores the determination workers have to organize, with many new unions forming across the region most recently an Apple store in Baltimore in spite of the variety of obstacles they face.

Union Kitchen’s contract negotiations are expected to be contentious, considering how challenging forming the union was. Workers faced great opposition from Gilchrist ever since they went public with their union drive in late January. They’ve accused him of union-busting and filed multiple unfair labor practice claims with the NLRB.

Gilchrist, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing.

“I genuinely came close to crying. I spent 30 hours a week working on this. I spent personal money and spent time. This has mattered so much to me,” says one of the union leaders, Mckenna Willis. “People have been through a lot, and just the ability to say this is really worth it and [to] have something tangible means the world to everyone.”

Willis worked at the Ballston store up until two weeks ago. She says she resigned because of the way management treated her and her colleagues. At least five union supporters have been fired over the last six months. The union questions their firings, believing they had only been let go because of their involvement in organizing their workplace.

She also believes management targeted her, saying her hours were cut. When Willis did work, she felt unreasonably scrutinized. The treatment began to take a toll on her mental health, she says. “Is this the day that I get fired? Or something gets made up about me? I came in everyday wondering ‘is this the day’ because I knew so many friends of mine had been written up or fired.”

She plans on continuing her participation in the union, calling it the “right thing to do.” “It’s not really about the benefits for me. It never was,” Willis adds.

Former Union Kitchen workers Gabe Wittes and Mckenna Willis have been organizing people across several stores.

Gilchrist did not respond to requests for comment, on Willis’ allegations or the union outcome.

Travis Acton, a staff organizer for UFCW Local 400, says the union has not formally heard from Gilchrist following the NLRB review. He also suspects contract negotiations to be a struggle.

“I don’t expect Cullen to magically become pro-union now jut because workers won. Our contract fight will be worker-led and worker-focused,” Acton says, adding that workers are interested in pay raises, improved staff levels and time off.

They have also wanted more of a say on store policies. Union Kitchen recently posted signs that ban students from entering, citing theft and violence. The ban made some workers uncomfortable. Prior to the ban, a former worker named Gabe Wittes got into tense disagreements with his manager, who he said wanted to call the police on Black children because they would occasionally steal candy bars. Wittes worried about law enforcement escalating the situation and criminalizing Black youth.

Gilchrist told the Washington Business Journal that he will respect the outcome of the election and negotiate with the union. He also questioned how many people who voted for the union are still employed at Union Kitchen.

Acton says the labor board found wrongdoing on the part of management, which the NLRB’s Blado confirmed. “We filed Unfair Labor Practice charges for more than a dozen allegations of unlawful retaliation against employees supportive of the union. And the fact is, the Labor Board has found merit in 90% of the charges,” he says.

He says the labor board is now weighing whether to seek an injunction against against the company or issue a complaint. Similar to Starbucks, Union Kitchen could be forced to reinstate some workers. Blado says the regional director will issue a complaint if the parties do not settle.

This post has been updated to include comment from the National Labor Relations Board.

The post Union Kitchen Workers Declare Victory In Their Efforts To Unionize appeared first on DCist.

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Democrats Are Recklessly Promoting Far Right GOP Candidates in Midterm Ploy

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In several midterm primary races across the United States, political organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC — are spending big to boost far-right Republican candidates in the hopes of securing more favorable general election matchups for Democrats.

What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot, according to progressive critics who have warned in recent days that the strategy has a strong chance of backfiring horribly, potentially ushering into office extremist candidates who pose an even greater threat to democracy than the run-of-the-mill establishment Republican.

“On the one hand, they’re trying to motivate voters to come to the polls by raising legitimate concerns about what will happen to the country if Republicans retake power,” The New Republic’s Alex Shephard noted in a column on Tuesday. “On the other, they’re working behind the scenes to elevate many of the most dangerous Republicans running for office right now. It’s untenable for Democrats to ally themselves with their own executioners.”

In Colorado’s newly created 8th Congressional District, the Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC has spent tens of thousands of dollars on television and digital ads spotlighting the far-right record and policy positions of Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who is competing against three other Republicans in the June 28 primary for a spot in the U.S. House.

The Colorado Sun reports that while one of the Democratic-funded Saine ads is “framed as an attack on Saine, it also calls her a ‘conservative warrior’ and highlights her strident positions on abortion, immigration, and guns — stances that appeal to many Republicans.”

A new Democratic super PAC is also running ads characterizing Colorado state Rep. Ron Hanks — a far-right U.S. Senate candidate who attended the rally and march that preceded the January 6 Capitol attack — as “one of the most conservative members in the statehouse,” a portrayal that’s likely to bolster his status among many GOP primary voters.

According to one recent survey, just 21% of Republican voters believe President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory was legitimate.

“The eleventh-dimensional chess-like thinking behind this spending is clear: The 2022 midterms will be tight, and boosting ultraconservatives more likely to alienate moderate voters might help Democrats in desperate need of a leg up,” Shephard wrote Tuesday. “And yet this elliptical strategy is also incredibly reckless given the increasingly authoritarian turn within the Republican Party.”

If extremist, election-denying Republicans win the races in which Democratic groups are intervening, added Shephard, “Democrats would have played a role — and perhaps a decisive one — in the ongoing MAGAfication of the Republican Party.”

