Is the name of a Tacoma environmental group racist? Some say yes, and want it changed

Last week, an organizer for the environmental group RedLine Tacoma shared a post to the group’s Facebook page denouncing white supremacy, racism and the violence that had taken place in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous weekend.

“RedLine Tacoma stands in solidarity with the diverse communities in our region and around the globe: people of color, Native Americans, people of Jewish heritage, immigrants from all countries, members of the LGBTQI community, people of all abilities,” the post from Claudia Riedener read in part.

The post didn’t sit well with some members of the Tacoma community, instead stirring up a lingering resentment about the environmental group’s name. Some Tacoma residents, including many people of color, say it evokes a racist, discriminatory past and needs to be changed.

“There is no way you can call yourself an organization that stands against racism with a name like ‘RedLine,’” Tacoma Action Collective organizer Jamika Scott wrote in a responding Facebook post. “I know, for a fact, this group has been questioned and given ample time to educate themselves on why their name is racist and harmful. Yet they continue to deny the feelings and history of black & brown people in our fight for life and equity.”

Many said RedLine has been asked to change its name before, but its members have repeatedly demurred.

Riedener said Wednesday the group was not ready to make a statement but was planning a name change amid the uproar.

“We are going to change our name, but as you can imagine it doesn’t happen overnight,” she said.

RedLine was born during the controversy over a methanol plant that had been proposed for the Tideflats, and many credit the group with helping to defeat the plant’s construction.

But from its inception, some Tacomans, including members of the Tacoma Action Collective and the Tacoma-Pierce County Black Collective, have said the group’s name is racist: For them, it connotes discriminatory housing and lending practices, known as redlining.

RedLine critics said those practices were prevalent in Tacoma in neighborhoods like the Hilltop in the 20th Century and have had long-lasting impacts on home values and quality-of-life issues in certain neighborhoods.

Riedener has said the term “red line” in environmental parlance stems from a Turkish general who, in the 1920s, drew a red line on the map of Turkey and forbid American and British business interests from looking for oil beyond that line.

Local civic leaders, activists and elected officials said the origin of the name does not matter. They took to Twitter and Facebook recently to denounce it.

“The environmental movement has long been a space where people of color have been excluded and our voices not considered,” Scott wrote in her Facebook post.

Tacoma City Councilmen Keith Blocker, who is black, and Anders Ibsen, who is white, were among those to speak out against the name.

By Tuesday night, an alternative environmentalist group had sprung up on Facebook, created by some of the community leaders who have been outspoken against RedLine Tacoma’s name. By Wednesday, the new group had 700 members. It was described by creator Korbett Mosesly as an “anti-racist environment group focused on the sustainability of the Puget Sound.”

Initially, the group bore the name Green Line Tacoma, an obvious poke at RedLine. But a commenter on the group’s page noted that name had painful connotations, too, with a history deep in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Green Line is the demarcation that almost 70 years ago created a border between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Soon, the group name changed to Enviro Line Tacoma.

“We changed the name from Green Line to Enviro Line because it was offensive to some groups,” Mosesly wrote in a post. “We didn’t know that, so we changed it. It took 5 minutes. It was really easy.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud