Skip to content Skip to footer

“Fascists Go Home!”: Philadelphians Reject Far Right “Moms for Liberty”

Over 50 local and national organizations joined to counter the harmful messaging from the far right group’s conference.

Protesters decorate the barricades outside the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia with messages of solidarity and joy on July 2, 2023.

Early on Thursday, June 29, banners were dropped over Interstate-95 coming into Philadelphia that read “Philly Protects Trans Kids” and “Bad Things Happen (to fascists) in Philadelphia.” This very Philly welcoming of the attendees of the Moms for Liberty (M4L) annual conference at the Marriott hotel from June 29 to July 2 set the tone for what would be four days of high-energy protests against the organization for its anti-Black and anti-queer policy agenda.

Local protesters, including librarians, nonprofit workers and trans activists turned out every day to spread a message of joy and liberation. Groups organizing the events included the National Parents Union, Defense of Democracy, the Pennsylvania chapter of STOP Moms for Liberty, Indivisible Philadelphia, the Young Communist League and ACT UP Philadelphia. Over 50 local and national organizations signed on to counter the harmful messaging coming from inside the conference. Actions included banned book giveaways, a public speak out, various rallies and marches and a four-day dance party outside of the hotel to “Dance the Hate Away.”

Revelers "Dance the Hate Away" during the Moms 4 Liberty protest on July 1, 2023
Revelers “Dance the Hate Away” during the Moms for Liberty protest on July 1, 2023.

On Thursday night, as the Moms for Liberty hosted their gala event at the Museum of the American Revolution, the dance party started outside. As the attendees came and went in chartered buses, activists danced, kissed each other and expressed joy and resistance. The MC for the weekend, Sam Rise, reminded the attendees that Philly is a trans city, a queer city and a Black city. Local “Philebrity” Philly Elmo and their drumline briefly joined the revelry in the streets. As the gala attendees left, protesters shouted: “Fascists Go Home!”

A veteran holds a sign that says"Save a speed bag --punch out a Nazi!" at the dance party protest on June 30, 2021.
A veteran holds a sign that says “Save a speed bag — knock out a Nazi!” at the dance party protest on June 30, 2023.

Amid the wildfire smoke and humidity of a Philadelphia summer, locals demonstrated in the street outside the Marriott early on Friday morning as the conference began with a speech by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. During the day a group of striking Starbucks workers and supporters of the Free Library of Philadelphia marched in to join the party after their respective rallies. “Who is here because a bunch of fascists are inside that building right there and want to try to ruin this city?” a youth activist shouted into the microphone as the crowd cheered.

Moms for Liberty is known primarily for targeting school boards to both gain seats and affect the policies those school boards adopt. The group pushes a far right agenda that would eradicate any mention of queerness or “critical race theory” in schools. According to The Trevor Project, an advocacy group for LGBTQIA+ youth, 45 percent of queer youth seriously considered suicide in the last year.

“Having a safe space to explore your identity is vital to your survival,” said one attendee at the dance party who wished to remain anonymous. “So many kids, especially kids from families like those so-called ‘moms’ represent, can’t express their identity at home. When you take away the one safe space these kids have to be themselves, it’s a death sentence for many kids.”

A sign reading "Let Queer Youth Live" leans against a public sculpture near the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia on June 30, 2023.
A sign reading “Let Queer Youth Live” leans against a public sculpture near the Marriott hotel in Philadelphia on June 30, 2023.

Activists stationed themselves outside of the entrance to the hotel to jeer former President Donald Trump as he arrived to deliver a closing speech for the conference on Friday night. A large group of police in riot control uniforms were stationed at a nearby intersection the entire day.

“This is clearly meant to intimidate us. We will not be intimidated; we will not be scared into letting these Hoes for Hitler come into our city without hearing that they are not welcome!” said ACT UP organizer Jazmyn Henderson.

Tables with snacks, fans, COVID rapid tests, water and coffee are surrounded by signs and banners with slogans like "Stand up to Bullies" and "Transition is Joyful" at the protests on July 1, 2023.
Tables with snacks, fans, COVID rapid tests, water and coffee are surrounded by signs and banners with slogans like “Stand up to Bullies” and “Transition is Joyful” at the protests on July 1, 2023.

Henderson was referring to a recent Indiana M4L chapter newsletter which quoted Adolf Hitler on its front page, drawing national condemnation. The chapter later attempted to apologize, but most participants in the protests this weekend did not believe the chapter’s claims that the inclusion of the quote was an accident.

Saturday saw higher temperatures but the party continued. While the police presence was reduced, a few times during the day cops attempted to either contain or move the dance party. The activists retook the streets each time, enjoying a line dancing workshop and a “Gospel Drag Show” performed by local drag celebrities. Children’s activities were scheduled in the morning and the street in front of the Marriott was left covered in colorful chalk art celebrating the diversity of Black and queer joy. As summit attendees left, they were quickly identified and followed by locals hurling insults at them.

Though Saturday came to a close without major police incidents, Sunday saw six arrests. The dance party launched again at 9 am as cars with conservative bumper stickers arrived to pick up conference attendees. At 11 am, five activists took to the street in front of Reading Terminal Market chanting “Philly is a trans city” and wearing shirts that read “protect trans kids.” Police swarmed the intersection, warning the activists that they would be arrested, while shoving them out of the way of the police vans. The five were briefly detained and cited and organizers said they were all safely out of police custody within two hours of their arrest.

Protesters learn line dancing outside of the Marriott on July 1, 2023, during the Dance Party Against Hate.
Protesters learn line dancing outside the Marriott on July 1, 2023, during the Dance Party Against Hate.

Outside the hotel, far right social media personalities like “Billboard Chris” began taunting and filming the protesters, and some M4L attendees threw T-shirts toward the crowd while laughing and taunting. One of the conference attendees was egged in response.

"Philly Elmo" walks past the dance party by the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.
“Philly Elmo” walks past the dance party by the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

Toward the end of the day on Sunday, one of the dancers gave a heartbreaking speech about her time as the foster child of an Evangelical family, describing unthinkable child abuse at the hands of her foster family. This same person was later brutally arrested by police for crossing the barricade and dancing in the Marriott driveway while waving a trans flag. She was later released and taken to an area hospital. Far right media personalities praised the Philadelphia Police Department for ensuring the event’s security, underscoring how the police continue to protect and serve the powerful and not the people.

Throughout the weekend, the M4L attendees were forced to contend with the fact that they were unwelcome and unwanted in Philadelphia.

A sign reading "They can't stop our queer joy" rests against the speaker stand on July 2, 2023.
A sign reading “They can’t stop our queer joy” rests against the speaker stand on July 2, 2023.
Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $27,000 in the next 24 hours. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.