Sep 28, 2022 26 min read

Opposing Hate

"We need to start looking at this in terms of playing more offense than defense..." Stephen Piggott

Episode 34, 41 min listen

In this episode we talk with Stephen Piggott, of the Western States Center. We will discuss a resource that he and his colleagues produced: A Community Guide for Opposing Hate. We'll hear more about what motivates anti-democratic groups, how they work, and talk about what communities can do to oppose hate.



Download the toolkit: A Community Guide for Opposing Hate

Download the toolkit:  Confronting Conspiracy Theories and Bigotry at Home

Learn more about the Western States Center

Learn more about the Bard Center for the Study of Hate

Learn more about Montana Human Rights Network

Link to action plan, materials, and toolkit from the recent United We Stand Summit, held at the White House.

If you enjoyed this episode, you might also enjoy our earlier episode: Not in Our Town - With Patrice O'Neill


Stephen Piggott is a Program Analyst & Trainer/Organizer with Western States Center. Stephen is an expert on various forms of right-wing extremism, including white nationalism and the organized anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim movements. Stephen has spent the past decade monitoring and exposing the far-right and previously worked for both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. He began his work in this field with the Center for New Community. He received his BA in political science with minors in Islamic and Irish studies from DePaul University in Chicago.



Ame Sanders  00:11

This is the State of Inclusion Podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better. And we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. This is Ame Sanders. Welcome.

Today we are happy to welcome Stephen Piggott of the Western States Center. Welcome, Stephen. So pleased to have you on the podcast.

Stephen Piggott  00:42

Thank you very much for having me.

Ame Sanders  00:45

Stephen, I first learned about your work when I discovered a very comprehensive document that you and some others worked on. It’s called “A Community Guide for Opposing Hate.” I’m really happy to have the opportunity to talk with you here today. So, maybe a good way to start would be if you don’t mind, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about the work you do and the organization you’re part of?

-About Western States Center

Stephen Piggott  01:10

Sure. So, I’ll tell you first about the organization that I work for. It’s Western States Center. It’s based in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States and we were founded in 1987. We really serve as a hub to engage partners committed to strengthening inclusive democracy. We have programs that span four key pillars, which is building movements, developing leaders, shifting culture, and defending democracy.

As part of our broader work to counter white nationalism, we monitor anti-democracy and bigoted social movements active in our region and then provide tools and resources to equip civil society leaders, democratic institutions, local governments, and community groups to respond to this to this type of organizing. I’ve been working with the center for about three years now. Previously, I worked for two national organizations, the Anti-Defamation League at their national office in New York City, and the Southern Poverty Law Center based in Montgomery, Alabama. So really, I’ve been doing this type of work in terms of monitoring white nationalists, paramilitary, and anti-democracy groups for over a decade now.

Ame Sanders  02:24

This is not your everyday job. How did you end up doing this work?

-Coming to This Work

Stephen Piggott  02:28

Great question. When I was in school in Chicago, I went to DePaul University, and I needed an internship and the national field director of an organization in Chicago at the time, the Center for New Community was Eric Ward, who is the outgoing executive director of Western States Center. I met Eric and he needed interns for Center for New Community, so I joined as an intern. And my life has never been the same sense. That was halfway through college. Based on the work that we did there, mainly countering the anti-immigrant movement in the US, as an immigrant myself, the work was really rewarding. So, it kind of started halfway through college and I haven’t looked back.

Ame Sanders  03:18

I wanted to talk with someone specifically who worked in this area and I wanted to understand a little bit about the broader picture. One of the things that’s clear– communities cannot afford to ignore hate. They need to have some actions that they can take to anticipate, plan for, respond to, the events that might happen in their community. When I found your guide, I realized that you had a lot of wisdom to share with communities. So, can we talk a little bit about the guide that you’ve put out? And maybe along the way, can you talk about how you think about hate how you might define it, or how, in this context, you think about it?

