Education

Interview: Jennifer Lima is being targeted by right-wing anti-CRT conspiracy theorists

“They are spreading deliberate, outright lies and falsehoods – things that they know are not true,” said North Kingstown School Committee member Jennifer Lima. “And they are deliberately trying to stoke fear. That flyer came right out and said that they want to make an example out of me. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
Photo for Interview: Jennifer Lima is being targeted by right-wing anti-CRT conspiracy theorists

Published on September 27, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Jennifer Lima is a North Kingstown School Committee member facing a recall. She is accused of promoting Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Marxism, and has been branded a “race predator” – whatever that’s supposed to be – by the right-wing dark money The Gaspee Project.

UpriseRI: Right now there’s a recall effort underway in your town to remove you from your elected position as a member of the North Kingstown School Committee. Can you tell me, in your own words, why you think this is happening?

Jennifer Lima: I think it’s happening because I have been very vocal about the need for diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] within our town. I ran on an anti-racism platform and once I was elected, I was instrumental in pushing for the creation of a DEI sub-committee in our school committee. It was a unanimous decision, but I was the most vocal. In addition to being on the school committee, I am also the founder of an anti-racism organization here in North Kingstown called TANK [Towards an Anti-racist North Kingstown]. So I think that I am being targeted because I am vocal about deeper anti-racism education.

UpriseRI: And what’s happened is that a right-wing advocacy group has been trying to tie your advocacy into a national, nonsensical conspiracy theory….

Lima: Right out of the Republican playbook.

UpriseRI: …Critical Race Theory [CRT]. To be clear, CRT is not being taught in schools and is nothing like what you’ve been advocating for as an elected official. That said, what are you advocating for? I’ve heard about something called an affinity group.

Lima: Actually, that wasn’t even something that I pushed for. That was something that came out of the DEI sub-committee. We have one current student and two former North Kingstown High School students on the DEI sub-committee and the affinity group idea was initiated by them. They felt that there was a need for that within the high school. That was something that was requested by them, but I support it one hundred percent. When we first brought that forward, the anti CRT folks were like, “That’s horrible! Nobody wants that!” And as of last count there are 70 students at the high school who have signed up to be a part of the affinity group.

[Note: Affinity groups are afterschool organizations where students can come together and discuss issues of personal importance to them.]

Lima: So there obviously is a great interest in our school for that. I really think that those pushing for this recall are a vocal minority. The large majority of people in our community support anti-racism work. I think the recall effort has had the opposite effect from what they were hoping for, because I have had people from all over the state reach out to me about this to support the work I’m doing.

They’re saying that I’m pushing CRT, that I’m a Marxist, that I’m a race predator. It’s crazy.

UpriseRI: The term “race predator” on the Gaspee Project flyer stuck out to me. It strikes an extreme note of racial paranoia and fear mongering.

Lima: Maybe I am a little naive. I’ve never run for political office before. This is my first foray into the whole thing. I expected to ruffle some feathers – but I was naive in thinking that people would play fair and it has gone beyond playing dirty. They are spreading deliberate, outright lies and falsehoods – things that they know are not true. And they are deliberately trying to stoke fear. That flyer came right out and said that they want to make an example out of me. That’s what they’re trying to do.

They’re trying to harass me out of office. They haven’t just gone after me. They’ve gone after anybody who’s been associated with me or has stood up for me. This isn’t just about me. This is about anybody who is going to try and make a statement. What does that say to anybody who’s watching? Why the hell would they want to put themselves in this position and do what I’m doing? The way I look at it is there’s no way that I am going to let them harass me out of this office because that just sends the message that their tactics are successful. We can’t let that be the message, that they can do this to people and that’s okay.

UpriseRI: I’m glad you’re sticking to your guns. Recalls were established so that voters could hold public officials who were incompetent or not responsive accountable, yet they seem to be mostly abused by special interest groups like the Gaspe Project to push a political agenda.

Lima: Exactly. Number one, I don’t think any elected official can represent the views of a hundred percent of their constituents, a hundred percent of the time. But I was the top vote getter in the town for any local office and I ran on an anti-racism platform, so there’s no way that people who voted for me did not know what they were voting for. I was very open about the fact that I felt the need for this. And I believe that the community supported me or else they wouldn’t have voted me in.

UpriseRI: But the Gaspe Project has literally called you a liar.

Lima: It’s crazy. My palm card, handed out while canvassing, talked about anti-racism. My campaign material says something like, “I believe that being anti-racist should be an active part of our classroom culture.”

UpriseRI: The Gaspee Project says that this is a student led petition.

Lima: Technically that is true because the first two names on the petition are class of 2021 graduates, but it is not a student led petition. There’s a student led PAC at the high school that endorses candidates. They endorsed me during the election and they still endorse me. I am an endorsed candidate of the high school. There’s two students at the top of the petition but the current student president continues to support me. They’re calling the petition student led because there are two student names on the petition, but if you look at who’s actively pushing the recall, it’s all adults.

UpriseRI: There are some familiar names from right-wing politics signed onto that petition. I also want to point out that the Gaspe Project has been fighting in court to not reveal the names of their donors for years now, they’ve lost all their cases so far. They still will not reveal who exactly funds their po9litical efforts.

