Revenge of the Covid Moms
'This is the year that parents say: You’re either with us or against us.’
Maud Maron hates the whole you-gotta-show-your-vaccine-passport-to-get-into-a-restaurant thing, and she thinks masking indoors is atrocious, but this is bright blue New York City, so fine. It’s just, “when Kathy Hochul”—the governor—“gets on the screen, talking about how she wants to protect us and keep the masks in schools, she doesn’t have a fucking mask on her face, and I’m so sick of politicians who take the mask off their face to tell me to put the mask on my children—like how dare you?” Anyway, that’s why she’s running for Congress.
We’re having tea around her kitchen island in her apartment in Soho. It’s big. There’s a ping pong table, a foosball table, a swing bolted into a wooden beam. A bright red, toddler-sized race car. A tattered copy of “Romeo and Juliet.” Speech-therapy exercises are tacked to the wall. Her husband, who’s Argentinian, runs a private-equity shop. “When you shut down my kids' schools and impose devastating mental health effects on them—I don’t forgive anyone who did that,” Maron says.
After a beat or two, she adds: “This is the year that parents say, ‘You’re either with us or against us.’”
Maron is running in New York’s 12th congressional district against Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat who has served for nearly 30 years representing both the 12th and 14th districts. Maloney, 75, turned heads at last year’s Met Gala dressed in a suffragette-themed purple, white, and green gown while mask-clad attendants stood by drearily in the wings. She’s warded off challengers from the left-wing of the party for the past few terms; 28-year old Democratic Socialist Rana Abdelhamid is her latest progressive challenger. But the Democrats’ newly-unveiled redistricting plan out of Albany cuts out leftier enclaves in Brooklyn and Queens from her district.
That’s good news for Maloney. But it’s potentially even better for Maron—and all the other moms lined up behind her.
Natalya Murakhver, an Upper West Side mom of two, heard Maron at an open-the-schools rally in March 2021. By Murakhver’s count there have been five such rallies over the past two years. There was no waiting for the politicians—“they were completely disinterested in responding to our calls”—so she sued New York in April to force the city to reopen.Then she launched #MaskLikeAKid, which was all about unmasking children. Then, in October, Megyn Kelly had Murakhver on her show to talk about all the angry moms out there. With Maud Maron. “I was a very liberal Democrat,” Murakhver told me. “Now, my vote is up for grabs to whoever puts kids first.”
Ditto Vanessa Steinkamp. Steinkamp now lives in the Dallas suburbs, by way of New Orleans and Chicago. She’s 45, a teacher, a mom of three, and a politically homeless Never Trump Republican. When Covid hit, she says, it was like everyone forgot the kids. Now they are the only thing that matters.
“Hell hath no fury like an angry mom,” Steinkamp says. In 2019, she ran unsuccessfully for the City Council. She’s thinking of running again.
One of Steinkamp’s biggest online allies is Emily Burns, also 45. Burns is a mom of three who studied neuroscience at Rockefeller University. She’s running for Congress, as a Republican, in Massachusetts’ 4th congressional district, just outside Boston. That seat is now held by Jake Auchincloss, a Democrat who’s the son of Anthony Fauci’s deputy. Auchincloss has held the seat for one year after getting an endorsement by the previous district rep, Joe Kennedy III. So it’s basically Burns v. The Establishment.
Or rather it’s the Establishment v. Burns and Julie Hamill, a 39-year-old real-estate lawyer with three sons in Palos Verdes, just south of Los Angeles. She’s suing the local school board over the masks. Margaret Nichols, 45, in Brooklyn, is considering doing the same. Nichols threw a party when Biden won, but now feels partyless. She’s heading up a coalition of parents looking to support candidates in the November elections that will get the masks off.
Roxanne Hoge, 52, a Jamaican immigrant-slash-actor-slash-former California State Assembly candidate also wants a new political class—one that responds to the parents and their kids. Hoge belongs to a group of moms fed up with school policies. They get together on weekends and, over wine and cheese, talk about the politicians’ hypocrisy and their anger.
It didn’t take long for the Angry Covid Moms to Google and friend and follow each other, to start to think of themselves not as isolated islands of angry momness, but as part of something bigger. The start of a movement.
Burns, in Massachusetts, and Maron, in New York, connected on Twitter. Steinkamp, who’s more on Facebook than Twitter, nonetheless started following Hamill on Twitter, who follows Murakhver (also on Twitter). It started in November 2020 with the push to open the schools. They’d swap studies out of Sweden, which refused to play by the rules, and doctors’ tweets and blog posts.
But when the schools finally opened—temporarily—they didn’t stop.
They wanted to know how this had happened, and they didn’t trust the Very Important People to do whatever was in their children’s best interest. “The people who were supposed to be protecting our kids,” says Burns—she means the teacher’s unions, the school boards, the politicians, the white coats at the American Academy of Pediatrics, the bureaucrats at the CDC and the WHO and the FDA who oversaw the countless lockdowns and advisories—“they all abandoned their responsibility.”
Nichols says that among her Brooklyn cohort, “it felt like people were getting even more fearful and restrictive,” even after vaccines rolled out. They’d ask to see vaccine cards before birthday parties, and insist on masking up outdoors. “My party, which was about inclusivity and equity, was now about vaccine passports,” Nichols tells me. “They went off the rails.”
So the moms are cleaning up the mess. ”I’m determined to talk about what we’ve done these past two years, and the criminally bad public policy,” Burns says. “I don’t want this to get swept under the rug.”
