RedLine Tacoma needs more than new name

From the Editorial Board

RedLine Tacoma protests the proposed methanol plant on Tacoma's tide flats in the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Feb. 10, 2016.
RedLine Tacoma protests the proposed methanol plant on Tacoma's tide flats in the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center. Feb. 10, 2016. Photo courtesy of Matthew Deerin

A funny thing happened to RedLine Tacoma in the midst of its latest environmental fight, a hail mary effort to stop a liquefied natural gas plant from opening on the Tideflats.

After more than a year of hard-charging activism, a year in which it helped turn away a proposed methanol refinery, a year in which it raised the volume and anger of its no-fossil-fuels crusade against the LNG plant, the group recently appears to have entered a quieter phase of reflection while it contemplates a less offensive name.

If you click on its website, you’ll see a prominent message that explains the group is in the process of a name change; until a few days ago, that message was all that appeared on the website. “We have heard your concerns and take them seriously,” the six-sentence message starts, and later concludes: “We appreciate your patience as our volunteers navigate this transition.”

RedLine agreed to drop its name in response to complaints from Tacoma residents, including several people of color. These critics view the moniker as historically insensitive, a throwback to the not-so-long-ago era of “redlining,” when blacks faced systemic discrimination in real estate practices.

That RedLine finally awakened to racial concerns at this moment is curious, since critics have been raising them for more than a year.

But we won’t quibble over the timing. When weighed against the group’s alarmist narrative, unwillingness to accept facts at odds with that narrative, and wholesale incivility toward opponents or anyone inside the organization who disagreed or even questioned the party line, its name choice ranks pretty far down our list.

Reasonable people should be free to disagree about words that convey multiple meanings over time. Red Line founders say they picked the name as a historical touchstone, a reference to a Turkish general who once fought imperialist claims to his country’s oil. That may be so, but perceptions matter.

We think there’s reason for optimism after this dust-up between RedLine apostles, members of Tacoma’s minority community and others concerned about the group’s troll behavior.

The optimism is not about the pending name change; it’s about accepting contrary viewpoints, putting more seats at the table and widening Tacoma’s environmental conversation. It’s about expanding the information loop.

That’s what some folks who spoke out against RedLine’s name have set out to do. They’ve turned complaints into action by forming an alternate group, a coalition that cares not so much about your skin color or the intensity of your belief about fossil fuels. It’s a safe place for anyone searching for answers with an open mind.

“In less than 48 hours....almost 900 members.This group is amazing!” one of the founders, Korbett Mosesly, posted on Facebook on Aug. 24. “People are learning, engaging in meaningful dialogue about the environment, race, equity, sustainability, poverty, system change, small personal acts of environmentalism …”

And here’s the kicker: “People are respectful to each other. I think assuming good intentions. Thinking about possibilities and future generations. It feels right and inclusive.”

Mosesly’s group has had its own struggles with names. It went from Green Line to Enviro Line before settling (at least for now) on Tacoma Roots: Environmental Justice Forum.

In the end, who cares what they call it? What matters most is that the group operates on principles of healthy civil discourse, and that it doesn’t excommunicate people who dare ask questions about the prevailing dogma.

It’s instructive to listen to Nate Bowling, another leader in the group, as he acknowledges being personally opposed to a LNG plant in Tacoma - and yet he doesn’t view the facility’s supporters as “hacks,” sellouts” or “shills for PSE.”

Bowling, a Lincoln High School teacher and Washington’s 2016 teacher of the year, could teach us all something when he warns in a Facebook post about “group think” and the “echo chamber” effect.

We’ll go out on a limb and say that Tacoma’s best hope for a safe, livable environment doesn’t rest on lines of any color.

What this city needs are interlocking circles, like what Mosesly and Bowling are trying to create.

A little food for thought as the group formerly known as RedLine takes some time to reflect.