Moving The Needle: Small Groups Push Outsize Changes

The Sunrise Movement wants the entirety of the United States running on 100% renewable energy in 10 years.

Mijente Louisville wants every public meeting and school in the city to provide translation services for multiple language speakers without them having to ask.

Seems crazy, right?

So did the prospect of legalized same-sex marriage 25 years ago.

But political and cultural issues routinely shift from seemingly impossible to perfectly acceptable, or at least, plausible. And many of those shifts start with small groups of passionate people proposing what seem to be outlandish ideas.

There is a name for the phenomenon that describes how these small groups can make oversize changes: moving the Overton Window of Political Possibility.

Joseph P. Overton coined the concept in the 1990s to describe how think tanks, such as the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy where he was senior vice president, could shift the range of policies that were palatable to voters.

Here is how MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow described it: “The idea of the Overton Window is that there’s a fairly narrow window of proposals in any particular policy area that people will take seriously, that won’t get you written off as a kook. The way to move or expand that Window is to advocate super-extreme positions, which change the realm of what’s politically possible because after something super nuts has been floated, thereafter, slightly less nuts positions will start to look acceptable and moderate by comparison.”

Perhaps “kook” and “nuts” are a bit hyperbolic, and, to be fair, the Mackinac Center asserts that the Window is not a tool for manipulation, but, rather, a way to describe to donors what think tanks do. Yet it has also come to explain how those think thanks — and potentially groups such as the Sunrise Movement and Mijente — can work to shift the Window by pushing their ideas, so proposals that once were unsuccessful could then be acceptable.

What about politicians? President Donald Trump could be seen as moving the Overton Window by normalizing concepts that weren’t part of a national discussion before he ran for office, such as building a wall across the U.S./Mexico border and taxing billions of dollars worth of imported goods. But the Mackinac Center’s president Joseph Lehman has said that Trump is in his own category of politician, one whose motives are unclear.

Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at UK, said that movements are more successful when they employ both “inside” and “outside” groups to change policy. The “outside” groups bring attention and more support to the issue with protests and other actions. The “inside” groups  know how the political system works and can repackage the cause to make it palatable to lawmakers.

In the past, Kentucky groups have succeeded in shifting the Window. Take Back Kentucky, a conservative, states-rights group, formed when its parent movement advocated to change state law in 1996 to allow concealed firearms. During the last legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly pushed this even further, eliminating the permit requirement for carrying hidden weapons — a Take Back Kentucky-approved measure.

So, while you might think what these relatively small, so-called fringe groups are advocating is impossible, they are working to shift the Window. Here are six of these organizations, chosen to showcase a variety of viewpoints, but by no means form a comprehensive portrait of all the active political groups in our state. Read closely, though.  Herein, you might discover the future of Kentucky.


Adrienne Southworth, former deputy chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, addresses Take Back Kentucky.

Take Back Kentucky,
Also Frustrated With Bevin

Mission: “Our mission is to preserve the God given rights that are recognized in the constitutions of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America. We believe in the American principle of dual sovereignty and that preservation of Kentucky’s sovereignty is essential.”
Year Founded: 1997
TakeBackKentucky.com

Adrienne Southworth stood in her old spot at the front of Take Back Kentucky’s monthly meeting place, a room of an Elizabethtown Chinese buffet that was decorated with a United States and Commonwealth of Kentucky flag.

Southworth, who used to lead Take Back Kentucky, had been unceremoniously and mysteriously fired from her job just two weeks earlier as the deputy chief of staff for Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. The 40 or so members of the group and the public who had shown up to hear her speak wanted to know who had fired her but also the answer to one, overarching question: What was going on in Bevin’s administration?

“I think it’s just a laundry list of things that don’t make sense,” Southworth told the group.

Southworth described Kentucky’s state offices as a bloated bureaucratic nightmare, in which job functions were unimportant and money was too freely available.

