Go to RedLine Tacoma’s website and you’ll find the grassroots environmental group crowing about its crowning achievement and promising more victories to come.
“We defeated the methanol refinery ... now on to LNG!” the website declares.
The first part is true.
There’s no question RedLine greatly influenced the citywide debate surrounding Northwest Innovation Works’ attempts to build the world’s largest methanol refinery in Tacoma. The group’s relentless activism played a direct role in the would-be methanol refinery’s ultimate demise.
But that next part, RedLine’s second act, if you will?
It’s a long shot that will take political clout — and staying power.
Last week’s primary results might lead some to believe neither will materialize, or that RedLine’s influence is on the decline. After all, the key candidates RedLine put its weight behind — mayoral hopeful Evelyn Lopez and at-large Position 6 City Council candidate Sarah Morken — floundered. And it wasn’t particularly close.
But writing off RedLine and the coalition of environmentally focused voices they’ve helped bring together is probably premature.
That’s Lopez’s take, anyway. And there are reasons to believe she’s onto something.
Here’s what we know:
Morken, who made stopping the LNG plant one of her core issues, finished a distant fourth in a five-person race. She barely outperformed Maria Johnson, a University of Washington Tacoma student who suspended her campaign in late July.
Lopez, meanwhile, finished third in a three-person race, well off the pace of Jim Merritt and Victoria Woodards. Her candidacy failed to gain real traction despite Lopez being the candidate to offer the most specific and harsh condemnations the proposed LNG facility.
So, as more than one member of Tacoma’s political establishment told me this week, the failure of Morken and Lopez to even muster a strong showing could be seen as proof that RedLine’s endorsement doesn’t carry much weight.
It’s an understandable conclusion. And, admittedly, the first one I arrived at.
But there’s more to it than that.
Morken, a socialist, ran a shoestring campaign in a field crowded with candidates.
Lopez, a political newcomer, entered the race well after two more established candidates.
So is their collective failure really enough to start penning RedLine’s obit?
I think that RedLine has an enormous amount of influence, unintentionally or intentionally. They go to all the port meetings. They go to every city council meeting. They are at every public forum. ... The City Council may dislike them, but they’re not going away.
Evelyn Lopez on the continued impact of RedLine Tacoma
“Anyone who draws that conclusion will probably find themselves to be sadly mistaken,” Lopez said.
A better barometer for RedLine’s continued relevance is probably found in the arenas they’ve dominated over the past two years, she said — public meetings, which are still often awash in a sea of red clothing.
While getting its candidates elected to office is an important long-range goal for RedLine, there’s no question that the group’s loud persistence continues to influence (and irk) the elected officials we already have.
“I think that RedLine has an enormous amount of influence, unintentionally or intentionally. They go to all the port meetings. They go to every City Council meeting. They are at every public forum,” Lopez said. “The City Council may dislike them, but they’re not going away. And they are causing the City Council, and I hope the port, to be more responsive to citizens than they’ve been in the past.
“That constant pressure, it’s not pleasant. But it’s having an impact.”
The questions then become: What impact, exactly, is the environmental movement in Tacoma hoping to achieve, and what’s the best way to get there?
Attempts to reach someone at RedLine to talk about the group’s future were unsuccessful.
But what’s become clear is it’s going to take an evolution on the part of RedLine and others.
So far, much of RedLine’s efforts, and the efforts of other upstart environmental groups like Save Tacoma Water, have been reactionary. That’s not necessarily their fault. Elected officials’ failed public outreach and unwillingness to proactively engage residents has put people in a defensive position.
But now that these groups are becoming established, it’s imperative for them to grow. They’ll need to find ways to work together and branch out to the point where they’re influencing planning and decision-making earlier in the process.
“I think we’re still in early stages. What I would expect to see is movement into a broader focus and broader agenda, and more information sharing and coordination,” Lopez said. “I think there’s an opportunity for, maybe not all working together, but a better level of coordination and respect.
“Over the next five to ten years I think you’re going to see citizens very involved in environmental issues.”
That future, more than what happened at the ballot box last week, will be the real test of RedLine’s ultimate relevance.
To truly be successful, Tacoma’s anti-fossil fuel and environmental movements will need to find a way to move the conversations beyond just protests and into something far greater.