The Moms for Liberty conference offered a wide variety of liberal milks. Between small group sessions and speeches from the main stage in the Philadelphia Marriott ballroom, attendees had their choice to add oat, almond, or “ultra soy” milks to their caffeine at well-stocked coffee stations.
Not only were there multiple speciality milks, but for the price of $249 for a four day event, my colleague Olivia Little and I were fed an elaborate meal during all but one of the general sessions in the grand ballroom. The tables were decked out with white tablecloths, multiple sets of utensils, and floral centerpieces. It was like walking into a wedding reception three times a day.
The elaborate veneer of the conference belies the ugly truth of what Moms for Liberty stands for. The group is a far-right “parental rights” organization made up of local chapters across the country. Moms For Liberty was recently labeled an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and members have organized harassment campaigns, made violent threats against librarians, and repeatedly quoted Hitler. The group advocates for book banning in schools and backed bills targeting LGBTQ+ adults and children.
Protesters gathered outside the conference all weekend, and their presence was felt. The welcome reception at the Museum of the American Revolution was tense and uneasy as a dance party featuring pro-LGBTQ signs collected outside, a scene that reemerged outside the Philadelphia Marriott throughout the weekend. The protests pervaded remarks at the conference – speakers repeatedly denigrated activists who opposed Moms for Liberty’s presence in their city, clearly uncomfortable with their presence. As someone who was screamed at multiple times as an undercover attendee – I can assure you it was not fun, and the city’s objection was palpable.
Olivia’s report has the full rundown on the conspiracy-addled conference. Inside breakout “strategy sessions”, one speaker claimed that social-emotional learning curriculum is a backhanded plot to “replace parents” and gather data on children in order to manipulate them. Another suggested that the Center for Disease Control is trying to install puberty blockers “without the barrier of parental permissions.” Attending these sessions felt like a fever dream and I desperately swiped through the games on my phone to numb myself. As the weekend went on — and boy, did it feel like it would never end — I couldn’t stop thinking about how much they must have spent on food. At one point, I showed up for lunch, and the table was set with a salad topped with chicken at every place, despite the fact that Olivia and I were the only people sitting there. It was a massive waste.
Moms for Liberty first tried to feed me at the welcome reception. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures because I did yet not expect that my dispatch would revolve around catering, but the offerings were bizarre to the point of raising serious questions about what process went into developing the menu. Scattered throughout the museum were stations offering three options – chicken satay, Philly cheesesteaks with no cheese (so mini-Italian beef sandwiches without giardiniera), and cold macaroni salad. Waiters passed trays throughout the event, including tiny ice cream cones that I wanted to try but never were offered to me, alongside something that looked like mini beef patties on a cracker with a gummy egg on top. I did not eat this.
Thinking about how much the conference cost to put on is simply depressing, but eventually I settled into my surroundings and started expecting to be catered to. When they didn’t feed us dinner at the session featuring former President Donald Trump, I was downright offended, not only because I was hungry, but also on behalf of the catering staff, who for some inexplicable reason were required to stand around the perimeter of the room for the entire session.
Instead of dinner during Trump’s speech, which started late and ran late, they served us a charcuterie board and teatime desserts. The charcuterie featured salami and a dry aged meat that I think was supposed to be capicola, an unnecessarily large bowl of whole grain mustard that I did not touch and could not understand why there was so much of it, three types of cheese that all tasted pretty much the same, a bunch of grapes, and a tiny square of honeycomb that appeared inedible.
I shared the grapes with Olivia and wished there were more, because at this point in the weekend I was worried about developing scurvy and felt my sense of time and place slipping away. I was hungry and stressed, so I housed almost the entire thing while Olivia handled the mom sharing our table and grilling us about who we were and why we were there.
The mini desserts were pretty to look at, but inconsistent in terms of quality. One of my favorite treats is a chocolate covered strawberry, but this one was disappointing -- not enough chocolate.
I also tried the cheesecake bite and a mini custard cut in a graham cracker crust. I’m not really a cheesecake person, but my sister is and I think she would have enjoyed it, though I doubt she would have borne the cost of access. It’s not like I could say it was worth it. The graham cracker custard bite had a touch of jam and was quite good.
Overall, the highlights were the desserts. In fact, the best thing I had all weekend was the last – a chocolate pot de crème, served at the “Such a Time as This” Awards Dinner, which featured speeches from anti-LGBTQ activist Chris Elston, also known as “Billboard Chris” and Salem right-wing radio host Dennis Prager. The program concluded with an awards ceremony for outstanding Moms for Liberty Chapter leaders. Shockingly, the awards meant that there would be losers among us by the end of the night -- there were three nominees for every category, and the winner was announced at the dinner. Olivia and I took bets on who would win categories like the Sybil Ludington Award for Raising Awareness, each of which were named after “founding mothers” of this country.
Back to what’s important -- the pot de crème. It was topped with a layer of caramel sauce, raspberries, whipped cream and a sugar-soaked cookie and was delicious – a thick and creamy texture and satisfying chocolate flavor was amplified by the sticky caramel. The presentation was pleasing – nothing too fancy, just a simple mason jar, but with all the flourishes it felt elevated.
The lowlights mostly consisted of breakfast and lunch. At one session that featured a conversation between Vivek Ramiswamy and co-founder Tiffany Justice, I was especially uneasy due to Olivia’s absence, who had gone to run an errand while I went to lunch for the purpose of reporting this piece. The side salad of wilted spinach and watermelon radish looked inedible, so after stress eating several rolls, I waited for the main to be served.
When a chicken breast with risotto and broccoli arrived, I was hopeful then disappointed -- every element of it tasted like biting into a previously frozen brick of salt.
I left to go to Reading Terminal Market across the street to try Miller’s Twist, a pretzel stand in the famous food hall recommended to me by the mom who was pressing Olivia while we waited for Trump to take the stage. I got a pretzel dog, and while also extremely salty, but nonetheless fed my soul and restored my faith in Philadelphia.
Attending the Moms for Liberty conference was unquestionably worse than when I went to Turning Point USA’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit in Dallas earlier in June. Unlike the college-aged crowd at YWLS, the majority of the moms appeared to be in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and I couldn’t help but wonder about what impact the toxic ideology they had internalized may have had on their relationships, careers, and other achievements that manifest by mid-life.
The biographies of multiple moms who were nominated for awards noted they had been fired from their jobs. I can only imagine the hostility their radical politics brought to the workplace. By contrast, TPUSA’s summit for young women spoke to those at the beginning of the process of building an adult life, an exercise in identity politics framed by hatred of transgender people and regressive views on the role of women, wives and mothers. Attending the Moms for Liberty conference was like time traveling forward in the lives of those beginning the radicalization process at the TPUSA event. During the event, I felt gratitude for my own mom, who made me lunch every day for school and taught me never to hate others because they may be different from me.