It started with a sidewalk conversation just after we moved to Lititz in 2021.

I was admiring the artwork of my neighbor, Margaret Thorn, and trading stories about the Warwick High School Class of 1966 with her husband, my WHS classmate, Art Thorn. Margaret told me she had spoken at the local school board meeting. A former teacher and world traveler, she appreciates the complex histories of the many cultures that constitute America. She believes all students benefit from learning about cultures other than their own and about their nation’s history, both the good and the bad of it. She shared her experience as a parent, grandparent, and former teacher.

Why did she feel it necessary to defend such a basic 21st-century educational principle? Wouldn’t everyone favor such essential tools for living in peace and seeking mutual understanding? Apparently not.

Margaret spoke because she had been listening first. She described board meetings full of acrimony and tension, with parents demanding more influence on books in the curriculum and in the library. The diversity, equity, and inclusion policy was another area parents questioned. The board members were accused of supporting pornography and lack of transparency by some parents. The school administration and board spent precious time and much taxpayer money responding to Right to Know requests for their emails.

This was not the way school board meetings used to be. What had happened to trust?

I decided I needed to read, gather data, and attend meetings. If you have been following the latest political winds, you know that the “parental rights” movement is the latest skirmish in what has been called “the culture wars.” This one has numerous faces, most notably the fast-growing Moms for Liberty movement.

I have now spent hundreds of hours investigating this movement. I attended three board meetings and spoke as a citizen in two of them, highlighting the real danger of gun violence over the imagined danger of library books in October. Last December I pointed to the example of the open arms of Mary and the baby Jesus in the nativity scene in our town square: they are wide enough to include all of us. That image of divine love continues to guide me.

Notice the unusual position of Mary’s and baby Jesus’ hands. Lititz town square, December, 2022.

Early this year a group of us began meeting. We decided to call ourselves Grandmas for Love. We are heeding author Mary Pipher’s call: “Grandmothers of the World, Unite!”  Though we don’t have nearly the same level of organization (and big money) support as MFL, we do have friends and allies in other places who live in school districts that were taken over by extremists, suffered the consequences, and now are struggling to recover. Their recent history illustrates the play book for how rapidly a vocal minority can sew discord and disrupt normal proceedings.  Two cautionary tales for us are the Central Bucks County, PA, schools and the Newberg, OR, schools.

When extremists win a majority, they frequently fire the superintendent regardless of whether the contract is up. They ban things — books, rainbow flags, Black Lives Matter flags. They frighten teachers and staff, whose difficult jobs become even harder. A single parent who complains can take away books from many students, as happened in Florida recently when Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb was moved from a shelf for all students to one reserved for the upper grades only.

This meme is flying around the internet. The book was restricted. Not banned. But many other books have been banned.

A year ago I never imagined I’d be spending so much time trying to understand the local school board! But then, life has surprised me often. I had no idea my husband would have a cancer diagnosis.  I had planned to do a 2023 book tour promoting The Mindful Grandparent. That has not happened. I’ll be writing more about both subjects later, but for now, I am talking with teachers and trying to learn more about “deep canvassing” — honest and kind ways to talk with others across political and religious differences.

I know deep in my heart that the majority of citizens in this town prefer cultural harmony to culture war. I am deeply grateful that many in my community are responding to the message of love. Regardless of gender, age, marital or parental status, many are happy to be called “grandmas” when they hear our values:

We uphold the values of diversity and inclusion. We believe parents of all religious faiths and no religious faith all have the right to guide their children, including the right to ‘opt out’ of certain books or activities. This system of respect for religious differences, based on the important American principle of separation of church and state, has worked in public schools for decades.

The statement above was part of the full-page ad message we ran as a  in the local newspaper. The ad gave the address for our Grandmas for Love YouTube channel. Throughout the summer and fall we will be adding new content to our channel.

In a few weeks, I will turn 75 years old. I am so grateful to have lived and loved so long. The time ahead, even if I am blessed with a long and healthy life, will be much shorter than the time behind me. I hope to use all of it for Love.

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

–Adrienne Rich

How is Love showing up in your life? Do you have a favorite volunteer activity or cause you would like to tell us about? I hope so!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 14, 2023 at 7:42 pm

    Thank you for this post, Shirley. I too have a husband with a cancer diagnosis. He is in palliative care at home and I am the caregiver. I am moved by the many expressions of love and generosity we have received, not only from our immediate family, but also our church family and the palliative care team. People have been the arms and feet of Jesus for us

    • Shirley Showalter on June 14, 2023 at 8:50 pm

      Elfrieda, the arms of Mary and Jesus are wide open to you and your dear husband. I am so glad your community is supporting you well. Know that prayers are ascending from Lititz for you also. Here is a video from my days as a member of the Blue Ridge Threshold Choir in Harrisonburg. I am singing the third part, the tenor part. For you.

      • Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 15, 2023 at 6:35 pm

        That choir piece is so beautiful! Thank you!

        • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 6:59 pm

          You are very welcome!

  2. Marian Beaman on June 14, 2023 at 9:42 pm

    Shirley, you are following Mary Pipher’s suggestion in a book I recommended recently, Writing to Change the World. One of her quotes your own activism demonstrates is the admonition to “grow a soul and then use it in the service of humankind.” surely a noble goal.

    Voices have been shrill on both ends of the political spectrum these days, yet being able to entertain opposing viewpoints is an essential skill for living in a diverse society. That ability seems to be missing in public discourse. Without that, there can be no opportunity for negotiation, much less compromise.

    Book banning is a hot topic now. I’ve always been opposed to it, but the impulse to ban books seems to re-surface every few decades. I always hope that students will be curious enough to explore some of these titles, the younger ones with parental guidance.

    This spring one of my dearest friends, Carolyn, passed away. We often disagreed politically, but one thing we were both adamant about: Love always wins, a quote she included in her final Christmas wish this past year. On that we can agree.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 14, 2023 at 9:52 pm

      Marian, your comment about public discourse being shrill is something we have all witnessed. We Grandmas have tried to discipline our speech and remind ourselves of the principles of nonviolence when we engage those on “the other side.” I think you would love the link to the TEDX talk on deep canvassing, above. Watching it gave me hope. As did this wonderful article from The Christian Science Monitor:

      Just like a teacher to assign more reading. 🙂

      Thanks for being willing to stay in relationship, even with those your disagree. I admire that and am certain with you that love wins

  3. Tina Barbour on June 14, 2023 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this post, Shirley, and for your work with Grandmas for Love. I too am dismayed by the book bans and attacks on teachers and librarians. I work in a public library, and we recently had a patron challenge a children ‘s book we carry that deals with gender identity. It’s very upsetting and I struggle with how to respond to those who want to push their religious and political viewpoints on all of us. I can’t seem to find a way to make my case without becoming angry. And I feel limited in what I can do. I was just told today by our library director that I cannot promote books for Pride Month on the library’s social media. I help with posting and post 5 times a week about books. I promote books for the major observations like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc. but cannot do the same for Pride. The chairman of the library board told the director that we can have LGBTQIA books available but can’t promote them on social media. I’m so frustrated and don’t know how to convey that we don’t need to be afraid of each other, and that diversity makes life better for all of us. Love wins but not everyone has same definition of love, unfortunately.

    That said, a positive thing is going on right now. For the Summer Reading theme of “All Together Now,” each library branch has a Community Kindness Wall. Colorful envelopes line a wall. Each envelope holds a message of hope and kindness, and patrons are invited to take a message and leave one. It does my heart to see people taking part in that.

    • Tina Glanzer on June 15, 2023 at 10:06 am

      Nice work around with summer reading emphasis!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 10:45 am

      Tina, one of the downstream effects of threats to ban books is the “chilling” effect it can have on other decisions — what to put up on social media is one. Another is what to order in the first place and how to display books and promote them after they arrive. Loud minorities can deprive the wider community of choice. I hope you continue to find strength to persist and also creative ways (like the wall) to help all of your community find what they need. You are so full of love. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.

  4. Lilith Rogers on June 15, 2023 at 12:39 am

    Thank You Shirley Showalter for this wise and thoughtful essay. As a 77 year grandmother of 6….5 of whom are still in public schools….two in colleges…..I never thought one of my everyday concerns for them would be their safety from gun violence in their public schools…..but–it is………Many of the same people who shout “Don’t say Gay” also believe it is okay for anyone to purchase an AR-16 and endanger thour children in our schools and neighborhoods……Please People……defend our children’s lives first and worry about the books they read in the privacy of your own homes……….Lilith

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 10:54 am

      You and I are birds of a feather, Lilith. I am genuinely baffled by the contrast between lack of concern about gun laws and intense interest in scrutinizing books. It makes no sense at all.

      I read an article about gun laws with emphasis on the founding cultures of different parts of the country. Really interesting! Does it help explain anything to you?

  5. Maren C. Tirabassi on June 15, 2023 at 5:10 am

    Thank you for this amazing good work. And organized, too, which is more than near here. It is a terribly challenging time to be a parent and grandparent, to be an adult in a time when all the children need all the love. My husband, long the outspoken one has a new Father’s Day T shirt, “Ban the Fascists. Save the Books.” Your path is a lot more gentle.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 11:16 am

      Your comment made me smile, Maren, and want to meet your husband. 🙂 We have some grandmas who would love to wear that shirt.

