Establishing Local Human Rights Groups to Combat Hate: A Case Study of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, 1981–Present. By Tony Stewart

This article was written for the August 2011 newsletter by Tony Stewart, Co-Founder of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Upon the arrival of the Aryan Nations from southern California to Kootenai County in the 1970s, we witnessed a series of serious incidents of harassment directed at minorities in our community. Following the targeting of a Jewish restaurant owner in Hayden and a bi-racial family in Coeur d’Alene by the neo-Nazis, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations (KCTFHR) was formed in 1981 as an all-volunteer human rights organization.

After more than 30 years in addressing and working to combat hate groups’ crimes and hate activities both here and across America, we have learned a number of vital organizational and operational lessons. I shall discuss these lessons in four categories. If you wish to learn more about these organizational and operational methods, please see the reference to a published article listed at the end of this essay.1

1: Create a Broad-Based Community Organization. First, it is important for the community to organize and create a broad based human rights organization as an effective counter-voice to the threats from a hate group and hate activities/crimes.

2: Establish Clear Strategies. Second, the newly formed human rights group should establish clear strategies that will be used to counter the hate. The KCTFHR has followed two such strategies: (1) we never remain silent in the face of hate activities/crimes. (2) We never directly confront a hate group by attending the events of the hate group but rather we sponsor alternative peaceful events at another location. Our strategies include both pro-active and re-active policies.

3: Make a Serious, Long-Term Time Commitment. Third, the group’s board and leaders should accept the reality that to be successful they must be willing to organize and operate over a long period of time that requires many hours of volunteer efforts. Here are some examples of events, programs, activities and public policy issues, including laws and court cases, either sponsored or endorsed by the KCTFHR over the past 30 years (some are one-time activities while others are annual or on-going events):

• lobby for anti-hate crime and civil rights laws

• partnering with the local schools for an annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Children’s Week

• press conferences and press releases

• public rallies and parades

• advertising

• week-long symposiums

• support for victims of hate, including court cases

• TV productions

• an annual human rights banquet

• assisting other communities in establishing local human rights task forces

• assisting in the creation of high school human equality clubs

• speaking tours across America

• an annual gala event

• an annual booth at the North Idaho Fair

• a quarterly newsletter to the “Friends” of the KCTFHR

• creating the Human Rights Education Institute in 1998 in Coeur d’Alene (the HREI operates separate from the KCTFHR following its establishment)

• interviews with regional, national and international live and printed media as well as graduate students’ research for their thesis or dissertation

• presenting annual civil rights awards to individuals and organizations

• guest editorials and letters-to-the-editor

4: Be Inclusive in Principle and Structure. Fourth, the organization should be very inclusive as to established principles and organizational structure. The KCTFHR By-Laws declare: “We oppose discrimination or the denial of ‘Equal Protection of the Laws’ based upon race, color, religion, creed, gender, age, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or social and/or economic status.” The KCTFHR has 21 board members including designated seats for the Native American, African American, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, Asian American, LGBT, Religious/Faith, business, law enforcement, local government, education, and youth communities as well as a number of open seats.

We are fortunate in northern Idaho to have a number of most effective local human rights task forces in Latah, Nez Perce, Benewah, Bonner and Boundary counties. I would urge you to participate and support those groups.

The experiences we have witnessed over 30 years from the purveyors of hate messages, hate crimes and hate activities should give us a strong impetus to never remain apathetic or silent in the face of these threats to the safety and well-being of the victims. When the dust finally settles, when we look back with clear maturity and judgment, and when the history is recorded, we will know that democracy was victorious. The future generations will be able to live and celebrate democracy’s tenants of freedom, equality and justice for all.

1 Kathy Canfield Davis, Ph.D.; Russell A. Joki, Ph.D.; and Mary E. Gardiner, Ph.D. (The University of Idaho) “Social Justice Leadership in Action,” Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research, Volume 3, Issue 4, summer, 2009.

You can learn more about the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations at their web site:

About nwchr

The Northwest Coalition for Human Rights (NWCHR) exists to facilitate connections and communication among organizations and individuals who are engaged in human rights and social justice work in the Northwest region of the United States, with special focus on the Inland Northwest. The coalition, inspired by Bill Wassmuth's former Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, will give strength to those working at the local level by allowing them to share resources, information, and ideas, as well as making them part of a larger support system. The University of Idaho Office of Human Rights, Access, and Inclusion (HRAI) in Moscow serves as the administrative home for the NWCHR, and the Coalition strives to build strong membership from throughout Idaho and eastern Washington, as well as from other parts of the Northwest region. All are welcome to join NWCHR and give their input.
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