Who and what is behind the Families in Crisis initiative?

Lobby Initiative Familien / Familien in der Krise for school and day care center openings looks very similar to british UsForThem cooperating with HARTgroup

The article was published in german first on February 15, 2021 in Übermedien

„Families in Crisis“ (FidK) is actually a small group. The initiative has about 250 members. Until recently, it called for the opening of schools and daycare centers – without regard to incidence. The FidK, criticizes Stephan Wassmuth, former chairman of the Federal Parents‘ Council, „seems to be more of a group that represents only a small group of parents. Similar to lobbyists.“

by Annette Bulut

Still, Families in Crisis is omnipresent. In the media, it is a Goliath. Possibly that’s because the small force has a remarkably clever PR team.

Thus it succeeded with its representatives to land twice in the ARD transmission ?hard however fairly ? Nele Flüchter, co-founder of FidK Düsseldorf, sits in as a studio guest on the program on August 17, 2020 – just three months after the initiative was founded. Franziska Briest, a leading FidK member from Berlin, was also quoted as a Twitter user on January 11, 2021 – with no reference to her activities as the Berlin co-spokesperson of the initiative. There was considerable displeasure about this on Twitter. But only there.

„FAZ,“ „Stern,“ epd, everywhere.

FidK also appeared prominently in the FAZ early on: On June 13, 2020, an article appeared about Diane Siegloch and two of her fellow campaigners from Wiesbaden. Siegloch is the driving force behind the initiative in Hesse and its founder. About FidK, which had only been around for a few weeks at the time, the text said, „… the women are beginning to see themselves as a voice for all families in Germany.“ It said the group had already zoomed in with former German Family Minister Kristina Schröder.

This was seen as an expression of their relevance, although it could have been just as perplexing that an initiative that had just been founded would so quickly gain access to a former federal minister who is now a columnist for „Die Welt“ and ambassador for the lobbying giant „Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft“ (INSM). But this classification was missing. Instead, sentences like: „The women are pleased that so many of their demands have now also played a role in politics.“ And the women spoke of „this terrible statement by the Leopoldina“ in the FAZ.

(Meaning the statement in which the National Academy of Sciences recommended opening schools only to lower grades and resuming daycare operations „only to a very limited extent.“)

After it became known in August that health authorities were said to have ordered that possibly infected children be isolated from the rest of the family at home, Siegloch and „Families in Crisis“ made it into an agency report of the Evangelischer Pressedienst (epd) and thus into very, very many media.

Also on „Stern.de“ there was a detailed report with FidK co-founder Diane Siegloch in January.

And that is only an excerpt.

What is behind all this?

There are rumors that FidK is an astroturfing or grassroots lobbying campaign. The accusation, sometimes more, sometimes less explicit: that the initiative is less concerned with the interests and welfare of children on education, and more concerned with the interests and welfare of corporations on undisturbed parents and their labor.

„Grassroots lobbying refers to a strategy in which companies, associations or other organizations increasingly try to enlist their own employees and sometimes customers for lobbying,“ is how „Lobbypedia“ defines this strategy. It is quasi the somewhat more harmless little brother of the Astroturfing campaign.

Astro Turf translates as artificial turf. Astroturfing involves pretending to be a grassroots movement, a movement from below that grows and grows. In this form of particularly non-transparent lobbying, „companies or associations that want to lobby undetected by the public, for example, hide behind the founding of supposed civic organizations,“ writes Lobbypedia.de.

So the (false) impression is to be created that it was a grassroots citizens* movement.

The beginnings of „Parents in Crisis

The roots of „Families in Crisis“ lie in April 2020, in the middle of the first lockdown in Germany. A few mothers with young children got together to found „Parents in Crisis“ (EidK). They created a Facebook group to find like-minded people: Moms and dads who were having trouble balancing a home office and childcare.

There were obviously many of them. After a few days, thousands of affected people gathered here. One of the founding members, Karline Wenzel, wrote after about two weeks, „Madness, we already have 10,000 members.“ Today, the Facebook group has about 14,000 members.

EidK spokeswoman Wenzel, who recently became a self-employed „senior communications consultant“ and was previously a director at communications agency Kekst CNC, gathered a remarkable group of founding members around her from the start. „Friends,“ as she puts it. Six women, some noble, apparently very successful businesswomen, and all with young children.

On a zoom call with the federal minister

On May 7, 2020, less than three weeks after its founding, the group had direct access to a top politician. That’s when a Zoom call with Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) took place. On the same day, Giffey also had a Zoom conference with the newly founded „Kinder brauchen Kinder“ initiative. It is at least unusual that two hitherto completely unknown parent initiatives receive a meeting appointment with a federal minister.

In the meantime, the Facebook group of „Parents in Crisis“ has become a popular place for editors to look for interview partners: RBB needed parents for a „short mood picture“, the „Süddeutsche Zeitung“ was looking for protagonists here, Sat.1 too, and most recently BR and SWR.

Crisis at „Parents in Crisis“

But after a very short time, the group „Families in Crisis“ around Diane Siegloch split off from „Parents in Crisis“.

The parents-in-the-crisis founders explain the separation thus:

„We clarified at the time with later members of ‚Families in Crisis‘ factually and in agreement that goals and measures behind our concerns diverge and that we therefore better go different ways. We looked at a demonstration that we did not organize ourselves. Afterwards, we at ‚Parents in Crisis‘ collectively decided to distance ourselves from this otherwise legitimate means of expressing our views so as not to be associated with Corona deniers or trivializers.“

„Parents in Crisis“ founder Karline Wenzel actively distanced herself: „We are not ‚Families in Crisis,'“ she wrote on Facebook.