This was red meat for members of Take Back Kentucky, a coalition of conservative organizations that describes itself as pro-life, pro-gun, pro-civil liberties and God-oriented. The group focuses on spreading information and influencing the Kentucky state legislature on these issues. Its meetings often reflect this. But Take Back Kentucky also is involved in the election process, often endorsing candidates. In Bevin’s first general election run for governor, they backed him. But at their June meeting, some members questioned whether he served them loyally. And this meeting was all about him.

When Take Back Kentucky endorsed Bevin, they hoped he would limit government influence, cut regulations and increase accountability in state government. “I thought we were going to have a new kind of government, a transparent government, and as a matter of fact, [Bevin] even talked about it,” said audience member Gerardo Serrano. “What’s going on?”

“Honestly,” said Southworth, “when those newspaper stories came out about what they cleaned up, honestly, I’ve never actually been aware of any cleanup. But I can’t say that nothing happened. But based on past history, it sounds more like press releases than it does actual content.”

Rick Treitz, who is the current leader of Take Back Kentucky, said he wasn’t surprised by Southworth’s portrayal of state government. “I guess talk is cheap, and a lot of that stuff didn’t materialize,” he said.

The final cut to Take Back Kentucky’s tenuous support of Bevin may have been Southworth’s firing.

Now, Take Back Kentucky has to decide if it will turn its dislike of Bevin into action. Discussions about whether to endorse the governor in his re-election campaign have yet to be discussed formally, said Treitz. But when asked how the group feels about Bevin now that his first term is almost up, Treitz said, “We did endorse some candidates in the primary in May. We did not endorse Matt Bevin.”

Treitz does not know how many members Take Back Kentucky has, but his group has earned nearly 4,000 likes on Facebook.

Most Take Back Kentucky members identify as Republican, Treitz said, but a few at the meeting showed more enthusiasm for supporting third-party candidates.

“Since the lack of accountability in the Republican Party to make meaningful cuts has been going on for so long, why don’t we vote Libertarian to actually hold them accountable and spoil some elections?” asked Kyle Hugenberg, who is running for auditor under the Libertarian Party.

John Hicks, who is running for governor with the Libertarian party and who was at the meeting, said he hopes that members of Take Back Kentucky will vote for him. He believes he has an automatic in with the group.

“Take Back Kentucky understands the problems with the two-party system,” he said.

Other Kentuckians with ties to Take Back Kentucky, such as Resa Camoriano, president of the Louisville Tea Party, think that members will not “allow their emotions to cause them to cut off their nose to spite their face.”

In other words, they’ll vote for Bevin again.


Democratic Socialists Of America —
Louisville, Targeted But Persistent

Mission: “Our members are building progressive movements for social change in Louisville and Southern Indiana while establishing an openly democratic socialist presence in Louisville communities and politics. Democratic Socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically — to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few.”
Year Founded: 2016
Facebook.com/dsalouisville

At the Louisville Democratic Socialists of America’s March meeting, members felt safe to gather. Why would they be afraid? Last September, a far-right group had harassed DSA members while they were out at the Silver Dollar for one of their social meetings.

For two months afterward, the DSA stopped publicly advertising the location of its meetings. It made it more difficult for the group to pursue its agendas, including recruiting, said Jo Smiley, who leads the local chapter of the national group with co-chair Gilman Bagga.

By March, though, the group had found a home at the law offices of Ben Carter in Smoketown, and it was back to telling the world.

“We haven’t had any threats from any far-right groups this year,” said Smiley.

Before the meeting started, members lounged on mismatched furniture while discussing a wide range of issues and topics including decolonization and Wiltshire Pantry Bakery cinnamon rolls.

“Allllright,” said Bagga, who sat at the front of the room, wearing a T-shirt stamped with a vintage PBS logo. “Welcome, everybody, to the DSA regular meeting for March.”

What followed was a discussion of matters local and national: involvement in upcoming Indiana elections and the Green New Deal.