-Community Guide for Opposing Hate

Stephen Piggott  03:59

Sure. So, the Community Guide is a joint project of three institutions, Western States Center, the Montana Human Rights Network (which is a really awesome organization that does similar work to Western States Center, but it’s limited to the state of Montana), and then the Bard Center for the Study of Hate. The director at the Bard Center for the Study of Hate is Ken Stern, who is a longtime lawyer and activist who has been involved in terms of fighting back against white nationalism and anti-democracy groups for many decades, before I was even born.

In the 1980s and 90s, there were a couple of really good reports that came out that were similar to this guide. One was called “When Hate Comes to Town” and I think the other was ‘When Militias Come to Town.” Ken and I are friends, we’ve known each other for many years, and he came to me and said, “Look, it would be really great to have a similar guide, but with much more updated information essentially to help communities respond to what the landscape of hate looks like right now, which is a little bit different from what it was in the 80s and 90s, especially with the proliferation of the internet, etc.” That was the genesis of the of the guide.

One of the things that I did a lot of at the beginning was really speaking with former colleagues and then also community groups on were ground all over the country. I think I spoke to something like 20 different groups or individuals to ask them really what they thought would be useful in a guide like this. A) would it be useful and then B) what would be useful in it? I think part of it as well was we wanted to do something for folks that are just starting off. So, we’re in a place right now where folks on the ground are recognizing that there is a rise in hate in their communities, either it’s hate incidents, or organized groups organizing in their communities. They’re asking questions about those groups, but then about what to do. The guide is really for folks who are really just starting off. How do I create a group? Who should I reach out to? Then once you have a group created, kind of what to do in terms of messaging and a lot of other things. So that’s kind of the genesis of the guide.

-Hate Groups as Inherently Ant-Democratic

Ame Sanders  06:32

So, talk a little bit about this word “hate.” Maybe it would be good to put down a way of thinking about it that informs your work so that we can have some context for our listeners.

Stephen Piggott  06:43

For me, I consider hate to be inherently anti-democratic in nature. If you look at the broader hate movement in the United States, the anti-democracy movement, it’s inherently anti-democratic in nature. These folks are coming at that from a lot of different approaches. Some of it is an animus towards immigrants. Some of it is an animus towards people of color, LGBTQ folks. There are many different approaches that folks are coming at it from. But for me, we’re in a space right now where our democracy is threatened by individuals and organizations and broader movements. I think those folks all fit in some ways into that broader categorization of hate.

Ame Sanders  07:31

One of the things that you mentioned in your guide, which I thought was a important thing to bring out is, you talk about hate being more dangerous when people consider it to be a noble thought or idea.

Stephen Piggott  07:44

Yeah. I think there’s a real concerted effort by a lot of these groups to really approach this from an angle where they can essentially gain traction within communities. So, being very smart about the rhetoric that they use, the tactics that they use, and not being as overtly racist, overtly bigoted as groups were in the 70s/80s/90s. The rhetoric is different, the tactics are different. It’s all an attempt to gain credibility within communities and then essentially gain followers. Just one thing that I think is an important thing that I think gets overlooked sometimes, which is anti-democracy groups, looking in some ways to rebrand their public image and partnering and trying to really engage in community work. We see this a lot and it’s definitely something troubling.

I see this especially with like paramilitary groups, (for example, the Three Percenter militia-type groups) and they do things like food drives and things like that. The reason for doing that is they’re trying to build rapport/credit with the community, and show that, “Look, we’re not just gun-toting militia.” The other reason they’re doing this as well, which I think is something that folks should think about is they’re trying to make the argument that federal or state government isn’t necessary. That we, as a community can help our brothers and sisters, we don’t need the state government to help. We don’t need FEMA to help etc; we can do that work. We’ve seen this around natural disasters, we saw this around with COVID as well, there’s been many, many different kinds of ways that especially these paramilitary groups have tried to really build credit within their communities. I think it’s just something that may go unnoticed, or it doesn’t get called out enough and I think it’s just something that folks can think about, too.

Ame Sanders  09:52

I’m glad you mentioned that because it affects how they’re viewed in the community, but also affects their ability to recruit additional members within the community if they’re able to rebrand themselves as you’re saying. In your guide, you gave some specific scenarios for action. Honestly, I’ll say it felt like they might have been inspired by real events. Maybe some of them felt a little too close to home. I don’t know. Were they based on real events? Are they things that communities have faced? Because you outline in each one of those scenarios these are the kinds of steps that you could take.