As Audrey Fahlberg of The Dispatch reported last week, “Democrats are deploying similar tactics across the country and down the ballot.”

“Take Pennsylvania,” Fahlberg noted, “where Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro spent $1.7 million on TV ads boosting the conservative credentials of gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right candidate who bussed rally-goers to the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and who was subpoenaed by the House Select Committee investigating the events of that day.”

“That single ad buy,” according to Fahlberg, “amounted to more money than Mastriano’s campaign spent during the entire primary.”

Mastriano, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, won the key battleground state’s Republican gubernatorial primary last month.

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA), which is running ads characterizing far-right Illinois gubernatorial hopeful Darren Bailey as a candidate who “embraces the Trump agenda,” insisted in a statement to The Dispatch that its efforts are simply educational, an attempt to make voters aware of the danger posed by GOP extremists.

“These elected and formerly elected officials want to deceptively retell their histories,” said DGA spokesperson David Turner, “and we’re just filling in the gaps.”

While the approach of assisting supposedly unpalatable candidates in primaries has been touted as a success in the recent past, it infamously crashed and burned in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election after her campaign worked to elevate Trump in the GOP nominating contest.

Concerns that the Democratic groups’ strategy could backfire like it did in 2016 aren’t just being voiced by progressive commentators and watchdogs; some establishment Democrats are also raising alarm, particularly as Republicans appear well-positioned to seize control of at least one chamber of Congress in November.

“I think it’s very dangerous and potentially very risky to elevate people who are hostile to democracy,” Democratic strategist Howard Wolfson told the Washington Post earlier this month. “Either this is a crisis moment or it isn’t. And if it is — which it is — you don’t play cute in a crisis.”

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5 days ago
do you want more trumps? this is how we got trump.
seattle, wa
4 days ago
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White Parents Rallied to Chase a Black Educator Out of Town. Then, They Followed Her to the Next One.

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ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive our stories in your inbox every week.

This story and accompanying videos were co-published by ProPublica and FRONTLINE as part of an ongoing collaboration.

In April of 2021, Cecelia Lewis had just returned to Maryland from a house-hunting trip in Georgia when she received the first red flag about her new job.

The trip itself had gone well. Lewis and her husband had settled on a rental home in Woodstock, a small city with a charming downtown and a regular presence on best places to live lists. It was a short drive to her soon-to-be office at the Cherokee County School District and less than a half hour to her husband’s new corporate assignment. While the north Georgia county was new to the couple, the Atlanta area was not. They’d visited several times in recent years to see their son, who attended Georgia Tech.

About This Partnership

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration between ProPublica and FRONTLINE that includes an upcoming documentary.

Lewis, a middle school principal, initially applied for a position that would bring her closer to the classroom as a coach for teachers. But district leaders were so impressed by her interview that they encouraged her to apply instead for a new opening they’d created: their first administrator focused on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

DEI-focused positions were becoming more common in districts across the country, following the 2020 protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The purpose of such jobs typically is to provide a more direct path for addressing disparities stemming from race, economics, disabilities and other factors.

At first, the scope of the role gave Lewis pause. In her current district, these responsibilities were split among several people, and she’d never held a position dedicated to anything as specific as that before. But she had served on the District Equity Leadership Team in her Maryland county and felt prepared for this new challenge. She believed the job would allow her, as she put it, to analyze the district’s “systemic and instructional practices” in order to better support “the whole child.”

“We’re so excited to add Cecelia to the CCSD family,” Superintendent Brian Hightower said in the district’s March 2021 announcement about all of its new hires. (The announcement noted that the creation of the DEI administrator role “stems from input from parents, employees and students of color who are serving on Dr. Hightower’s ad hoc committees formed this school year to focus on the topic.”) Hightower acknowledged “both her impressive credentials and enthusiasm for the role” and pointed out that, “In four days, she had a DEI action plan for us.”

Cecelia Lewis: “The District Identified This as a Need” (FRONTLINE)

During her early visits, Lewis found Cherokee County to be a welcoming place. It reminded her of her community in southern Maryland, where everyone knew one another. But leaving the place where she’d been raised — and where, aside from her undergrad years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she’d spent most of her adult life — wasn’t going to be easy. Before her last day as principal of her middle school, her staff created a legacy wall in her honor, plastering a phrase above student lockers that Lewis would say to end the morning messages each day: “If no one’s told you they care about you today, know that I do ... and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it!”

How We Got the Interview

Cecelia Lewis initially was reluctant to talk about her experience in Georgia. For several months, she did not respond to requests for an interview. Lewis then declined to comment in March, citing safety and privacy concerns. After multiple additional requests, Lewis agreed to an interview, her first regarding what happened to her in Georgia, seeing it as a way for her experience to help people understand what educators are facing in these times. Read more about reporter Nicole Carr's pursuit of the story.

Lewis was beginning to prepare for her move South, spending as much time with friends and family as possible, when she got a strange call from an official in her new school district. The person on the line — Lewis won’t say who — asked if she had ever heard of CRT.

Lewis responded, “Yes — culturally responsive teaching.” She was thinking of the philosophy that connects a child’s cultural background to what they learn in school. For Lewis, who’d studied Japanese and Russian in college and more recently traveled to Ghana with the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program for teachers, language and culture were essential to understanding anyone’s experience.

