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Beware: Stealth Campaigns Are Everywhere

Published:October 13, 2023
David Pepper explains how you can defeat stealth campaigns to protect your schools and democracy.

*Read and watch all of David's important work at Pepperspectives.

By David Pepper

They’re popping up all over. Yard signs for school board candidates, touting a whole lot of new names most don’t recognize.

I’ll admit it…I pay close attention, and I have no idea who these people are.

Be sure people know about their school board race, and how to do the research…

The problem is, if we’re not careful, and amid busy lives, many of us still won’t know these names when we actually vote. So we’ll walk into the ballot booth, get to the bottom of our ballots, only to encounter a list of names for school board—many of whom we won’t recognize, and most of whom we don’t know the faintest thing about.

And this year in particular, that list of mysterious and harmless looking names poses a risk. In fact, democracy itself is implicated by that list of names in communities across America. And potentially in your community!


Because hidden on that list could be candidates who want to ban books. Or censor history. Or ban vaccines. Or falsely attack teachers and staff for “indoctrinating” students. Or have marched with groups like the Proud Boys. Or who will be taking marching orders from national right-wing groups who push them to do some or all of these things.

You see, there’s a stealth campaign happening all over the country to take over school boards with right-wing candidates and a toxic, book-banning agenda. It’s a campaign to bring to the school systems of America—and our kids—the same extremist politics that are turning statehouses and entire states upside down.

It’s now one of the key battle lines of democracy. And even though it’s backed by big money and national organizations, it’s largely flying under the radar in the communities where it’s playing out.

Why is it under the radar?

Because in recent elections, once people figured out that a far-right agenda was perilously close to taking over their local schools, the candidates pushing that agenda fared poorly. It turns out, people don’t want extremism in their kids’ schools—go figure!

So now, looking at those yard signs, you’d never know that hidden among the names of mainstream candidates who trust teachers, librarians and parents are also book banners and anti-vaxxers and culture warriors and “Moms of Liberty” candidates who will wreak havoc on our schools.

The right-wingers aren’t advertising a toxic agenda they know might cost them the election—but be assured, that agenda will cost your community and schools dearly if they’re given a chance to implement it.

So that’s the risk.

But the good news is that each of us can play a role in uncovering who’s who. And there’s more than enough time to do it.

Take ownership of these races—and commit yourself to researching every school board candidate (every name on every yard sign) in your community so that you and your friends and neighbors don’t let one or more extremists poison your local school board.

How to do that research?

The good news is that there are resources to help:

  1. Here’s a simple guide (it’s from an Ohio group, but the tips apply beyond Ohio) on the basics of how to research candidates running in your community, and how to disseminate what you find;
  2. Here’s a guide from the League of Women Voters on questions to ask of those running—get to a forum and ask these questions;
  3. If you live in Ohio, here’s an incredibly helpful database of candidates that are being backed by some of the right-wing groups and/or for which there’s other evidence of extremist views. Take a look—it’s alarming. If you are in another state, you might want to consider putting something similar together, or researching to see if a credible group already has. The database explains the work that was done to gather the information;
  4. And here are some broader tips by Red, Wine and Blue about how to combat extremism at the school board level. And here’s a Voter Guide they have put out specifically for Ohio.

However you do your own research, be sure you do it! Encourage others to do the same.

Don’t let the stealth attack on any of our schools succeed: show up on election day knowing exactly who everyone running for your school board is, and what they stand for. Vote accordingly.
And make sure everyone else you know does the same.