During the 2017-18 school year, reports of white supremacist activity on US college campuses increased by 77 percent. Washington state witnessed 24 incidents, coming in behind only Texas (67) and California (58). Reports of anti-Semitism rose by 57 percent in 2017.
This increase is one thread in a larger narrative about the rising tide of hateful rhetoric and violence around the country. With it, the Anti-Defamation League has had to double down on its 105-year-old mission to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”
“Prior to 2016, these groups operated behind closed doors, and today we’re seeing them in public places,” says Miri Cypers, the new director of ADL’s recently expanded Pacific Northwest office, based in Seattle. “We’re seeing unprecedented recruitment on college campuses. We’re also seeing white supremacist groups enter our neighborhoods to spread propaganda against immigrants.”
The Barnard grad who honed her political and advocacy chops on Capitol Hill (the other one) and doing advocacy for former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s gun safety efforts, hit the ground running last November. Her vision corresponds with that of Jonathan Greenblatt, the social entrepreneur who was appointed CEO and national director in 2015. Greenblatt is reorganizing the ADL’s structure, and both nationally and locally the ADL is “being revived, refreshed, and rebranded to be a much more dynamic, cutting-edge, rapid responder when it comes to the events in the world,” Cypers says.
To that end, Cypers has brought on nine new board members from diverse backgrounds who represent a swath of the Northwest. The office is relaunching the Glass Leadership Institute to cultivate social justice leaders between their 20s and early 40s, and it is expanding the K-12 anti-bias program “No Place for Hate” to eight new schools on both sides of the Cascades. Cypers is also redesigning the traditional annual gala. This year, “A Taste of ADL” will take place on December 12 at Structure Studios, a wine-tasting room in SoDo.
Cypers has taken a lead on positioning ADL as a first responder locally, such as when Burien mayor Jimmy Matta, who is Latino, was physically and verbally assaulted in July. Nationally, the ADL has signed memorandums of understanding with the Mexican government to train consulates to respond to attacks, and the Seattle office has held trainings for the local consulate. It will also hold a hate crimes training this fall for local law enforcement at the Seattle University law school.
Hate speech that sees the light of day has a vibrant life on the Internet, festering and reproducing on the endless, intangible web. It’s a whole new area of concern, as anyone who has followed the controversy around Facebook over the past year knows, and it's one the national ADL is working on at the new Center for Technology and Society in Silicon Valley. Among Cypers’s goals is establishing relationships with Seattle’s tech scene to deal with hate speech without affecting free speech. The office has already hosted lunch-and-learns at Microsoft, Amazon, and Pioneer Square Labs, and it has plans to help videogame developers create games that promote empathy and combat bias.
“We’re in a unique time, and we all have a responsibility to be proactive and vigilant in speaking out and taking action against hate and bigotry,” Cypers says. “There’s a lot of danger in being complacent. This may sound dramatic, but I don’t think it is. There’s just so much at stake.”
If you encounter anti-Semitism or hate speech locally, let the ADL know by calling 206-448-5349 and reporting incidents to adl.org/take-action/report-an-incident.