At that point, she wasn’t even familiar with the other CRT, critical race theory, which maintains that racial bias is embedded in America’s laws and institutions and has caused disproportionate harm to people of color. In a speech the previous fall, then-President Donald Trump condemned CRT as “toxic propaganda” and “ideological poison.”

The caller then told Lewis that a group of people in a wealthy neighborhood in the northern part of the county were upset about what they believed were her intentions to bring CRT to Cherokee County. But don’t worry, the district official said; we just want to keep you updated.

The following month, inside a gabled white clubhouse overlooking the hills of a Cherokee County golf course, dozens of parents from across the county had assembled on a Sunday afternoon for a lesson in an emerging form of warfare. School board meetings would be their battlefield. Their enemy was CRT.

One of several presenters at the meeting was Rhonda Thomas, a frequent guest on conservative podcasts and the founder of the Atlanta-based Truth in Education, a national nonprofit that aims to educate parents and teachers about “radical ideologies being taught in schools.” “So what is critical race theory?” Thomas asked the crowd. “It teaches kids that whites are inherently racist and oppressive, perhaps unconsciously,” and that “all whites are responsible for all historical actions” and “should feel guilty.”

She added: “I cannot be asked for repentance for something my grandparents did or my ancestors did, right?”

Thomas stressed that parents should form their own nonprofit groups and cut ties with their schools’ Parent Teacher Associations. “The PTA supports everything we’re against,” she told them.

Another presenter, a local paralegal named Noelle Kahaian, leads the nonprofit Protect Student Health Georgia, which aims to “educate on harmful indoctrination” including “comprehensive sexuality education” and “gender ideology.”

Kahaian emphasized how to grab attention during upcoming school board meetings. Identify the best speakers in the group, she told them, adding: “It’s OK to be emotional.” Be sure to capture video of them addressing the board — or even consider hiring a professional videographer.

“It’s good in case Tucker Carlson wants to put you on air,” Kahaian said. “It really helps.”

Inside the Clubhouse

Presenter Noelle Kahaian talks to the crowd about the “tsunami strategy.”

She then briefed them on how to file grievances about school board members’ teaching licenses and on their right to request school board members’ cellphone records.

And she advised them on the benefit of collaborating with “outside forces” to file open records requests to school systems for employee emails and curriculum plans that could provide evidence of inappropriate material being taught in classrooms. Doing so would allow those outsiders to “take some of the heat.”

But there was one agenda item that would inspire the crowd to take more urgent action than any other: They had to figure out what to do about the Cherokee County School District’s decision to hire a woman named Cecelia Lewis.

“And when I got a text message from somebody saying that this person was hired, I immediately was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, where are my people?’” said another speaker, Mandy Heda, a Cherokee County GOP precinct chair who introduced herself as a parent of four students in the district.

Thomas, Kahaian and Heda did not respond to multiple requests for comment or to a list of questions detailing the points they raised at the clubhouse meeting and elsewhere.

After asking the crowd to look at the Maryland district where Lewis was coming from, Heda wondered how Lewis could “leave that at the border” (she didn’t elaborate on what “that” was) and how the longtime educator could come “to Cherokee County and not want to change us.” (Like Cherokee, the district where Lewis was a principal serves a majority-white county that voted for Trump in 2020 — though Heda and others in the clubhouse seemed unaware of this.)

A man interjected, saying he’d contacted the Cherokee County School District to find out “how they arrived at the choice to hire” Lewis. Hadn’t there been any local candidates, he asked.

Targeting Lewis

Presenter Mandy Heda criticizes the district's decision to hire Cecelia Lewis.

“You cannot tell me, you know, that you can’t find somebody else qualified,” Heda responded. “And if you’re looking for her to be Black, that’s fine. But that’s not what this is about. This is not about the color of her skin. It’s what she’s going to bring into our district and what she’s going to teach our children.”

Another person in the crowd later asked if the arrival of Lewis was a done deal. Several confirmed that it was.

“We don’t have to accept it, right?” another man asked, the crowd’s energy rising in response with a collective yes. “We can change that, right?”

“In some way, shape or form,” another woman vowed.

The May 2021 clubhouse meeting, a recording of which was provided to ProPublica by a parent who attended, provides a window into the ways in which conservative groups quickly and efficiently train communities to take on school districts in the name of concepts that aren’t even being taught in classrooms.

National groups, often through their local chapters, have provided video lessons and toolkits to parents across the country on how to effectively spread their messaging about so-called school indoctrination. Parents Defending Education has created “indoctrination maps” tracking everything from a district celebrating “Black Lives Matter week” to one that allows students to watch CNN Student News, while the Atlanta-based Education Veritas and Kahaian’s Protect Student Health Georgia provide portals for anonymously reporting educators supposedly sympathetic to CRT, DEI and other so-called controversial learning concepts.

In the wake of 2020’s summer of racial reckoning, as the work of anti-racist authors shot to the top of bestseller lists and corporations expressed renewed commitments to diversity initiatives, conservatives mounted a counteroffensive against what they viewed as an anti-white, anti-American, “woke” liberal agenda. And with that effort came a renewed vilification of CRT, a four-decade-old theory that, contrary to its opponents’ accusations, is rarely if ever taught in K-12 public school systems (it typically is taught in graduate-level college and law school courses). That effort quickly snowballed into complaints about what used to be basic history lessons involving race and slavery, which organized groups began conflating with CRT and campaigning for their removal from curriculums.