The policies that Democratic Socialists support have made them unpopular at times, with far-right groups, yes, but also with more moderate politicos. The DSA believes that people should democratically control the economy as well as the government. On the national level, the group is currently pushing Medicare for All and the Green New Deal — initiatives that deal in absolutes: All health care should be provided by the government; the entire country should be powered with 100% renewable energy.

Conservative politicians such as Donald Trump use these stances as ammo against the more mainstream Democratic Party, threatening a Communist-like future for the country should DSA-adjacent lawmakers be elected.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who has represented Louisville in Congress for 12 years and founded LEO Weekly, has been at odds with the DSA. He said it is true the group has recently gained a significant voice in the Democratic Party, but that their main goals are unlikely to pass.

“I share virtually every one of their objectives,” he said, “It’s just a question of details and how you get there.”

In May, Yarmuth decided to co-sponsor four Medicare for All bills, but he has yet to back the Green New Deal.

Still, the DSA’s influence has grown nationally. Its objectives are backed by famous (or infamous, depending on who you are) Democratic players, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Louisville DSA chapter has about 200 dues-paying members.

In keeping with its philosophy for national and local policy, every action item at the group’s March meeting required a vote from everyone in the room, even those who had never attended a DSA meeting before. There wasn’t much debate.

The second portion of the meeting was a roundtable discussion. After a quick snack break for Girl Scout cookies, members filed into another room where they sat in a circle to talk about the Metro Council’s recent decision, made just three days prior, to reject a tax increase in favor of making $25 million in cuts to the city budget. The DSA’s calls for the council to focus on social services were ignored.

“Honestly, it was like the Trump election to me,” said one member. “It didn’t seem at all like it would possibly happen that they would fail to raise the revenue. But then they did.”

Their goal now was to come up with a response to the council’s decision. During the discussion, multiple members threw out suggestions for responses.

“I would be fine with just coming right out and saying ‘no cuts,’” said a member named Nick Conder. “‘Find another way’ and trying to build a campaign around that.”

He cited the idea from another council member who wanted to plunge into the city’s rainy day funds to make up for whatever cuts would be needed in 2020.

“My concern is [the council person] probably didn’t know what she was talking about,” said Ryan Fenwick, a former candidate for mayor.

As the discussion went on, members suggested advocating for the city to refuse to pay the state-mandated pension payments. They pondered whether to lobby the legislature in the future to let local governments enact more taxes (an idea that both Democrat and Republican council members such as Bill Hollander and Anthony Piagentini have now endorsed).

But in the end, the need for consensus prevented a final solution from being reached at the meeting.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said a member named Tyler, “It is past 4:30. We have the space, so no problem there, but I thought we might move to formally adjourn.”

With little time left, Conder made a motion to refer the topic to one of the DSA’s committees.

“All in favor of referring this to the education and solidarity committee?” Tyler asked.

A chorus of “ayes” met his suggestion.

“All opposed?”

Silence.


Members of the Sunrise Movement.

Sunrise Movement,
Radical Problems, Radical Solutions

Mission: “Sunrise is a movement of young people uniting to stop the climate crisis. We have a four-year plan to make climate action an urgent priority in every corner of the country, expose the fossil fuel executives who have purchased politicians and blocked progress, and lift up champions who will work for the people at every level of government.”
Year Founded: 2018
SunriseMovement.org

The group of high schoolers and college students sat around the table, conspiring to confront local politicians in public. Their goal: to force them to state their position on the Green New Deal.

Emma Stuber, a duPont Manual High School student, read another member’s text that detailed a plan to confront Mayor Greg Fischer during a meeting with the Young Democrats Club.

“We’re going to hound his ass, and we’re going to ask him questions,” read Stuber.

She and her fellow students are a few of the 25 members of Louisville’s local “hub” of the Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led, grassroots campaign to fight climate change. The 18 members who met on March 9 were there to discuss primarily how they could push the Green New Deal, an expansive plan to overhaul the United State’s reliance on fossil fuels.

They organized into three groups. In another room, a circle of students talked about meeting with more established Kentucky environmental groups to discuss joining forces. Fernanda Scharfenberger, a Presentation Academy student, plowed through a to-do list.