Stephen Piggott  10:26

Absolutely. So, this is one of the sections of the toolkit that I’m most proud of. When I said that I talked to a lot of folks before putting this together, I asked specifically about these scenarios and said, “Would this be something that you think is worthwhile?” Across the board, community activists, lawyers, all sorts of folks that I spoke to said, “Yes. This needs to be in there.”

Really what we wanted to do is make these as realistic as possible, because these are the things that community groups and civic institutions are facing right now, anti-democracy groups as well. They want to marginalize these folks. The scenarios are an indication of what we’re seeing currently, and really what we wanted to do as well is put these in so that when folks are reading it, they realize, “Oh, my God. You know, this is not only just happening to me, or this is not only just happening to my community.” Giving folks an indication that A) they’re not alone and B) there are solutions to this. You can respond to these types of attacks and here’s some guidance to help navigate that.

-Protect Yourself

Ame Sanders  11:33

Another thing that you give in the guide, which I thought was particularly helpful, is some advice about how to protect yourself when you’re doing this work. Can you say a few words about that, about the risk that people face and some of the ways that you think about how folks can protect themselves?

Stephen Piggott  11:53

I think folks who are engaged in this work, they must recognize that there are some risks. The anti-democracy groups, especially white nationalist groups, are certainly looking to marginalize leaders (leaders have inclusionary, groups, movements, etc.). That’s their MO. They want to marginalize these folks. They want to isolate these folks and stop them from doing the good work that they’re doing. One of the things that’s a key tool in their arsenal is doxxing, exposing personal information, home address, etc. The goal of that is to have a chilling effect, to say, “If you do this type of work, we’re going to expose you. We want to marginalize you.” It’s trying to send a message that people shouldn’t be engaged in this type of inclusionary work.

So, with that said, there’s some good information in the guide, but I think some other things to think about for folks who are looking to engage in this type of work is things like what happens when you Google yourself? Who has access to your social media channels? Are your social media channels open for anyone to kind of pry in and see your personal life?

So, those are a couple of questions that I think people should ask and one recommendation as well that I’ll plug is there’s an organization called the Quality Labs. They do some really, really good work around digital security. They work with civil rights organizations and with civil rights leaders around really kind of helping them prepare for the targeting by anti-democracy group. They do this on a case by case basis, but they also have a digital security toolkit that’s available online for anyone to access. I think it’s a really good guide in terms of just thinking about digital security when you’re engaged in this type of work.

Ame Sanders  13:48

That’s really helpful. I found those elements in the guide to be helpful as well, because it made sure that we think about as we move into this work, that there are some necessary steps to protect ourselves to put in place certain pieces of armor to protect ourselves whether you consider that a VPN or some other pieces of technology or actual steps that we might take to protect ourselves before we move into this work.

-Play More Offense than Defense

I really want to talk about what you see communities can do not just in response to recognizing an event but perhaps even more proactively. How can they prepare themselves before incidents happen either to minimize the likelihood they’ll occur, build a firewall, if you will, as much as possible, be prepared in advance for a community response, and then build community resilience to make sure that the damage that is done is minimized in some way or protected against? Do you have some thoughts about how communities could proactively go after this?

Stephen Piggott  15:01

Yeah, for sure. One thing I’ll just say off the bat is we need to start looking at this in terms of playing more offense than defense. What I mean by that is we need to not be waiting around for an incident to happen before taking action. I think communities, community groups, coalition’s more broadly, it doesn’t help if you’re only speaking to your community or community group, your coalition in the wake of an incident.

One of the things that I will say is that if you can have sustained communication I think that is something that’s super crucial. Not picking up the phone just when something bad is happening. You should be picking up the phone on a monthly basis, on a quarterly basis, etc. Continue to engage with your group, with your coalition on an ongoing basis and not just when something bad happens. In addition to that, I think in terms of minimizing the likelihood of bigoted and anti-democracy groups gaining a foothold in our communities, it’s definitely a difficult time because these groups, so many of them are able to mobilize across great distances because of the internet. I think the best thing we can do is to ensure that our communities are informed about the conspiracy-oriented narratives that bigoted groups espouse.