Lima: They call themselves freedom fighters. The day that that flyer landed in the mailbox I got a phone call from somebody asking me if I’m a Marxist. One of my friends jokingly said the only thing that they didn’t accuse you of in that flyer was being a war criminal.

UpriseRI: I was thinking witchcraft, but yeah.

Lima: The fact that the Gaspee Project can raise $10,000 or whatever, anonymously, just to attack me, that’s crazy. As a candidate, I have to report if I spend $5 on a cup of coffee.

UpriseRI: They’re the worst kind of right wing dark money group. My guess, they are funded in part by corporate charter school and religious school interests. Anti-public education radicals. Of course I can’t say for sure, they are not open about their income.

Lima: The Facebook groups that are pushing this are also all anonymous. The names on the petition are not anonymous, but everything else that’s happening in town is all done with anonymous Facebook groups. These people are not willing to put their names behind the accusations that they’re throwing at me.

UpriseRI: So what are some important details to this story the media might be missing?

Lima: I’m glad you asked that. I think that my role as the president of TANK is important because I think people are getting confused. I am the president of Towards an Anti-racist North Kingstown. I think people have a hard time drawing a line between my advocacy work and my work as a school committee member. People point to social media posts and they say, “Look at what she’s pushing.” If you look at those social media posts, everything that they’re pointing to is either on my personal page or the TANK page. You will find no reference on my school committee page of anything having to do with defunding the police, CRT, or anything like that. So I don’t think that people are recognizing the fact that you can advocate for something privately and not advance it as a policy in an elected position. The analogy I like to use is, does everybody who belongs to the NRA push for people to have guns in school? My work as an advocate does not necessarily mean that I’m going to push for something within the school district. I think people need to recognize that I can hold personal beliefs and not try to advance them within the school.

UpriseRI: Rhode Island has a long tradition of supporting conscience and religious beliefs, and separating that from government. It’s kind of our thing.

Lima: Representative James Langevin did it perfectly for me when he reversed his course on abortion and supported the Women’s Health Act. He doesn’t believe in abortion personally, but he recognized that a woman has a right to choose – so he is able to separate that. They’re saying, “She said she doesn’t support CRT in the schools, but yet she talks about CRT.” I do talk about CRT on my TANK website. That’s two different things. As a school committee member, I recognize that my responsibility is for the district.

UpriseRI: Just to get back to CRT one more time. This is not something that you taught in North kingstown schools and there are no plans to do so, right?

Lima: Of course not , but I also want to stress – Should we be teaching kids accurate, truthful lessons about history? 100%. We should be looking critically at the history of race as it existed in the past and as it exists today.

UpriseRI: Because if you don’t teach history, you might end up like the Gaspee Project, spewing modern day McCarthyism.

Lima: I’m a firm believer in teaching the truth, all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. We should not hide anything because we are going to be doomed to repeat it.

UpriseRI: This is a stupid question. How many students in North Kingstown hate America?

Lima: None that I have talked to. And – I say it all the time, bit it’s the kids of this age that give me hope. They are so engaged and so passionate. They want to make things better, you know what I mean? They may not agree on everything. They may think that there are things about our country that need to be fixed, but none of them are anti-American or anything. When I was in high school, I was not doing what these kids are doing. They are so cool. I am so impressed with kids these days.

And none of them are pessimists. They may be disappointed in the way things are happening, but none of them are like, “Screw America!” They are like, “We can change things.” And it’s important to encourage that and show them that democracy does work, that this is how you you effect change.

UpriseRI: Realize too that if we teach kids to value truth, they might apply this to other subjects, like climate change. That’s something the Gaspee Project used to deny was happening. They oppose the reality of it. Keeping kids ignorant makes them unable to fight against the corporate interests the Gaspee Project represents.

Lima: The other thing they are pushing back against me on is gender theory, very adamantly. They do not want to recognize people for who they are, period. I’s very disheartening. And some of the people who are behind this locally are teachers and it breaks my heart to think that kids are not being supported for who they are and seen and valued for who they are.

UpriseRI: The Gaspee Project did a lot of work against marriage equality back in the day in Rhode Island. They are traditional, hyper Christian and religious in the worst way. This is just another right-wing bandwagon to jump on. I’m glad you’re standing up to them.

They need 3100 signatures to trigger a recall. Any idea how they’re doing?

Lima: They say that they have about 1500, but 3,100 is a lot of signatures. That’s a high bar.

UpriseRI: Do they have a time limit to collect signatures?

Lima: I think they have until October 11th. They’re coming down to crunch time.

UpriseRI: Now if they trigger a recall, they need 6,400 votes to recall you.

Lima: We’ve never had more than 5,000 people come out for a special election.

UpriseRI: This just seems a way of raising money for the Gaspee Project. Raising money off the specter of CRT.

Lima: They want to harass me into quitting so that they can put a Republican onto the school committee – the next highest vote getter in the last election.

UpriseRI: Why go after you, the highest vote getter? Isn’t there an easier Democrat to impeach?

Lima: I am also the one who is speaking out the most and, I hate to say it, but the Gaspee Project mat be targeting me because my husband is Black and my children are biracial.Dooes that play into it, I wonder? My children are the reason I got into this – not just my children, but everybody’s children. I will not back down from this.


Jennifer Lima spoke publicly about this at North Kingstown’s Teach the Truth rally back in August. Read about the rally here, and watch the video below:

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