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Nearly 900 school districts across the country have been targeted by anti-CRT efforts from September 2020 to August 2021, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Diego, found. Teachers and district equity officers surveyed and interviewed for the report “often described feeling attacked and at risk for discussing issues of race or racism at all, or promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion in any way. Equity officers told us that at times they feared for their personal safety.”

The report also stated: “Only one equity officer described a year free of anti ‘CRT’ conflict.”

“It makes me very sad for my colleagues,” said Cicely Bingener, one of the UCLA researchers and a longtime elementary school educator.

Using local media coverage and lawsuits, ProPublica has identified at least 14 public school employees across the country, six of them Black, who were chased out in part by anti-CRT efforts in 2021. Some of the educators resigned or did not have their contracts renewed, while others were fired by school boards where elections had ushered in more politically extreme members.

Since January 2021, legislatures in more than 40 states have proposed or passed bills and resolutions that would restrict teaching CRT or would limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Four days after the meeting in the golf course clubhouse, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp released a statement solidifying his stance against CRT and asking the state Board of Education to do the same. “I urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that Critical Race Theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum,” it read.

On June 3, 2021, the Board of Education did just that, joining Utah’s as the first such groups to pass resolutions of that kind. Georgia’s declared that “the United States of America is not a racist country, and that the state of Georgia is not a racist state.”

In predominantly white Cherokee County, 40 miles north of downtown Atlanta, the fight over CRT has led some residents to question whether they still recognize the community they thought they knew.

“These are our neighbors,” said Leanne Etienne, a Black mother of two Cherokee County students, one of whom served on the superintendent’s ad hoc committee that led to the creation of the DEI position. “These are people who are the parents of the children my kids go to school with. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. You don’t know who to trust. You don’t feel safe.”

After that April call from the school district official, Lewis was confused but remained optimistic. She read up on CRT and determined it had nothing to do with her role. Then came more calls.

In one, a district official asked Lewis if she has social media accounts. “Only a LinkedIn,” she replied. (Lewis barely has a digital footprint. She has never posted anything on social media nor made any professional statements in regard to CRT or any other controversial topic.) The official explained that some of the people upset about her hiring were complaining that a Twitter user with her name was posting Marxist ideology.

Around that same time, according to Lewis, several emails and handwritten letters were showing up at her school in Maryland, calling her a Black Yankee and saying her liberal thinking is unwanted. She saved only one, with typewriting on the envelope. The return address was just “A Cherokee County Citizen.”

“They ultimately just said, you know, ‘We don’t want you here, and we don’t want you to push us to find out what will happen if you come here,’” Lewis said.

On May 18, 2021, two days after the meeting at the clubhouse, Cherokee County’s schools communications chief and its school board members received the first of approximately 100 form letters that would flood their inboxes over a 48-hour period, demanding that Lewis be fired.

One of approximately 100 form letters opposing Lewis’ hiring that were sent to Cherokee County School Board members and district officials during a two-day period in May 2021. (Screenshot by ProPublica)

Another parent wrote to a school board member, citing Cherokee County’s recent census statistics: “Did you know that 77.8% of the population is considered ‘whtie [sic] alone’ 7.7% are black and 11.1% hispanic? Are we now in a county that is going to cater to a handful of people?”

Lewis said she was willing and eager, once she arrived in Georgia, to speak to concerned parents. “I just felt as if there was a misunderstanding,” she said, “and as soon as I [would] have an opportunity to get there and really speak on my own behalf, then it was going to be OK.”

She also felt comforted by the fact that school district officials were regularly checking in with her, offering reassurances that they were monitoring the situation and that everything would be OK “once they get to know you.”

Lewis tends not to talk about racism in terms of her professional life. She said that, until she got the Black Yankee email, she had not experienced racial prejudice and was accustomed to learning and working in majority-white spaces. She also recalled being surprised when someone from the district pointed out that a hiring like hers was rare, in that there were not many minority leaders working in the district.

“I did not think that in 2021 that that was really a thing,” Lewis said, noting the district’s proximity to Atlanta, with its high concentration of Black leadership and affluence. “And that was probably just ignorance on my end. And I mean that in the purest form of ignorance, of just not knowing. I didn’t know.”

On May 20, 2021, one of Lewis’ soon-to-be colleagues called to say that the people upset about her hiring were claiming to have spotted her around Cherokee County and were sharing with one another her supposed locations. Lewis, however, was still in Maryland.

That same day — following an increase in social media posts, emails and phone calls complaining about Lewis and CRT — the district installed metal detectors and assigned extra security at the county building where school board meetings are held.

Lewis soon received yet another call. Someone from district leadership asked if she was planning to watch the board meeting that night. She replied that it hadn’t been on her radar.

“You should watch it,” they said.

Well before the Cherokee County School Board meeting’s 7 p.m. start time, people hoping to get inside were being turned away. The room and the overspill viewing area in the lobby were at capacity. Those who were denied entry gathered outside near the parking lot, where they could peek through windows and glimpse the large screens mounted in the boardroom. Others hung around outside, planning to watch the livestream of the meeting on their phones.

At home in Maryland, Lewis and her husband sat in their bedroom, the laptop propped up between them.

Inside, just before the meeting started, mothers in black T-shirts printed with the words “I don’t co-parent with the government” smiled and posed for pictures. A husky man with a deep voice formed the beginning of the large prayer circle that inched toward the dais where district officials, student delegates and Cherokee County’s seven school board members were seated.