Then also be willing to look ahead and see what are the kinds of dangers, what’s happening, what could be happening on the horizon that we need to be ready for. A couple of things I’ll say, as well, Western States Center has another resource called “Confronting Conspiracy Theories and Bigotry at Home,” which is for caregivers and parents who might be noticing that their kids are repeating some harmful things they see online. So that’s certainly one thing I’ll plug. But also, this is the problem that we need to handle on a societal level and that’s where I think community response and resilience is key.

The toolkit that we released with Bard has great ideas for community members on how to get involved, but we’re also–we as Western States Center, and more broadly, we’re figuring out how to work with local government officials on building resilience into their agencies. A question that we get asked very often is, after community leaders speak out about negative incidents, what should they do next? Really what we’re pushing is encouraging for trainings for frontline workers, resourcing programs that build inclusive democracy within civic government and then even getting creative with things like civil litigation to challenge organized bigotry.

Ame Sanders  17:50

So that’s a lot. My key takeaway from that is there are a lot of things that communities can be doing in advance, to better prepare themselves, to make their community more resilient, to build the kind of coalition around this that is necessary in order to minimize the effect that this might have on your community. So, another aspect of this is how individuals are recruited and radicalized and you mentioned a little of that when you talked about the tool that you guys had at the Western States Center. But can you talk a minute about specifically how can communities make their community a less fertile ground for this sort of recruiting and radicalization of young people or adults, but particularly young people?

Stephen Piggott  18:40

Yeah, there’s many different things. One is a real public response from elected officials. I think it starts it starts local in terms of elected officials denouncing this. The more that we see public figures speaking out against this and in engaging in inclusive activity, it closes the space for these groups to gain a foothold in the community. I also think as a country–the United States–we’re approaching the issue of white nationalism, of anti-democracy movements from a law enforcement only perspective in many ways. Simply putting these folks in jail, for example, isn’t going to fix the problem. This is a societal problem that needs to be addressed.

-Address White Nationalism in Schools

We have a separate toolkit that’s for teachers, which is essentially dealing with white nationalism in schools. I think schools and education, especially for young people, is a critical aspect of this. If we look to our European counterparts, they’re doing a much better job in terms of approaching this issue from a societal standpoint versus a law enforcement standpoint.

Germany is a really good example of that. I think it was a couple of years ago, they released something like an 80-points document with an initiative that the government was going take on. Over a billion-euro investments in responding to essentially rises in white nationalism and anti-democracy movements in the country and almost all of it was dedicated towards education, inoculation, things like that, versus giving it to law enforcement essentially. So that is something as well that we need to look at is look at outside of the United States and look for good examples, more broadly, in terms of how other countries are approaching this issue.

Ame Sanders  20:39

I love the term that you used, “inoculation.” That’s a good way of thinking about it. One thing I want to just talk about a minute is sort of the range of things that communities might see. On one end of the spectrum, we’ve got violent extremist groups that are espousing hate maybe directed a particular community. So, you know, white nationalist groups or nativist groups.

But in another way, we also have community groups, maybe it’s a church or a school or a small organization, that are maybe well-respected in the community. And yet, they still espouse what could be considered anti-democratic or even hate ideology. I think about maybe a church that preaches very strongly against the gay community. Or maybe even in my own city, where I am in Greenville, South Carolina, we think about a university that’s very well connected in our community. I guess I have a question, how do see deal with that spectrum? Is it ever okay to partner with these organizations? Can you do that without giving their ideology more oxygen?

-What We're Seeing in Communities

Stephen Piggott  21:59

Sure. A couple of things here. I certainly agree that there’s a spectrum, but for me as well these groups are looking to kind of sow the seeds at the local level in order to essentially create conditions where their behavior is seen as accepted and not as extreme. This is a long game for a lot of these movements. They’re looking to build credibility within the community, as much as possible and start small.