“So, we have a calendar made and we’re going to put this as an event,” said Scharfenberger. “We’re going to reach out for endorsements, we’re going to be reaching out to different people with an email, follow up phone call.”

The third group discussed how to avoid being suspended for walking out of school to protest climate change. Doubts remained over whether some students would risk it.

“You need a mass movement of students in order for the punishment to feel lessened, because the school’s not going to be suspending, say, 100 students,” said one Atherton High School student. “But because of the threat of punishment, people aren’t willing to get in on it.”

The Sunrise Movement follows a tradition of social activism.

Catherine Fosl, director of the UofL Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, said the group is like most important radical social justice movements in U.S. history in that it is being led by young people. The youth have the least to lose, such as jobs, she said, and the injustices of the world are fresh to their eyes. They’re more likely to be action-oriented, she said, and even their inexperience with the political system can be a boon.

“I think people get in ruts about what procedures need to be followed, how you get public attention to an issue,” she said. “And I think the lack of attention or lack of experience with those more formal procedures can more allow people to think creatively out of the box.”

To understand the fervor with which Sunrise Movement members plan their actions, it helps to attend one of their orientations. Eleven people were at the one held before their March 9 meeting. Three were from UofL. Two introduced themselves as college students or recent grads. Others were from duPont Manual, Presentation Academy, St. Xavier High School, Atherton and Bellarmine University. One white-haired man in a Sunrise Movement shirt, whom the kids called Mark, wandered in and out quietly.

The students were asked to share how they might be personally affected by climate change.

Scharfenberger started.

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She talked about people in Louisville who had died because of flooding. She mentioned a taxi driver who drowned in his car after becoming stuck in flood waters. She brought up the sophomore at Trinity High School who was swept into a drain pipe. She knew people who were friends with him, she said. And she talked about her own birth mother, a woman who immigrated from Mexico, one of millions of indigenous people who are predicted to be among the first affected by climate change.

“Reflecting on that, I knew that I couldn’t stand back anymore and ignore this crisis,” she said.

Hub leaders, including Erin Bridges, talked about how in February, the Louisville group traveled to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington. When he wouldn’t meet with them, they camped outside. Forty-two people were arrested for unlawfully demonstrating and crowding and obstructing the building, according to CNN. Those 42 included Bridges, a Sunrise employee just two years out of college.

A few days before DC, two other members of the Movement from Manual, Oli Tierney and Destine Grigsby, walked out of class in protest of climate change. They were suspended for five days, reduced to one day. Tierney believed walking out was necessary.

“The climate crisis is huge, so the action we take has to match that scale,” Tierney said.

After orientation, by the end of their breakout sessions, the Movement had their next set of drastic actions.

The confrontation group had identified two other events where they planned to lay in wait for politicians: a candidate forum for the governor’s election and a public Q&A with then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen.

The group arranging a meeting with other environmental organizations had a date, location and tentative time for their event — and a plan to seek endorsements.

The students participating in walkouts had actions in place for Atherton and Manual schools… and an option for members who wanted to do something, but couldn’t risk the suspension.

“Wear yellow,” instructed Tierney. Because even a small action helps.


The Louisville Tea Party,
‘Live And Let Live’ Or ‘Us Vs. Them’?

Mission: “The mission of the Louisville Tea Party is to advocate for fiscally responsible policies, lower taxes, and Constitutionally limited government. We will accomplish our advocacy by organizing peaceful gatherings, supporting like-minded local, state, and federal candidates and educating the community at large.”
Year Founded: 2009
TheLouisvilleTeaParty.com

The photo showed a comparison of the National Mall after a Glenn Beck rally and the same location after Barack Obama’s inauguration. It was the second image in a PowerPoint presentation made by Resa Camoriano to introduce the Louisville Tea Party to a group of about 40 at its February 2019 meeting.

The Beck photo showed people scattered along a well-kept green lawn, while the inauguration picture displayed two people hunched over piles of trash.