The first order of business was introduced by Mike Chapman, a Republican board member who’d held his seat for more than two decades: a resolution against teaching CRT and the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” (Conservatives have railed against it as racially divisive and have often lumped it together with CRT in an attempt to ban both from schools across the country.)

What came next caught Lewis off guard.

Hightower, the superintendent, read from a statement: “While I had initially entertained and publicly spoken to the development of a diversity, equity and inclusivity, DEI plan, I recognize that our intentions have become widely misunderstood in the community and it created division.

“To that end, I have concluded that there will be no separate DEI plan.”

To Lewis, it was as if the “foundations of everything that I was asked to do have just shifted, and I was not a part of the conversation.”

State Rep. Brad Thomas, a Republican, spoke next. He assured the board that, as the father of a Cherokee County student, he’d done his research after fielding complaints about Lewis’ hiring.

He said he now had a plan of his own in the works: He would be drafting legislation to ensure that teaching CRT and the 1619 Project would be illegal statewide. “We’ve pulled language from Tennessee’s bill. We’ve pulled language from Texas’ bill. We’ve pulled language from Oklahoma’s bill. We’ve pulled language from Idaho’s bill,” he said. “And I’ve put some of my own language in there.”

Heda, the Cherokee County GOP precinct officer who’d spoken at the clubhouse meeting four days earlier, also addressed the board. She claimed that the definition of DEI had changed over time and now represents the views held by people with “the same woke political understanding of power dynamics and social positions.”

“We cannot fix racism with institutionalized racism,” she said.

A neighbor of Heda’s approached the lectern next. The woman, who is Black, spoke in favor of the decision to hire Lewis. It was the first time she was mentioned by name.

According to one observer, that’s when the crowd gathered outside began beating against the building’s windows.

“No, no, no!” they screamed in unison, the sound reverberating through the lobby as their fists pounded the glass.

The scene outside the May 20, 2021, Cherokee County School Board meeting. (Provided to ProPublica)

A subsequent speaker, a parent named Lori Raney, was rewarded with applause when she asked the board, “My question to you is, if you vote to do away with the DEI program, does that mean the new DEI officer has her offer rescinded? Because why do we need to pay $115,000 for somebody who doesn’t have a job to do anymore?”

At that moment, Lewis recalled, her husband said: “That’s it. We’re not doing this. You are not going there.” He left the bedroom in disgust.

Not long after, a volunteer from the campaign of Vernon Jones, a Black Republican who at the time was running for governor (Jones later switched to a run for Congress), read a statement to the school board from the candidate. “Embracing the teaching of critical race theory is a slap in the face of Dr. King’s teachings,” said the volunteer, Stan Fitzgerald. “Taxpayer-funded anti-white racism is still exactly that — racism.”

Upon hearing that, Lewis thought about how Martin Luther King Jr. promoted humanity and love, and she was devastated to hear his words used by strangers to attack her. Everything she had just witnessed felt contrary to his ideals.

Breaking down in tears, Lewis closed her laptop. She could no longer watch.

“That cut me so deeply,” she said. “It hit the core of who I am as a being.”

Lewis missed the part when Miranda Wicker, another parent and member of the county’s Democratic Party, addressed the board. “Those who want this ban are spouting talking points fed to them by an outside special interest group with a deeply political agenda to keep people riled up against an invisible other,” said Wicker, who was interrupted by loud shouts.

“Stop the disrespect!” school board Chair Kyla Cromer yelled at the crowd after banging her gavel. “Stop! Stop!”

Cromer threatened to adjourn the meeting early but ultimately allowed it to continue.

The board voted 4-1 with two abstentions to pass the anti-CRT and anti-1619 Project resolution. But the crowd was still worked up. Cromer moved to take a break. The livestream of the meeting was paused. But the yelling continued. And things spiraled out of control, to the point that Cromer abruptly adjourned the meeting.

One man in the crowd screamed: “I’m furious!”

Another declared: “We’re going to hunt you down!”

The scene inside the May 20, 2021, Cherokee County School Board meeting, as Chair Kyla Cromer moves to adjourn. (Provided to ProPublica)

The school district’s chief communications officer, Barbara Jacoby, would later say that’s when the students attending the meeting started crying.

“They had to be rushed out of the room,” Jacoby recalled. She went with them and the school board members as security guards ushered the group to a conference room behind the dais. “And then we had to be walked to our cars,” she said. “We had to be followed out of the parking lot onto the highway by police officers.”

In response to questions from ProPublica, the school board provided a statement describing how some members requested school police escorts to their homes, where city and county agencies conducted extra patrols. In response to the other questions, including ones about anti-CRT letters the board received, Jacoby responded on its behalf, stating “the information you note below is correct.” Cromer and Hightower declined to comment.

Jacoby said the scene felt unreal. “It’s certainly not anything anyone who comes to work for a school district expects would ever be part of their job.”

Cecelia Lewis: “I Don’t Even Know Why We Continue to Give Life to It” (FRONTLINE)

Lewis’ phone kept ringing that night. People from the district were telling her that this is not who they are, that they’re embarrassed by the actions of their neighbors and church members, that they’re sorry she had to witness this.

In a phone call the next morning, Hightower apologized to Lewis. He said he still wanted her to come to Cherokee. Another administrator asked if she would consider a different position.