We’re seeing in places like Idaho right now, where you have white nationalists running for school board, showing up at GOP meetings, and in some ways gaining traction. That’s certainly concerning. I think it needs to be something that’s tackled at the root. When you’re able to see it at that level, it needs to get tackled at that level so that things don’t escalate further to the point where we’re getting to, as you said, a place where hate rhetoric is much more accepted and seen as okay.

In terms of working with these groups, and a couple other questions that you asked around giving them oxygen/visibility, I think providing them with more oxygen is certainly an appropriate question to ask when weighing up a response to these groups. A lot of these groups are craving attention. You see a lot of groups that are tiny that will do flyer campaigns where they will put a bunch of racist flyers in the neighborhood. Their whole reason for doing that–one of the reasons I should say–is press attention. They want local media to write about this. They want their name up in lights, because it will get the more attention and it will get them potentially more recruits, etc. So, in that case, is it worth giving them that attention? Probably not. But in many cases, I think it is necessary to name names and to call out these groups directly.

Ame Sanders  24:03

Do you have a way of viewing this landscape across these groups, a topology of sorts, of these different types of organizations? Or do you pretty much lump them all together?

-Look for Collaboration Between Groups

Stephen Piggott  24:15

I wouldn’t lump them all together, but what I’m really interested in is how they are working together potentially or the bridges between them. When you dig down a little deeper, there can be some bridge building that’s going on that’s not necessarily easy to spot. But that’s one thing that definitely concerns me is when you see crossover between the two. Like why is the Lieutenant Governor of Idaho speaking at a white nationalist conference? How did we get there? Why is that happening? Why is that okay? Why did she feel like it was okay to speak at something like that? That kind of crossover certainly concerns me when you have the more traditionally marginalized groups becoming more mainstream or at least having more access to the mainstream?

Ame Sanders  25:06

Yeah, so that’s really some thought-provoking discussion there. Which is, not only is it important to understand the groups that are working in your community, but to understand the potential interconnected or crossover connections between them and that web that might be being built and how they work with one another and in some ways lift each other up.

So far, we’ve been mostly talking about things that happen within the community. So, groups within the community, events that occur within the community. I guess I had a question for you about something you said earlier, which is that some of the smaller groups are organizing from afar, if you will and then they parachute into a community. I’m specifically thinking about the Pride festival that was in Idaho and in the news recently. I heard you speak about that. I think the finding was that most of the people who were in that truck that was stopped were not from that community. So, talk a little bit about how communities can combat this, this sort of idea that their community becomes a target from an outside group that they maybe didn’t even see it coming.

-Actions Communities Can Take

Stephen Piggott  26:26

Sure. So, a couple of things here. I think first, it kind of depends on the group. I think the broader answer is that currently, many of the anti-democracy groups that we see across the country are openly encouraging people to think and act locally. But that said, you do have some groups that are crossing state lines to engage in political violence and other things.

So, I think about a Proud Boys rally in Portland, where you have people flying in from all over the country to engage in violence in Portland. The Patriot Front arrests that you mentioned is another really good example. Another is that we know that paramilitary figures from North Idaho and other places are traveling hundreds of miles to the US-Mexico border in Arizona to participate in essentially armed vigilante missions targeting migrants coming from Central America. But in terms of the parachute organizing, we do see this a lot as well and I see a lot of this around the CRT efforts.

Ame Sanders  27:38

By CRT you mean critical race theory?

Stephen Piggott  27:40

I do. Yes. Sorry. Yeah. The goal for this for this type of efforts is to make it look like it’s a grassroots movement. So, they want to make it look like these groups who are on the ground in Oregon or California or anywhere that this was a group of concerned parents, who came together of their own volition to respond to what they see is indoctrination of their kids or something like that. That’s what the larger anti-democratic groups want. They don’t want their name essentially on any of the kinds of local organizing. The goal is to make it look like it’s a grassroots effort, but in reality, some of these local groups, especially around CRT and some of these other issues are getting direction, funding, talking points, etc, from more national organizations.