“I just think it’s a good visual to show that different values produce different results,” said Camoriano, who is the president of the local Tea Party group. She went on, explaining that one picture showed a group of people who took care of themselves. The other represented people who believed others should take care of them.

Camoriano also listed the group’s beliefs:

“We advocate for lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and constitutionally-limited government.”

“We see every person as a unique individual.”

And, “We respect all people and their property, whether they’re rich or poor, powerful or not.”

But at times during the meeting, the group’s members seemed to be saying the opposite. Instead of the “live and let live” ethos that Camoriano ascribes to the Tea Party, it was more “us vs. them.”

Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at UK who has written about the Kentucky Tea Party, said that when the national group formed in 2009, it stayed “relatively silent” on social issues, focusing instead almost exclusively on economics. But then, “The Tea Party sort of contracted so it ended up being mostly Republican, mostly conservative,” he said.

And the remaining members became conservative across the board, not just on financial issues. They are now more ideologically extreme, he said.

There was a sense of that at the February meeting of the Louisville Tea Party, whose email list includes some 2,500 people.

After explaining the Tea Party’s beliefs, Camoriano addressed current events, passing judgment on them from the group’s perspective. The mayor’s proposed insurance tax hike: Opposed.

Nicholas Sandmann, the Covington Catholic High School student who triggered the internet with a smirk shrouded by a MAGA hat: Pro.

“I mean, I feel like Nick Sandmann is like Gandhi,” said Camoriano. “That he took all that abuse and just stood there and smiled, I think is absolutely amazing.”

Camoriano was followed by Ted Gordon, a local attorney and serial suer of JCPS, who gave his views on the state of the school system. The Tea Party had just taken up its latest campaign: an effort to end forced busing at JCPS in favor of a lottery system for students wanting to attend a school outside of their neighborhood.

Gordon was followed by Donna Durning, who spoke of the casualties “in the war” against the “pro-aborts.” (Gordon clarified for LEO that he did not agree with many Tea Party positions, including on abortion).

Durning debriefed the Tea Party while dressed in a long doctor’s coat that belonged to her late husband and a blue face mask to emphasize “the importance of good doctors.” (Doctors who perform abortions, she said, are in it for the money).

Durning was followed by another member who discussed a passage from the Constitution. Then, came a chance for every member to make a comment or announcement. There was more handwringing about the mayor’s tax proposal, a debate about the convention of states and several diatribes about socialism. One member claimed the microphone to talk about “Rules for Radicals,” a 1971 book by Saul Alinsky on community organizing, which the speaker called a handbook for socialists. Hillary Clinton and Obama both liked the book, she said in an incriminating tone. Another member warned that America “could easily end up the next Russia.”

Even as Tea Party members took jabs at outsiders and other groups when talking to the crowd, one-on-one they were unfailingly polite. When I told one member that I worked for LEO Weekly, I expected her to turn away because of my publication’s politics. Yet, she offered to split a plate of deluxe nachos with me. And after the meeting, Camoriano welcomed me to the group and answered my questions.

“We do not lump people into groups,” she said in an email, “but rather respect each person’s individuality.”


Mijente Louisville,
All Voices Heard, All Languages Spoken

Mission: “We are a digital hub for Latinx folks wanting to make social change for our community. We are pro-black, pro-indigena, pro-worker, pro-mujer, pro-lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer, pro-migrant because we hold all of those identities, and because our unity against shared oppressions is central to our vision for change.”
Year Founded: 2017
mijente.net

At a June meeting for Mijente, Sassa Rivera and Marcos Morales were talking over each other, each saying the same thing. But Rivera was speaking in English, and Morales was translating the words into Spanish.

“I want you guys to take a couple of minutes within yourself,” Rivera told the circle of eight English and Spanish speakers. “And then we’ll be talking within the group about a time when you have specifically been misnamed or misidentified.”

