My name is Maggie and I'm raising money to cover legal fees for my amazing friend Jasmine Sebaggala - A Black educator, anti-oppression activist, and equity advocate in Evanston/Skokie, IL who is under attack by Moms for Liberty.
What’s at Stake: Moms for Liberty and their extremist backers are attacking equity work in schools by targeting teachers themselves and threatening their jobs. We are raising money to support IL educator, Jasmine Sebaggala, in her legal battle to defend against attacks on her character and her job by Helen Levinson, cook county chair of Moms for Liberty and vice president of Awake, IL. Levinson is receiving financial and legal backing from Stephen Miller’s far-right legal group America First Legal who joined her legal team as co-counsel.
It is clear that the larger goal here is to set a precedent where teachers across the state can be threatened by extremists looking to remove protections for marginalized students and get away with it by claiming freedom of speech. Currently, in Illinois, the anti-SLAPP law defends this kind of free speech when used against a public figure (i.e. a citizen engaging their government). However, and of utmost importance, A TEACHER IS NOT A PUBLIC FIGURE. If teachers can be treated like public figures, this will eliminate protections from teachers on the front line of equity and anti-racism work in their schools. Ultimately, it threatens the safety of children and gives hate groups a free pass to funnel their resources into removing teachers who do not align with their far-right "values."
Currently, Ms. Sebaggala’s case is under appeal after being dismissed by a cook county judge who erroneously thinks that Ms. Sebaggala is a board member (she is not) and thus a public figure. If not overturned, this ruling sets a dangerous precedent and threatens teachers across the state who are often the only ones standing between marginalized students and hate. The judge has also ruled that Ms. Sebaggala must pay $38,000 in lawyer fees to Helen Levinson by Jan. 13. This is our fundraising goal, which we hope to reach by Jan. 8 - We believe this ruling is also based on a misunderstanding of Jasmine’s status as an educator, not a political figure. We feel that the burden of having to pay these lawyer fees should not fall on Jasmine, who is taking on far-right groups attacking public education and inclusivity in schools on behalf of educators across Illinois.
By appealing this bad ruling and taking Ms. Sebaggala’s case to the appellate court level, we have the opportunity to set a crucial precedent to protect teachers in Illinois from such attacks by far-right groups in the future.
Ms. Sebaggala needs your support to cover this punishing payment of "lawyer fees." Note: Helen Levinson shares on her Awake Americans page that America First Legal "won" her case AND provides its services pro bono.
These lawyer fees are also being appealed. If that appeal succeeds, the money will come back to us, at which point we will reach out to each and every donor with the option to have your donation refunded or put towards ongoing work.
More Background: On August 31, 2021, Helen Levinson, chapter chair of Moms for Liberty of Cook County and vice president of Awake, IL, sent a letter of complaint to the employers of Jasmine Sebaggala, a Black educator in District 65 and a Skokie mom who is an active advocate for equity and anti-racism in Skokie school districts. After repeatedly attacking Ms. Sebaggala publicly on social media, including discussions of her teacher salary and allegations that Ms. Sebaggala must be abusing her white students (a common attack made by extremist, white supremacist groups to undermine equity work in schools), Ms. Levinson threatened Ms. Sebaggala’s livelihood by sending this letter of complaint to the District 65 superintendent and union leadership, demanding that the letter be shared with the board of education, administration, and all district teachers and be permanently added to Ms. Sebaggala’s employee file.
As hate groups like Moms for Liberty and Awake, IL continue to intimidate teachers and school boards, threatening the safety of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, activists and teachers like Ms. Sebaggala are paying the price for having the courage to stand against them. In their recent report: “A Year in Hate and Extremism,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said of the group: “Moms for Liberty and its nationwide chapters combat what they consider the “woke indoctrination” of children by advocating for book bans in school libraries and endorsing candidates for public office that align with the group's views. They also use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.”
In Skokie, Ms. Levinson has leveraged her involvement in Moms For Liberty and Awake, IL to influence local school board elections and repeatedly target teachers and community advocates for equity. She has also used these ties to support her ongoing attack on Ms. Sebaggala, a local Black teacher, mother, and social justice advocate. Without justice for Ms. Sebaggala, Ms. Levinson will only be further emboldened in pushing her extremist agenda in Skokie and Illinois. More alarmingly, it is clear that the involvement of Stephen Miller’s legal group is motivated by an ambition to make equity-oriented teachers easy targets by expanding anti-SLAAP laws in Illinois to include them.