Parents, students and teachers in Skokie have been organizing for racial justice in their public schools for several years, especially in D219 (Niles Township HS district) and D72 (Fairview Elem district), as the Abolition Coalition of Skokie and the Skokie Schools Equity Collaborative.
Niles Township has also been one of the hot spots in Illinois for rightwing extremist attacks against public schools and public libraries.
One of the Skokie parent leaders fighting for racial justice, Jasmine Sebaggala, is an Evanston D65 educator. In August 2021, Sebaggala was targeted by the leader of the Niles Township Accountability Council, and later a Moms for Liberty and Awake IL/Awake Americans leader. Sebaggala sued for defamation. The case was dismissed but is under appeal, and Sebaggala has been ordered to cover legal fees for the defense.
Trump advisor Stephen Miller’s 501c3 legal organization claims to be co-counsel for the Moms for Liberty leader Helen Levinson and is trumpeting the dismissal as a win although the org is not listed on any court documents to our knowledge. (Miller's pro-fascist ideology and racist legal efforts were just featured in a Popular Information post.)
Our executive director recently spoke at a press conference in support of Sebaggala and the Skokie parents working for racial equity and justice. Her remarks are below. Full press conference here.
Remarks as prepared
I’m Cassie Creswell, director of Illinois Families for Public Schools, a grassroots organization that advocates for pro-public school policies and legislation across the state.
Since the summer of 2021, we’ve been supporting families in school districts, mostly in the Chicago suburbs, where rightwing extremists have been waging a battle against equitable, inclusive public schools.
Initially, much of this organizing was in opposition to covid mitigation, but it quickly devolved into a broader extremist agenda to oppose public schools as educational environments that serve all children and families in a multi-racial, pluralistic democracy.
This anti-equality, anti-democracy agenda has included everything from attempts to ban books, some successful, to harass educators who support the civil rights of LGBTQ+ students, to oppose anti-racist professional development for staff. In some cases harassment has escalated into threats of physical violence. Or, in the case of Uprising Bakery, actual violence--an incident incited by these same rightwing extremists.
This activity is not just homegrown in the collar counties--it’s connected to major nationwide organizations, including Moms for Liberty, the Leadership Institute, the Heritage Foundation and now Stephen Miller’s America First Legal. The funding for these orgs is mostly dark money, difficult to trace back to its origin, but we know that billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Richard Uihlein are underwriting it here as they are elsewhere.
Niles Township has been one of the hot spots in Illinois for Christian Nationalist/rightwing extremist attacks against public schools and public libraries. The attack on Jasmine Sebaggala is an example of the kind of damage that can be inflicted with just a handful of supporters in a community but the backing of well-funded national orgs.
Moms for Liberty may be (somewhat) on the ropes nationally for their lack of electoral success and the Ziegler scandal unfolding in Florida, and here in Illinois, also because of their lack of electoral success.
But the money/orgs/people pushing their anti-equity, anti-equality, anti-democracy agenda aren't going away. Awake Illinois already has a second group, Awake Americans, launched back in April after Awake IL’s failures at the ballot box, where they are working with a Moms for Liberty leader from Wisconsin.
Far-right extremists do not need electoral success and widespread popular support to wreak havoc on our democratic institutions like the public school system. And, as we have seen over the last three years in Illinois, they can do harm and spread hate in Blue states, not just Red.
Defeating the hate they spread is crucial to the survival of the public good here in Illinois and around the country.
But defeating hate is not inevitable: it has always required the collective work of those who are willing to stand together to confront it and struggle for a more equal, inclusive and just society. And that requires bravery and solidarity, both of which we are seeing in the yearslong work to address systemic racism in the public schools in Niles Township.
And we will continue to need more of both solidarity and bravery in the coming year to fend off these attacks on the public good in Skokie and beyond.