Morales dutifully repeated her words in Spanish, covering his mouth with a small beaten notebook and whispering into a microphone headset. His words traveled into the headphones of those gathered at the La Casita Center. Morales’ service also worked the other way. When Rivera would switch to Spanish, he would flop over to English, allowing those language speakers to tune into his translation.

This is what Mijente calls “language justice” — interpretation services that go beyond just translation help or “language access.” Language access is providing translation “and that’s it, with a dot,” Rivera said.

Language justice, by contrast, calls for schools, meetings and even doctors’ offices to provide translation services for multiple languages without it having to be requested. It also requires those providing the translation to understand why language justice is needed: because of the legacies of racism, slavery and colonization, Rivera said.

The language justice working group is a project of Mijente Louisville, which says it advocates for marginalized communities in the city, including women, black people, LGBTQ individuals and other Latinxs and Chicanxs. The word “mijente” means “my people” in Spanish.

Formed in 2017 as a chapter of the national Mijente group, the Louisville organization says it counts 60 to 70 members. The group often works with other local social justice groups, such as Black Lives Matter.

Chanelle Helm, a core organizer of Black Lives Matter Louisville, said she believes Mijente is effective because they are advocating for their own community.

“If you are a black or brown Latinx person in the city of Louisville, and you’re looking for a space to organize against anti-racist and anti-Latinx immigrant, migrant issues, that hub is Mijente,” she said.

Mijente has long demanded “sanctuary for all,” and results have been mixed. Mayor Greg Fischer stopped short of declaring Louisville a sanctuary city, but Mijente feels it provided some influence when the Metro Council and Fischer passed an ordinance that ended certain cooperation between city police and Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents. The change came after months of Mijente members showing up to meetings and a report from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that confirmed Mijente’s claims that police were working with ICE. Mijente also helped organize Occupy ICE, an encampment and protests outside ICE offices. Police eventually cleared the camp, but the group’s message received a lot of publicity.

More recently, Mijente extended its cause to language justice.

“We have a barrier and that barrier needs to be broken down,” Rivera said. “It needs to be healed; it needs to be saved again and cleaned and healed so that our community can be active parts of this conversation.”

Sometimes, that means work within Mijente’s own community, too. As part of an activity at its meeting, Rivera asked members to translate sentences in gender neutral ways. In Spanish, most nouns are gendered, so language speakers have started using the letters “x” and “e” to replace feminine and masculine letters like “a” and “o” in words used to describe people like “chico/chica” (boy/girl).

One Mijente member, Alma, who said she was older than the other activists there and who declined to give her last name, wondered if the changes were necessary. “To me,” Alma said, “if you grew up with an education, if you read about other cultures, if you immersed yourself in different cultures, you will respect everybody regardless of anything, what you come from, what your sexual preference is, the color of your skin.”

Rivera replied that this feeling seems to be common among older activists whose causes of choice are now being pushed in ever more radical territory by new organizers. “Thinking about those people who are now crossing the border within those caravans who are trans-Latino, who are gender nonconforming, who are seeking asylum, who are in detention centers, soon to be part of our communities — they also need this language,” she said. “And it is our job and our duty to make sure we’re prepared in those spaces to make sure they’re no longer the afterthought as we once were.”

Members went through their first language justice training session last November, and June was the first time they had met since then. Eventually, Mijente would like to take its initiative to schools, Metro Council meetings, mental health practices and abortion clinics.

Those are far-off ambitions. One goal that the group knows it can meet before the end of the year is providing translation services at the national Mijente conference, which will be in Louisville in October.

Morales attended last year’s conference.

“The interpretive gig there was, yeah, it was very complex,” he said, no longer translating for Rivera. “ … There was about at least 10 workshops happening simultaneously, and there needed to be interpreters — language justice would tell us at every single one  of them, too — at each.”

But they pulled it off.

“That’s a big part of why I’m really behind starting these practices,” Morales said.