      Living in a retirement community gives us easier access to both a variety of skill sets and personalities. It helps. These steps are easier here:

      And no one can fire us.

  6. Melanie Springer Mock on June 15, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    As you know, I am part of the Newberg cautionary tale. Your own passion and advocacy for this issue is so encouraging to me, 3000 miles away. Good people coming together in our community has also made a difference here, though after the last acrimonious school board meeting on Tuesday, I know there is so much more work to be done. Keep up the good fight!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 6:27 pm

      Thank you, my dear friend. You are “my light and my inspiration” too. Once the seeds of discord have been sown, and the suspicions planted, it is very hard to return to normal, even when you win elections!

  7. Laurie Buchanan on June 15, 2023 at 4:05 pm

    Shirley — This value statement resonates to my very core. Thank you for sharing it here.

    We uphold the values of diversity and inclusion. We believe parents of all religious faiths and no religious faith all have the right to guide their children, including the right to ‘opt out’ of certain books or activities. This system of respect for religious differences, based on the important American principle of separation of church and state, has worked in public schools for decades.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 6:41 pm

      Thank you, Laurie. I hope that by the time Luna gets to school the school board will again be the place for calm deliberation with trusted elected officials in charge. But I’m not holding my breath.

  8. Melodie on June 15, 2023 at 4:29 pm

    You have been very hard at work amidst everything else you are dealing with. Thank you, for all of us.

    I’m gladdened and impressed when my daughters share stories from their sons: one 9 year old was quite disappointed at year’s end when he was not chosen or picked to be a safety guard next year in 4th grade, while many others in his class were. Then he was also not put onto a play off team for soccer. He had worked hard writing an essay about what he would do to be a good safety guard etc. He asked his Mom why he didn’t get picked (he’s a leader type, does well in school, courteous and all that. She said well, these disappointments grow your character. He said, you mean they do something good for me? I think the message went home.

    Grandmas all for love! Thanks for sharing these thoughts and experiences.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 15, 2023 at 6:48 pm

      Yes, it has been a lot of work, but the load is not heavy with dozens of others are helping to carry it.

      I love the story about your grandson. Tell him another grandma hundreds of miles away loves his question: “You mean disappointments do something good for me?” I feel certain there will either be future chances for the leadership roles he is attracted to, especially when he is already to entertain the possibility that if the ending is not happy, it’s not the end!

      I love him. He touches my grandma heart.

  9. Vicky Kirkton on June 15, 2023 at 9:27 pm

    I have such admiration for your commitment to this task. It is all so unsettling, but what a great way to redirect anger and worries to taking on the discussions and educating folks about the facts! I love the name of your group, Grandmas for Love. I need to ponder how I can channel my concerns about all of this in a more productive way as you have!! Carry-on! We are the children of peace from the 70’s!!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 16, 2023 at 7:27 am

      Thank you, Vicky. Yes, we are children of peace, hoping that all children (and their parents!) can learn to live together in peace. Your family knows first-hand how challenging it can be to hold all the tensions of the community together in a public school. Hats off to all teachers and administrators doing this work on behalf of the whole country!

  10. Laurie Hess on July 16, 2023 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Shirley. Can I become a part of Grandmas for Love? I am a Grandma. I live in Lititz, and I share your concerns about Moms for Liberty and other far-right groups seeking to influence our schools. I also taught at Warwick High School for 30 years. Thank you for publishing such a thoughtful essay. We need more thinkers like you to support our schools!

    • Shirley Showalter on July 16, 2023 at 4:46 pm

      Yes, indeed!! Thanks for reaching out, Laura. I will sign you up.

  11. Margaret Hahn on August 4, 2023 at 1:46 pm

    I just finished Barbara Kingsolver ‘s Unsheltered and it resonated deeply.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 26, 2023 at 9:27 pm

      I haven’t read that book yet, but thanks for this recommendation!

  12. Sharon Ellis on September 18, 2023 at 10:42 pm

    I am a Grandmom and I love my Grandchildren as much as I love my children. I would like more than anything, that they grow up to respect people of all genders, race, religions, and beliefs. I hope we are teaching them by example. My husband and I have traveled a bit and always love to see how people of other countries live and how accepting they are of each other. I do have some health problems but would like to help , if I can , even by mailing materials out . We want our children to have a even better country than we have had. Education and READING, IMO is the key. Please let me know if I can help. Thank You,
    Sharon Ellis

    • Shirley Showalter on September 26, 2023 at 9:26 pm

      Hi Sharon. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I love your desire to help your grandchildren and to help Grandmas. You can help by educating yourself on the school board situation in your own district. And if you have candidates who are for banning books and firing superintendents without cause, maybe you can form your own version of Grandmas for Love!

Leave a Comment