We also saw this at the end of last year, where you had a couple of instances where children, middle school and high school kids were walking out of schools protesting mask mandates that were at schools. It was celebrated by anti-democracy group saying, “Oh, my God. Look at these at these kids. They’re standing up for what they believe in.” But if you looked into that a little bit deeper, you would see that a national student group was behind a lot of that. They were actively encouraging students to engage in this and praising their efforts. And so again, they’re trying to make it look like it’s grassroots, but in reality some national organizations are pulling the strings essentially.

Ame Sanders  29:21

Some of the key takeaways from that is, first, you do need to understand the organizations that are operating within your community, how they may be interconnected, but you should also look at the larger national landscape and understand groups that may be targeting local campaigns or local actions.

Then the other thing that I take away from your comments is that whenever we have an incident or some level of organizing or some activity that is anti-democratic, we should look at that activity and not just look at it on the surface and say, “Okay, this is a local initiative.” But we should look, try to the extent possible, look behind it to see if there is perhaps some other energy or fuel that is feeding it and then look across to see if there are similar initiatives being replicated in other areas that might give us a clue to how this came about in our community. So, I see that as a kind of a multi-sensing and multi-intelligence work to try to think about this in different ways and from different angles and different lenses. Is that a fair take away from what you’re talking about?

Stephen Piggott  30:33

It is. Certainly, some of this can be challenging for community groups. That’s something that Western States Center, groups like the Montana Human Rights Network, the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center are all groups that can essentially connect the dots for community groups and show where this kind of organizing, these strategies and tactics are coming from and help communities to respond to it. That’s one of the biggest things that we engage in at Western States Center is helping communities connect these dots and then talk about strategies to respond to it.

Ame Sanders  31:14

So, I did some work in marketing and we had a lot of sensing and gathering of information about consumer sentiment, and what was going on around our products and our brands. It makes me think about that in this case.

So, I have a couple of questions for you around how are communities actually putting in place sensing or intelligence mechanisms to understand and monitor this over time, not just as a one-time event, but over time? How are they balancing that with the other more forward-looking work that they may be doing in terms of improving their community or making changes? Is it the same group that’s doing this? Is it usually a specialized group? Tell us a little bit about how this is working in communities, and maybe if you’ve got some examples of communities who are doing a great job at this, that’d be terrific.

Stephen Piggott  32:09

Sure. So, a lot of what I’m seeing is folks are monitoring these groups. They’re monitoring the groups that they know are active in their areas. Much of the organizing, especially by more anti-democracy groups, (so not white nationalists, but the more anti-democratic groups that are doing things like anti-CRT work) is happening out in the open, because they want to gain more recruits. They want to have more people show up at their events, etc. So, they’re not really hiding what they’re doing.

So, it can be easier to see what those folks are engaging in, in that way, which can certainly be helpful for communities. You have a lot of folks who are using mediums like Twitter to research and expose anti-democratic organizing. I see this a lot on Twitter, where you have individuals or folks who are unaffiliated with a group that are just they want to kind of call out what they see is anti-democratic organizing in their area.

But also, as I just said earlier, you have organizations like Western States Center, who are doing a lot of this as well. We get questions and do trainings for community groups all the time in our region about who are the group’s most active, where to look in terms of responding to what are the best kind of tools to respond to some of these groups.

Then in terms of balancing it with more positive work or more proactive work, as you said, I think responding to anti-democracy, organizing can certainly be rewarding. Things like turning their organizing on its head with counter projects, like getting people to raise $1 for every Proud Boy who’s showed up at a Planned Parenthood clinic in protest. Then all the money that you raise goes to the clinic. Things like that can be super rewarding. We have some of that in the guide as well of ways to flip the anti-democratic organizing and flip it on its head so it can result in a more positive outcome that the whole community can kind of get behind.

In terms of what are communities doing really well, what I’m seeing right now is folks are doing a great job of forming broader coalitions. Partnering with folks that they wouldn’t necessarily partner with in the past or didn’t think about partnering with. So, I’m talking about like business-faith. You’re seeing that at the local level a lot more, which I think is really fantastic to see where you have people thinking outside of the box and thinking, “Who else do we need to partner with that are not just our traditional allies?” I think that’s been something that’s really, really great to see at the local level.