But by then she’d made up her mind. She told Hightower: It’s just not going to work.

“I can’t say I blame her,” Cherokee County School District chief of staff Mike McGowan said in an interview with ProPublica. “There was so much misinformation about who she was, what she stood for and what was going on politically.”

In response to a detailed list of questions to the district covering all aspects of Lewis’ experience in Cherokee County, Jacoby responded that “we have no further comments to add.”

The following morning, before it was publicly known that Lewis had quit the job she’d never started, a former Cherokee County student who’d attended the school board meeting appeared on “Fox & Friends and warned that the board was still pursuing CRT under the guise of other concepts. “I think that they’re relying on wordplay to try to confuse Cherokee County representatives or constituents that aren’t necessarily completely involved because they’re busy with their day-to-day life,” the guest, Bailey Katzenstein, said. She claimed that CRT initiatives would be carried out by “someone from Maryland” in the form of programs “synonymous” with CRT: DEI and SEL (or social emotional learning). SEL is a decades-old child development concept that emphasizes building self-awareness, teaching kids how to better communicate, fostering relationships and making responsible decisions, according to scholars and researchers.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable,” Katzenstein said of the school board not banning DEI and SEL along with CRT. “They’re hiding behind closed doors, and I think it’s completely full of cowardice.”

The Fox host, ending the segment, said: “If you thought this was an elite, New York City school problem, Bailey Katzenstein just told you the exact opposite. This is spreading. It’s going all over the country, and it’s having real impacts.”

The next day, Cherokee County parents used their private Facebook group to continue to report Lewis “sightings.” (People with access to the group shared screenshots of posts with ProPublica.)

A post to a private Facebook page falsely claimed that Lewis was in Cherokee County and working for the school district. (Screenshot provided to ProPublica)

“My husband swears he saw Ms. Lewis at Ace yesterday afternoon!” one woman wrote, adding, “He saw the Maryland plates and the driver looked just like her.”

But Lewis was still in Maryland. She hadn’t returned to Georgia since the house-hunting trip.

In a statement quoted in the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News a week and a half later, Lewis wrote: “I wholeheartedly fell in love with Cherokee County when I came to visit and accepted the position, but somehow, I got caught in the crossfire of lies, misinformation, and accusations which have zero basis.”

When Lewis and her husband actually relocated to Georgia later that summer, the Cherokee parents’ private Facebook group lit up.

“Guess where Cecelia Lewis is possibly landing now?” another woman wrote.

They’d figured out her next move.

Five days after Lewis quit her would-be job in Cherokee County, the district’s human resources director forwarded a copy of her resume to the chief academic officer at his former school district, one county over. “Great catching Up!” he wrote. “Talk soon.”

Officials in the Cobb County School District, the second-largest in the state, called Lewis soon after. They wanted to talk to her about an opening they had for a supervisor of social studies, a job title she’d held in another school district earlier in her career.

Lewis did not know it, but the position already had been subjected to scrutiny.

In the summer of 2020, in wake of Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, the Cobb County School District began to more tightly manage the way racial issues are handled in social studies teacher training and more closely vet the materials trainers and educators could use.

According to records obtained by ProPublica, the previous, longtime social studies supervisor had been reprimanded for hosting a district-approved speaker from the state Department of Education. A teacher had complained about the speaker’s presentation, titled “All are Welcome.”

The social studies supervisor’s boss wrote in the letter that most of the presentation was appropriate. There were just a few issues.

The boss wasn’t happy with the “sensitive content and images” and “probing questions” in the presentation. One slide included a photo of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin atop Floyd, his knee pinned to Floyd’s neck, along with two questions that challenged educators in how they approach lessons about such controversies: “What can we share with our black students to help them cope with the bottom?” “What did the man on top miss out on learning that could have made him a better person?”

Additionally, the director’s letter reminded the social studies supervisor that there already had been discussions about references to the 1619 Project, about vetting all presentations, about monitoring social media posts for the “message they send to the greater Cobb County community” and about ensuring that outside organizations the social studies supervisor might partner with would present controversial issues in a manner acceptable to the school district.

In 2021, the social studies supervisor retired. Lewis — who holds a master’s degree in teaching the subject — applied to replace her.

In June, at around the same time that Lewis got the call from Cobb County to come in for an interview, Cobb’s seven-member school board passed its own anti-CRT and anti-1619 Project resolution. Three members — all of them Black Democrats — abstained, noting this was not the first time they were blindsided by the addition of a problematic, last-minute agenda item.

Once a Republican stronghold represented by Newt Gingrich in Congress, Cobb County flipped to blue in 2018 and has remained that way since. By 2020 the county elected its first Black sheriff and county commission chair. Though the school district’s population is 30% Black and 24% Hispanic, the school board majority remains white and conservative.

By mid-July, another metropolitan Atlanta school district was courting Lewis. But by then she was living in Cobb County and decided to follow-up with the district there. It had been weeks since she’d gone through multiple rounds of rigorous interviews, during which Cobb officials complimented her on her credentials, saying she’d be an asset in multiple leadership roles, according to Lewis.

Lewis recalled that a district official finally called her back toward the end of July to apologize for the delayed response and explained that the superintendent had been involved in vetting her hiring, something that typically doesn’t happen for a person who applies for a supervisor role.