FidK is something like the more radical arm of the original group. The split fueled rumors that it was an astroturfing campaign. Franziska Briest, the Berlin-based co-spokesperson for Families in Crisis, dismisses those rumors:

„I think the accusation is absurd. I can understand that an initiative, which has no legal form, is difficult to judge from the outside. I consider everything that goes beyond that to be conspiracy theories. I am not aware of any events that would support such an accusation.“

Support from ex-minister Schröder

Diane Siegloch, who, by the way, also has ambitions for a CDU seat in the Wiesbaden city parliament, in any case continued to know how to win over political celebrities.

Kristina Schröder appeared at a FidK demonstration in November; the ex-Federal Minister for Family Affairs from the CDU was a speaker. Schröder, who – as the FAZ wrote – was already available with tips at a Zoom conference on June 10, 2020, now supported the FidK protest against compulsory masks at Wiesbaden elementary schools.

Did she do both events as a private person or in her function as ambassador of the Initiative Neue Soziale Marktwirtschaft? Schröder participated as a private person, Siegloch informs in writing. INSM writes:

„Outside of INSM events and INSM publications, the INSM does not exert any influence on the activities, commitments and statements of its honorary ambassadors. From INSM’s point of view, all activities, engagements and statements of the ambassadors that are not explicitly initiated and identified by INSM are therefore matters that are not connected to INSM.“

„Lobbying association for loosening“

Schröder is quoted by „T-Online“ as saying that she has never spoken to representatives of INSM about the group: She said she was surprised „when people don’t believe a former family minister and mother of three’s genuine inner commitment to this important issue and fantasize something about sinister powers in the background.“

The „T-Online“ article in which Lars Wienand devotes himself to the „Families in Crisis“ Iniatiative is titled: „How Parents Became a Lobby Club for Loosening.“

Another woman stands out who was initially active in „Parents in Crisis“ and later switched to „Families in Crisis“: Helen Zeidler, doctoral student at the KU Eichstätt, research associate of Professor Alexander Danzer. Danzer is the initiator of the call „Enabling Education“ of the INSM-affiliated Ifo Institute and a member of the research network CESifo, which is also affiliated with INSM, and the Research Institute on the Future of Work (IZA), an economic research institute in Bonn financed by the Deutsche Post Foundation.

Just like Diane Siegloch, Helen Zeidler was also able to immediately win over politicians for an FidK demonstration: Ludwig Hartmann*, the parliamentary group leader of the Bavarian Green Party in the state parliament, and Doris Rauscher, a member of the Bavarian SPD state parliament, were among those who spoke in Munich on June 6 and July 4, 2020.

The counterpart from the UK

At the end of June 2020 – just a few weeks after the founding of Parents in Crisis and Families in Crisis – Lela (@Ngiyalalela), who is still a very active FidKer today, promoted on Twitter to sign a petition. She directed her call to various professors, to Kristina Schröder, to Franziska Briest and to Liz Cole (@thatsmanderley).

Liz Cole is the co-founder of the British parent lobby initiative „UsForThem“, which also radically demands the opening of schools and daycare centers in the Corona pandemic and is virtually the British equivalent of FidK. „UsForThem“ is also exceptionally present in the media.

And: In Great Britain this parents‘ initiative also attracted attention with unusually good connections to politics. According to the Byline Times, it is said to have links to EU opponent Nigel Farrage and a former advisor to Boris Johnson. The journalist Nafeez Ahmed even links the parents‘ initiative „UsForThem“ to a globally controlled disinformation campaign on Covid-19.

Franziska Briest from the Berlin „Families in Crisis“ group emphasizes that she knows „UsForThem“ exclusively from Twitter.

Other initiatives can’t keep up

Meanwhile, initiatives by other parents seem to be drowned out by the many „Families in Crisis“ contributions. For example, the parent organization „Secure Education Now“ (SBJ). This organization has often tried to publicize its demands for better hygiene concepts in educational institutions. But the media response has been manageable. „Through various campaigns, we have succeeded in attracting the attention of thousands of people in just a few months and winning them as supporters for our common cause,“ says SBJ spokesman Bruno Capra, but „we have been denied access to the larger media until now.“

It’s a problem that Families in Crisis doesn’t face. They have access not only to larger media, but also to various politicians. Capra’s charge:

„Relativizers, trivializers to deniers are always given a stage. We, and we mean all of us who advocate a long-term, thoughtful, science-based strategy for dealing with the virus, are left out.“

„We cannot and will not be satisfied with that and expect to have our say as well and to the same extent,“ Capra says.

„Families in Crisis“ establishes association

Whether it comes so? „Families in Crisis“ is in any case already tinkering with structures for a time after the acute Corona pandemic. A few days ago, they announced that they would be founding the association „Initiative Familien“ (IF) together with the initiative „Kinder brauchen Kinder“ (Children need children) – the one that also had an appointment with Minister Giffey. Its director: Diane Siegloch.

But: „Not all of the old comrades-in-arms wanted to go along with this path,“ it says in a tweet.

So the founding is again accompanied by a separation.

The author:

Annette Bulut holds a degree in journalism and completed a broadcasting education in Cologne. After working as a communications consultant in Düsseldorf and Munich, she has been a freelance author for many years.

*) Addendum, 16.02. In an earlier version, the name of the Green Party parliamentary group leader in the Bavarian state parliament was wrong. We have corrected that.

German version of the original article here

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