Critics protest conservative political training session in Des Plaines

About 25 people gathered near a Des Plaines hotel Saturday morning to protest a training session for politically conservative school board candidates being held inside.

Standing on a sidewalk outside the Courtyard by Marriott Chicago O'Hare on South River Road, they used signs and speeches to caution people - including folks walking to the nearby Rivers Casino - about candidates with queerphobic agendas trying to get elected to school boards and other offices.

"Pay attention to who you are voting for," Downers Grove resident Kylie Spahn told the crowd. "There is a lot at stake here."

The protesters particularly were concerned about the groups promoting Saturday's event - Moms for Liberty and Awake Illinois. Under the banner of parental rights, those groups or their representatives have railed against mask mandates, police reform legislation, new sex education standards and suburban drag events, and they've been criticized for making queerphobic social media posts.

The daylong program was led by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that teaches people how to organize politically, campaign for office, raise funds and more.

Charlie O'Neill, the institute's grass-roots director, noted the protesters outside during his opening remarks to the roughly 30 attendees.

"This is the first time I've ever been protested," said O'Neill, drawing applause from the audience.

Media attendance was limited to the start of the program and a printed schedule wasn't available.

In an email before the training session, Bridget Ziegler, the institute's director of school board programs, said, "there's nothing far right about parental rights."

The workshop, she said, "will equip candidates with the tools they need to win and combat the negative spin liberals and their media allies put on the growing parental rights movement."

Outside the hotel, Mony Ruiz-Velasco, deputy director of the LGBTQ-rights group Equality Illinois, insisted people espousing hate are a minority in the community.

"We must not allow (them) to win," she said.

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  Cassie Creswell of Illinois Families for Public Schools speaks to the media Saturday outside a Des Plaines hotel that hosted a training program for conservative school board candidates. Protesters were concerned about groups promoting the event that have railed against mask mandates, police reform legislation, new sex education standards and suburban drag events. Russell Lissau/
  Charlie O'Neill of the Leadership Institute talks about his group Saturday during a training program for conservative school board candidates. Russell Lissau/
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