The district offered Lewis the job on that call, and she accepted. She was asked to report to work the next day, July 20.

By the end of the week — right around the time when the Cherokee County parent circulated the tip in the private Facebook group that Lewis might now be heading to Cobb — Lewis got a call from a school district leader. It was someone above her boss, Lewis said. According to Lewis, the person requested an immediate, off-site meeting.

It was already after 6 p.m. Lewis had just settled in for a manicure and pedicure. She left her appointment and headed to a nearby Panera Bread, where she and the district official took a seat near the back of the restaurant.

The person explained that complaints about her were “percolating” out of Cherokee into Cobb, according to Lewis, who also remembered the person telling her to be careful; she’s an at-will employee (meaning she can be fired at any time for any reason without notice) and the person might not be able to help her. Lewis also recalled the person telling her that she shouldn’t have to endure in Cobb what she went through in Cherokee.

Lewis was stunned. “I did nothing but showed up to work, signed a contract, agreed to do what I was asked to do in the job description,” she told ProPublica. “And yet again, I’m getting attacked.”

Around the same time, Cobb’s four Republican school board members, its superintendent and another district official, John Floresta, were fielding complaints about the decision to hire Lewis.

“I am appalled that anyone would advocate for the racist, sexist, and Marxist ideology that is Critical Race Theory,” one woman wrote to the group in an email, which ProPublica obtained through an open records request. Her name was redacted. She went on to say, among other things: “I insist that you pass real policy reforms that forbid indoctrinating children with CRT in classrooms,” “Anyone found pushing CRT on CCSD time should be immediately terminated,” and “Make no mistake: press releases and toothless resolutions just won’t cut it.”

“I agree with you 100%,” Cobb County school board member Randy Scamihorn responded. “Thankfully, the majority of the Board did vote on June 10th to ban CRT and 1619 Project from our schools in Cobb County. We then directed Superintendent Ragsdale to implement the enforcement of this decision, which he readily agreed to do.”

“I’m glad to hear you feel that way, but it certainly seems we need to remain vigilant,” the woman replied. “Why has Cecelia Lewis been hired by Cobb? She was hired by Cherokee schools for CRT and was run off because the parents put up such a fight. Now Cobb has quietly hired her. This isn’t a good move for the optics that Cobb has supposedly banned CRT.”

There is no record of an email reply from Scamihorn.

In response to ProPublica’s request for comment on the email exchange, a spokesperson for the district responded on behalf of Scamihorn: “Your assertion that Mr. Scamihorn ‘agreed 100%’ that ‘anyone pushing CRT on CCSD time should be immediately terminated’ is grossly inaccurate and not consistent with the email you are referencing. The Cobb Board did pass a resolution which directs the District to focus on keeping schools, schools, not on political distractions.” When asked to elaborate on what was inaccurate or inconsistent, the spokesperson did not respond.

Floresta responded to a different email complaining about CRT, assuring the sender that it was not allowed to be taught per district policy. The sender then pointed to the hiring in Cobb of “Cecelia Lewis, a well known advocate for CRT and DEI agents who actually resigned from Cherokee County recently because of the push back from the parents.”

“How in the heck did Dr. Cecelia Lewis get hired on?” the email continued. “It is ASTOUNDING to think that anyone would think this was a good idea. We need answers on this, immediately, and an explanation of her role within the County. To list her under Social Studies does not fool any of us.”

On Lewis’ fourth day on the job, she got a message from one of the district secretaries.

“I received a call from a parent wanting to know if you were the same person hired in Cherokee County. I just told her that someone would give her a call back to address her questions.”

Lewis’ boss soon told her to direct all such messages to her office. She also told Lewis to hold off on responding to any emails regarding her hiring, after Lewis replied to a positive note that came in from a supportive parent.

The following week, Lewis was supposed to introduce herself to all the social studies teachers at a districtwide training meeting. She said she’d been asked, before the Panera meeting, to prepare a presentation and share the social studies program vision.

She said she was then asked to shorten the presentation to a simple series of slides. Then, to one slide.

Finally, she learned she wouldn’t even be acknowledged at the meeting as the new supervisor of social studies.

“When the day came, I was told that I had to sit in the back and flip the slides for the presenter,” Lewis recalled. “I was not introduced at all.”

Lewis said she did receive warm welcomes when she individually introduced herself to teachers, some of whom said they’d heard she’d arrived and wondered when they’d meet her.

Not long after the meeting, she recalled, other aspects of her job began to change. Her emails to social studies teachers would need to be vetted before she could hit send (not a single one was approved). And she’d now be on a special project, reviewing thousands of resources that had already been approved and adopted by the district.

“It was pretty much them tucking me away,” Lewis said. “Every meeting was canceled. Every professional learning opportunity that I was supposed to lead with my team, I couldn’t do. Every department meeting with different schools, I was told I can’t go.”

According to Lewis, the only direct communication she was allowed to have without vetting was with other supervisors.

“They were wasting their money,” she said. “I’m just sitting here in this room every day, looking through resources that have already been approved, which makes no sense, and not given much direction as to what I’m looking for — just making sure they’re aligned to standards, which obviously they were.”

At the end of August, Lewis requested a meeting with her supervisor and the district’s chief academic officer. She told them that she would be submitting her two-week notice.

The next day, she got one last email from district leadership.