Another thing too with this is, I think after the 2016 election, you had a lot of people who were obviously upset about the outcome and their immediate response was, “Who do I donate to?” What’s changed in the last few years is people are saying, “Yes, we need to continue to donate to groups that are standing up for inclusive democracy. But we as a society need to get more organized. We need to be doing more than just sending a check to someone who’s doing the work. We need to engage in the work itself.” I think that’s what the guide, the toolkit, is really useful for is people saying, “Hey, I need to actually stand up for my community. I need to get organized. I need to connect with people.” That’s one of the really good parts about the guide is that it serves as a guide for people that are in that space right now who are motivated, who are not happy with the direction that their community is going in, in terms of the rise of anti-democracy groups, etc, and want to do something about it.

Ame Sanders  36:06

So, I find that very encouraging that you’re seeing a shift from people who are more or less spectators, and then donate to try to engage in this to the point where people are becoming more directly engaged and feeling like they need to take ownership for the culture and the environment that exists within their own community. So, I find it very encouraging that you’re seeing that happen across the areas that you look at, so thank you for sharing that because it can be sometimes difficult to find positive elements in this work. It’s helpful to know that and it suggests for the communities who are listening, that there may be a lot more resources out there for them in their community, people who are willing to join on with them in this work, if they find a way to bring them on board.

-Bright Spot: Growing Response to Anti-Democracy Organizing

Stephen Piggott  36:59

Absolutely. I’m seeing this from my work. We are engaged with librarians, for example. Musicians. We’re really encouraging people to think outside of the box. Partner with the institutions in your communities that are being targeted. Libraries are a big thing right now. Anti-democracy groups are really targeting libraries. And, yeah, as your community groups should go, meet with your local librarian, see what resources they have what you can do together. It could be as simple as having an event at the library as kind of a show solidarity with the library if the library is being targeted around book banning or the litany of other things that unfortunately librarians are having to deal with right now.

I think it really is encouraging to see from the grassroots level, a kind of burgeoning movement that’s happening that’s responding to anti-democracy organizing. It’s coming from the traditional folks, but with a much broader coalition now, which includes artists, musicians, librarians, teachers. It’s pretty fantastic to see, and it’s not just in the region that I’m looking at, which is mainly the Pacific Northwest in the Mountain States. It’s happening in the South. Yeah, the southwest. It’s yeah, it’s really exciting to see,

Ame Sanders  38:28

It has been great to think about how communities can act proactively in this area. So Stephen, I just want to thank you so much for taking time today to talk with us, for the great work that you did on your guide. I’ll be sure to put that in the show notes as well as some other resources that we’ve talked about. So again, thank you so much for joining us today.

Stephen Piggott  38:46

Thank you. It was great to speak with you. And thank you very much.


Ame Sanders  38:54

I hope this conversation with Stephen Piggott, of the Western State Center, was both eye-opening and helpful for you.

We covered a lot of ground in our discussion. And I’d like to recap just a few takeaways.

Stephen mentioned that it is important for communities to, as much as possible, get ahead of this. And that means understanding and monitoring the anti-democratic and hate groups within and around our communities. He told us that we should be sure not just to look at the groups themselves, but dig deeper to understand potential and emerging relationships across these groups.

He also mentioned the idea that if an incident occurs in our community, we should look beyond that single incident and see if it is part of a broader pattern within the community or if it is linked with other anti-democratic initiatives or coordinated efforts that are being put in motion from outside of our communities. We’ve seen a lot of that happening lately.

It was encouraging to learn that many communities are finding even more individuals willing to become active in this work. And they’re also finding creative ways to partner with other organizations within their community. So think about how you can partner and enlist others to this work.

In our show notes. I’ll be sure to include the link to the guide that we discussed and you’ll find some good advice there. Especially in the very practical section on scenarios.

Another point is to be sure to take care of yourself and others who are involved in community advocacy for equity and inclusion. Think about how to protect yourself and your team physically, online and emotionally.

The bottom line: don’t let anti-democratic actions blindside you. Be safe, anticipate, and have a plan.

This has been the State of Inclusion podcast. Join us again next time. And if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others leave us a review. We’d love your comments. Thanks so much for listening.


Guest: Stephen Piggott

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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