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Tacoma Against Nazis
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About This Episode
Halley Knigge and Cheryl Miller from Tacoma Against Nazis come on the podcast to talk about their work making white supremacists and actual nazis uncomfortable in Tacoma. After realizing that a local tattoo shop was owned by open white supremacists Halley started a facebook group that quickly grew to over 1,000 members and has organized multiple protests, letter writing campaigns, funded a billboard, ripped down white supremacist posters, spoken to local civic groups, and much more.
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Tacoma Against Nazis is a group for people in Tacoma who are against nazis. "We tried to give it a straightforward title," says Halley. "No bones about it. You're either for or against Nazis. And we're against."
This came about in June 2018 after a handful of Tacoma residents became fed up with how nationally and locally white supremacist groups are feeling emboldened. The group became aware of a group of neo-nazis operating a tattoo parlor and decided to do something about it.
Halley says the question that drove the creation of the group was, "What are the white progressives of Tacoma going to actually do to show up against white supremacy?" Halley says, "You can talk about it or you can acknowledge that you don't know exactly what to do but you know you have to do something." What started as a small gathering of concerned Tacomans on Father's Day turned into a Facebook group of over 1000 Tacomans, multiple protests at the tattoo shop, the website DisconnectWhitePower.com, and a series of outreach events at local organizations such as Tacoma Sunrise Rotary. In addition to protests and outreach in the community, the group has organized letter writing campaigns to the landlords of the tattoo shop and others to raise awareness of the existence of their activities.
Their efforts have received national press coverage and generated considerable conversation here in Tacoma.
"There is a sense of there being a normalizing of activity around white supremacy, around this sense of 'we won't back down' 'you won't quiet us' 'we were censored previously in the previous political climate and we are going to be out and about and proud with our ideologies'," says Cheryl. "And thus you have groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front who are gaining more recognition nationally and these ideas are becoming more a part of the mainstream. There has been a significant normalizing of these activities."
They talk about how this normalization has impacted white progressives who may have ignored some of these activities in the past to educate themselves and be more active in countering these groups. "Previously we might have seen someone flying some kind of nazi flag and thought 'well that's embarrassing'- it's very easy to dismiss that as a white woman because I can walk past that nazi flag and nothing is going to happen to me. But we need to recognize that our neighbors of color are living a very different reality where that poses a very real threat to their physical safety."
"To be totally frank we're late," says Halley. "We're way late to this party. But we're here now and we're awake to it and we're trying to do everything that we can to make up for lost time and especially show the rest of our community that there are people here who are willing to stand up to it."
"Let me tell you we're getting a lot more pushback from our fellow white liberals than from actual nazis."
Five months in, the organizers and members of Tacoma Against Nazis have put a lot of time and energy into their efforts to show up responsibly against white supremacy in Tacoma. They've kept their focus on the tattoo shop and on other displays of white supremacy (such as some anti immigrant posters put up all over town). The group has learned you can't please everyone, and they've received criticism from people who think they've gone too far as well as people who think they haven't been radical enough. "We're a bunch of mom's and teachers," says Halley.
Cheryl and Halley share advice they have for other people wanting to organize in their community. Mainly, have very clear goals, be ready for pushback from local leaders, and learn to channel peoples passion into workgroups set to achieve specific goals (security, organizing, social media, etc).
For those who are concerned with Tacoma getting negative reputation because of people openly talking about nazis and white supremacists, know that this activity is a problem everywhere. "This is a problem in the United States," says Halley. "This is a problem everywhere. So I would actually venture to say that based on the immersion into the white supremacist problem that we've had over the past months- I actually think Tacoma has a pretty small problem compared to much of the rest of the country... we can stamp this out if we get on it right now."
Want to fight Nazis in Tacoma? Here are some things you can do:
1. Educate yourself about White Supremacist and Nazi symbols. Watch the Frontline documentary about the rise of White Supremacists across the country.
2. Speak up and make life uncomfortable for people who espouse hateful ideologies. According to Tacoma Against Nazi member Hope just speaking up and saying ‘I’m not OK with this,’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with this ideology and this is not what America means to me,’ can make a huge difference.
3. Join the Tacoma Against Nazis Facebook Group and find a way to use your talents to help.
4. Follow Disconnect White Power on Twitter and read their blog posts.Top Tips for doing the work:
"If there's anything that I personally have learned from everything that we've gone through as a group- it's that you just have to stick to what you know with a sense of conviction. And that may be different than even your fellow group members. You are what you practice. If you show up that's what and who you are. If you don't show up that's what and who you are. So there's a lot of noise, there's a lot of invisible connections, at the end of the day do what you know is right. Do what you feel with conviction." - Cheryl
"My top tip for people trying to wade through the noise is have a baby at the same time. Because I'm so tired and over all of it that I just have no time or patience to dig into any of the ego or the permission. I'm just gonna do that work and not play around, because come on I got a baby to put to bed." - Halley