Maron is the elder statesman of the Angry Moms. She’s one of those classic big-city liberals—pro-choice, a longtime public defender at Legal Aid, a Bernie Sanders contributor—who from 2017 to 2019, was president of one of Manhattan’s six school boards. Then, in 2021, she ran for City Council as an independent, and things got bad at work. Last summer, she filed suit against Legal Aid, alleging that they’d discriminated against her because she was white, and because of her political views. (Maron’s former union and Legal Aid have filed motions to dismiss the case.)
When Maron lost her City Council bid, it barely registered. She just dusted herself up, reassembled the team and launched her congressional bid. Because, she said, sipping her tea, “you have to fight for the things that people are taking away from you.”
By the way, she’s a stickler when it comes to manners. “Lucio?” she chides at her eldest son. He’s 15. Just scarfed down a bagel. About to hop on his scooter and go to school. “Can Suzy get a ‘nice to meet you’?”
Many of the progressives she used to think of as her political allies she now views as useless.
Randi Weingarten, who runs one of the most powerful teacher’s unions in the country, “should be put on an island and kept away from people.”
Brad Landers, New York City’s comptroller, is “AOC in the body of a white man.”
As for Hochul, the governor with a golden “vaxed” necklace: “What really pissed me off is that she brought Prince Harry and Megan Markle to a school. Parents have been locked out of their kids' school for almost two years.”
“I like Maud a lot,” Burns says. (Maron, for her part, says she doesn’t know Burns “personally, but we travel on the same Twitter highways and bi-ways. I believe I contributed to her campaign.”) Burns admits her decision to run was “rash,” but still put a quarter of a million dollars of her money into the campaign to show that she’s not kidding around. She’s raised $110,000 so far and has contracted Axiom Strategies, in D.C., to help her win.
Burns has never run for anything in her life. And that’s kind of the point. These moms are the carpoolers, the bake-sale organizers, the soccer moms, the Gen X-ers who were the first women in American history to be told: you can have it all, the kickass career, two and a half kids, the doting husband. They never imagined that the things they took for granted—that public school would be available to their kids; that there would always be plenty of food to buy in the grocery store; that the police would be there to protect them—would be under threat.
“I won’t be chased out of my kid’s school board, or a meeting where I’m called a Karen because I say ‘Hey, maybe we should keep the honors math program,” says Maron. She calls the new progressivism “unrecognizable.”
These women don’t really care about The Big Lie or Russiagate or filibuster reform. They could not care less about Big Abstract Theories Of Government. They traffic in hashtags like #TeamReality, #RationalGround and #SmilesMatter. After so many years of endless yammering about conservatives, neoliberals, progressives, alt-righters, the woke, the anti-woke, the only thing they really care about is what works. What is actually happening in the real world. What is being done to their children. And they are willing to vote for whoever can actually bring a return to normal.
Take Steinkamp. She’s a registered Republican. But when she ran for City Council in 2019, she got smeared as an “Obama-ite.” “I didn’t vote for him, but I like the guy,” she says. She’s a first-generation American. Her dad is from India. Her mom is from Czechoslovakia. Her husband is white. Which makes her kids—what?—basically white? Mostly, she worries about the backlash of calling parents domestic terrorists and school boards insisting they let teachers teach whatever they want. “I’m not into burning books,” she says. “There was a whole to-do about ‘Kite Runner’ here. I don’t care if they’re teaching ‘Kite Runner.’ I just want to know what the kids are reading.”
She’s worried immuno-compromised kids will be separated from the others, since they’ve been used to justify the masks. “I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve written to the superintendent,” Steinkamp says.
Same with Hamill in Palos Verdes, who says that when she moved to the community, she had plans of helping out with the school’s fundraising committee and working part-time. After she started making noise about the mask-outside policy, people online—she’s very active on Twitter—told her she was racist, a teacher hater, a grandma killer, and a Q-Anon follower. It doesn’t bother her anymore.
“Those on the left keep ignoring parental concerns and diminishing them,” Steinkamp says. “All it does is radicalize people and foster realignment.”
Radicalize is another way of saying “reconsider one’s tribe.” Burns, like Steinkamp, like Maron— like all of them—isn’t sure which tribe she belongs to. She belongs to the Kids Tribe. She likens herself to Glenn Youngkin, the surprise Republican victor in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race, who rode to victory on a wave of angry parents fed up with the status quo. “Every Republican who misses that message of the betrayal of our kids—and there are a lot who are not fully engaged on this—is leaving votes on the table,” Burns says.
Last week, Murakhver, the Upper West Side mom, and a potential Maron constituent, helped organize a toolkit alongside Dr. Tracy Høeg and other researchers and doctors called “The Urgency of Normal,” which is intended to arm parents going head-to-head with school boards and administrators. Murakhver has her eye set on getting legislation passed in every state to ensure that the 180-day school year happens in-person.
“I’ve seen movements rise and fall,” Maron tells me. “Occupy Wall Street was so omnipresent in this city, until it was completely gone.” She says she’s not interested in being a one-hit wonder. She sees herself as part of a new, emergent center, one interested in fixing the supply chain, having a functional police force, and treating the opioid epidemic. But before all that—the kids.
“When I saw my seven year-old’s backpack hanging at the door for months at a time, it broke my heart,” Murakhver says. “That’s what started all this.”
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