Human rights groups bring cumulative experience
By Kaye Hult, Mary Stamp
In the session on "Countering Extremism: The Role of Community Human Rights Task Forces" at Gonzaga's recent International Conference on Hate Studies, Kristine Hoover, director of GU's Institute for Hate Studies, moderated and four individuals presented.
The presenters were Tony Stewart from the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights, Dean Lynch from the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, Brenda Hammond from the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force and Travis McAdam from the Montana Human Rights Network.
Tony said the Kootenai County Task Force for Human Relations (KCTFHR) continues to assist law enforcement on behalf of victims, to consult with people who face bias, to have a speakers bureau and to offer human rights education.
Tony himself continues to write guest opinions in local media, consult and provide materials for scholars.
A political scientist, lecturer, author and activist, he taught political science and was a pre-law advisor at North Idaho College from 1970 to 2008.
During those years, he also produced the "North Idaho College PBS TV-Public Forum" and documentaries, including a 10-week series in 2006 on the then 25-year history of the KCTFHR from 1981 to 2006.
"We address how some use fear tactics to manipulate segments of the population to gain political power," he said. "Fear was used during the Jim Crow era. Our history includes policies during the Great Migration from Europe to discriminate against Irish and Italian Catholics, and Jewish immigrants, and more recently the LGBTQ community.
"Some on social media label social justice and diversity as communist doctrine, rather than seeing them as establishing democratic principles to guarantee freedom and justice," Tony said, quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela: "To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."
In his four decades teaching college students, he did not see education addressing historical injustices used to create guilt, but rather saw it used to "encourage a new path toward social justice."
Tony is impressed with the intelligence, wisdom and compassion for human beings by college students as the path to understanding social justice and embracing diversity.
"Our public education system is key to keeping a democratically representative government," he said. "To challenge hate, we need to be informed and to advocate."
For information, visit idahohumanrights.org.
Dean told of the Hate Documentation project of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, which began in 2016, has 23 directors, who represent diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, religion and ability. Directors also represent nonprofit agencies, higher education and local governments.
"Our mission is to guard and advance human rights so people feel safe, welcomed and included," he said. "We promote positive human relationships and monitor hate in all its forms."
Its Hate Documentation Project was created to monitor hate crimes, as nationally only 25 to 42 percent of hate crimes are reported to law enforcement.
A hate crime is an action that causes injury, damage or threat. It is an incident where the motive is to attack an individual or an individual's community. It can come from speech used or a crime committed.
When gathering information for the report, it is important to collect data that is specific. To help that happen, a person can file a report anonymously.
The reporter answers: Is the person reporting the victim, a witness or a third party? What is the address and the setting? On what date did it happen, and at what time? What was the motivation? Who were witnesses? Were police present? Describe the crime in detail.
The information shared is entered into the database. Privacy of the person filing the report is maintained, Dean said. If the person wishes a follow-up, contact will be made.
A compilation of the information in the Hate Documentation Project's database is shared annually with the community and is made available on the task force website in English, Spanish and Russian. Other languages will be added.
Hate crime documentation is necessary to assure appropriate community response. Hate crimes may be reported at www.reporthatebias.org.
For information, visit spokanecountyhumanrightstaskforce.org.
Brenda said that the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, which was founded in 1992, celebrates its 30th year in 2022.
She spoke of the importance of being organized to stand against hate groups. The task force formed to counter a vision by some in the 1990s to create an all-white Aryan homeland in the Pacific Northwest and inform people of the agenda tactics of white nationalist groups who chose the area because it lacked diversity.
The task force now has more than 500 members.
"We vow never to be silent in face of hate," Brenda said. It's important to create opportunities for people to speak out and take a stand.
The task force disseminates information and gives people a voice, empowering them to feel they can act in accordance with their values. They are pro-active, using the framework of the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights. They support educational activities in schools and collaborate with other human rights groups.
In this time of increased polarization, the task force seeks to be apolitical, yet aware of the agenda of some on the far right to take over governments on all levels.
Task force members learn to talk to people whose beliefs differ from their own.
"We need to speak less from lecterns and pulpits, and have the ability to speak with and listen to people across the kitchen table, seeing them as human beings beyond labels," Brenda said. "Each person is due respect.
"Our goal is not to act out of anger or fear, but to build bridges instead of walls," she said.
For information, visit bchrtf.org.
Travis McAdam said the more than 30-year-old Montana Human Rights Network seeks to work in two directions: from the state level down and from community members up to counter white nationalism and paramilitary groups.
They research and monitor extremist groups.
"That is to say we do opposition research," Travis said. "Extremists work hard to spread a sanitized version of their beliefs."
The information they gather helps educate others on what "the real, unfiltered views of groups in our area are," and influences how the press describes them.
The press and public want verification of the research, so they double check on accuracy and triple check word usage and labels. They ask: Will the information create good or harm? They need to be thoughtful about how and when to use their research, Travis said.
The information they share helps inform actions that are taken. Concerned people who come together to counter the far right need information that's real and guidance on how to use it.
The monitoring and research not only help do that, but also create relationships with new allies, who can offer convergence with their research.
"Different groups and activists can play different roles in working for human rights," Travis said. "The dynamics in rural areas can be different from urban areas."
This statewide organization can help remove pressure from local groups as it provides research that helps people understand what they see and process it for future events, he said.
As he closed, Travis advised, "never underestimate the power of people coming together to do good to push back against extremism.
"It only happens when people find each other," he said.
For information, see mhrn.org.