Dear JCPS,
Keeping School Leadership In Line

Mission: “Our mission is to fight for improving public eduction opportunities and outcomes for ALL KIDS in Jefferson County by seeking stakeholder input before and accountability after board decisions.”
Year Founded: 2013
DearJCPS.com

Gay Adelmann directed her iPad toward the front of the room, swiveling back and forth as she captured the Jefferson County Public School attorneys, then the school board and, finally, the person addressing the board — all for her Facebook Live video.

Adelmann was recording the June 11 meeting for the page she runs, Dear JCPS, made up of parents and some teachers who have joined to push school leadership decisions.

Adelmann has taken up many causes as founder and head provocateur for Dear JCPS. More recently, she’s been preoccupied with a small number of principals she believes wants to control PTA elections in order to hold more sway over the teacher hiring process. PTA members run elections for school-based decision making boards, which help with hiring teachers. Adelmann’s concern has been concentrated on the 15th District PTA, which she said changed its election rules after she and other parents decided to run against candidates that the board preferred.

At the school board meeting, Nagle, then-president of the 15th District PTA, took a seat at the wooden desk reserved for public commenters. Nagle told the board that the PTA had followed its bylaws and standing rules during its election.

“I cannot address all the lies and misinformation that has been said about the 15th District PTA as three minutes is not enough time,” she said.

Adelmann drew her head back from her tablet and made a skeptical grimace.

She was on the wrong side of the establishment again.

Adelmann has clashed with administrators, board members and even other education advocates frequently in her role with Dear JCPS — often using an active Facebook page and group with over 11,000 and 6,000 members, respectively, to wage her battles.

School Board Member James Craig said that the group sometimes brings up “unique” issues that other organizations have never touched, PTA elections being one of them, and that can be useful. “It forces you to take notice of the issues they raise and whether or not you agree or disagree with the position that they’re espousing,” he said.

Craig said it is good to have constituents as dedicated as is Adelmann. But the group has given him headaches in his first year as a board member. He believes it encouraged teacher sickouts even after it was clear the bills they opposed would not pass.

Adelmann maintained that she was amplifying the voices of teachers who felt misrepresented, not directly calling for sickouts. Her stance put her at odds with not only board members but also other teacher advocates in groups such as KY 120 United.

At that time, too, school union leaders accused “rogue groups” of spreading misinformation on social media, which Adelmann took to be an indirect call-out of her group.

Craig said that Adelmann has been effective at marshaling her social media power, but that there is a need to use that power responsibly. Influence online doesn’t always mean influence in real life, however. Despite Dear JCPS’ large following, Adelmann counts only 12 or so active volunteers. She doesn’t always win, but she remains fierce in her fight because she believes that help is desperately needed. She started Dear JCPS when her son began attending The Academy @ Shawnee. She kept going after he graduated high school in 2016.

“Things that would never happen at Eastern [High School] were happening at Shawnee,” she said. “And event after event would happen and there was nobody really standing up for these schools.”

The first “event” at Shawnee that Adelmann said she witnessed was the principal being pushed out over failing scores. Instead of finding a replacement, JCPS wanted to hire a provost and make additional changes at the school, including extending the school year and school day.

“The plan was concocted out of an ivory tower over here,” she said. “They had not spent any time in our school actually asking our staff and our administration what we needed to be successful.”

Adelmann organized a group in protest of the school’s solution, and a principal was hired.

Sometimes, her efforts have been for naught, as they were in the case of the Challenger Learning Center, a space exploration simulator that used to be operated by JCPS. Adelmann wanted it to stay under the school system’s control; leadership did not. It’s now operated by the Kentucky Science Center. But there have been victories: helping to elect three new school board members (Chris Brady, Chris Kolb and Benjamin Gies) and, more recently, getting Superintendent Marty Pollio to delay a PTA election that Adelmann took issue with.

JCPS leadership, including Pollio, have gotten better at listening to Adelmann’s concerns over the years, she thinks.

“He is accessible. He’s never lied to me,” she said. “ … He’s not moving as quickly as I would like on some things, but I think he needs more community support to do the right thing sometimes.”

Lending that support is what Dear JCPS is trying to do, she said. •

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