“As we discussed, it is never our intention, as an organization, for an employee to feel anything other [than] the support and collegiality associated with a positive and professional work environment,” the email said. “Please know your concerns and feedback, as an individual and employee, were heard and valued.”

ProPublica submitted to the Cobb County School District and its school board a list of detailed questions about the hiring of Lewis, the community blowback and the changes to her job. A school district spokesperson responded: “Cecelia Lewis was employed by the Cobb County School District during the summer of 2021, voluntarily submitted her letter of resignation in early fall of 2021, and like every Team member, her contributions and work for students was greatly appreciated.”

Lewis’ departure from not one but two school districts didn’t put an end to the efforts of anti-CRT groups. In fact, the groups used Lewis’ retreat as a rallying call.

In August 2021, Educate Cherokee — a group with a now-defunct website that identifies itself on Facebook as a local chapter of the national conservative nonprofit No Left Turn in Education — announced that it would be holding an event. According to an online notice about the event, it would be led by Heda, who had spoken at the clubhouse and the school board meetings, and Raney, who at the school board meeting had called out Lewis’ salary. In the notice, the group claimed the elimination of “a new DEI administrative position” as one of its accomplishments. “Bring your ideas, energy, and enthusiasm,” the meeting notice said. “We need to convert all of it into an effective election effort to eliminate CRT by replacing all of the current school board members up for re-election with new conservatives committed to our cause.”

In the months to come, four school board candidates — Michael “Cam” Waters, Ray Lynch, Sean Kaufman and Chris Gregory — established themselves as part of a collective effort to gain a majority on the board, in part by ousting board members who’d come under attack following Lewis’ hiring.

The candidates dubbed themselves 4CanDoMore and launched a website, the top of which states: “In May of 2021, Cherokee County was taken by surprise when it was announced that our ‘conservative’ board voted to bring in Cecelia Lewis, as Administrator on Special Assignment, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). However, her history was riddled with Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideologies in her previous school district. Why would the current board vote 7-0 to bring in someone to implement programs not in alignment with the family values of our community?”

A promotional photo of the 1776 Project PAC’s first endorsements of the year: a slate of Cherokee County School Board candidates who are opposed to Lewis’ hiring and CRT. (Screenshot by ProPublica)

In March of 2022, the 4CanDoMore candidates got a boost. The 1776 Project PAC, founded last year by author and OANN political correspondent Ryan Girdusky, had been singling out open school board seats across the country and supporting candidates who ran on platforms to ban CRT and the 1619 Project. (The super PAC’s name is a nod to an advisory committee launched in 2020 by Trump partly in response to the 1619 Project. Trump’s 1776 Commission sought to support a “patriotic education” in schools and oppose lessons that teach students to “hate their own country.”)

In 2021, the 1776 Project PAC backed 69 school board candidates in eight states. Fifty-five won their seats, its website claims, including all 15 candidates the PAC endorsed in Texas.

The 4CanDoMore candidates were the 1776 Project PAC’s first endorsements of 2022.

Girdusky did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the decision to zero in on Cherokee County candidates.

In May, two of the 4CanDoMore candidates lost their primary bids to incumbents. The other two, Kaufman and Lynch, advanced to a June runoff. Another familiar face in the anti-Lewis effort also made it to the runoff: Kahaian, the paralegal who’d told parents in the clubhouse how to prepare for an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show. She’s running for a seat in Georgia’s House of Representatives.

Even before any potential shake-up on the school board, some changes have already arrived in the Cherokee County School District. Among them is a ban on the word “equity” from any district initiative.

“We had to stop using the word because the word was redefined by people,” said Jacoby, the Cherokee County Schools communications director. “And so we had to take the word out of the equation, and say, OK, fine, ‘access.’ There’s no way around that access is important.”

After moving back home to Maryland, Lewis continues to work in education, although her role doesn’t primarily focus on DEI. “I may not have the specific acronym tied to my official title, but I am committed to celebrating diversity and promoting equity and inclusion,” Lewis said.

She also noted that, even in the face of increasing attacks, educators should not lose sight of their value and the difference they can make in children’s lives. “No one can take that away from us.”

Cecelia Lewis: “The Work Still Needs to Be Done” (FRONTLINE)

Today, the metal detectors remain installed at the entrance to the building where Cherokee County School Board meetings are held. A staff member is permanently assigned the task of evacuating students in attendance, should the need ever arise. And an increased number of security officers are strategically placed throughout the meeting room and beyond.

Standing in line outside the building before a recent school board meeting, mothers identified themselves to each other as “a Marjorie” — meaning a proponent of the speaking style of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, known for her provocative and unfiltered claims.

A little while later, once the meeting was underway, a man who described himself as a school bus driver and a grandfather stepped to the microphone during the public comment period.

A security officer keeps tabs on the May 19, 2022, Cherokee County School Board meeting. After the events of 2021, county officials increased the number of security officers at the meetings. (Lynsey Weatherspoon for ProPublica)

“This is not California or New York. This is Cherokee County, Georgia. We can choose what and how our students learn on a local level,” said the man.

“I was raised in a different era, in the ’50s and ’60s, where we were equipped to survive and succeed.”

Do You Have a Tip for ProPublica? Help Us Do Journalism.

Mollie Simon contributed research.


June 17, 2022: This story originally misspelled the first name of one of the people who spoke at the Cherokee County School Board meeting. She is Lori Raney, not Lauri.

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