This is a story about responsible grassroots political activism and a successful protest that resulted in reversing a policy that prohibited motorcycle-related clothing (“No Colors”) from the Swiss, an iconic establishment in Tacoma, Washington. The Swiss protest demonstrates the power and influence of a unified motorcycling community and directly refutes the myths and stereotypes that fuel discrimination in the first place.
Iconic Bar Had No Reason for “No Colors” Policy
In 2010, the Washington Council of Clubs began to receive reports that motorcycle club members wearing their colors were being denied access to the Swiss. Located in downtown Tacoma, the Swiss is a landmark bar and grill frequented by a cross-section of people ranging from college students to bikers. After some investigation it was clear that this new policy was not based on a specific or particularized threat or incident. Rather, it was based on the stereotypical belief that clubs were prone to violence when they gather in the same place.
The COC decided that we would organize a protest run to the Swiss in an attempt to get the ownership to reverse the discriminatory policy. The COC gathered early on a Saturday afternoon at the 48 Street (located a couple miles away) in order to stage the pack and emphasize responsible behavior. Don’t give law enforcement a legitimate excuse to derail your protest and diminish your efforts.
The pack of 200 plus bikes arrived at the Swiss and in an orderly fashion made its way to the front door. The COC determined beforehand that I would be the designated spokesperson, accompanied by our attorney Martin Fox. Martin and I went through the front door and were immediately stopped by the owner Jack. We asked if he’d step outside and have a conversation to which he agreed.
As we stepped into the sunlight we were surrounded by over 200 patch holders and motorcyclists in unified protest. I calmly asked why the Swiss was denying access to club members and if there was a specific reason for this No Colors policy. Jack responded that his employees were concerned about conflicts between clubs based on general stereotypes mostly driven by the media.
Although it is certainly understandable for an individual to protect his employees and patrons, it is not acceptable to deny access solely based on stereotype as opposed to specific and particularized reasoning based on behavior. I explained that motorcycle colors were protected by the 1st Amendment and that we were peacefully requesting that he lift his No Colors policy in order to give us a chance to prove that he had no reason for concern.
A Unified Community Can Effect Real and Lasting Change
Jack listened to our reasoning and I think he respected the fact that we were willing to responsibly unify in order to protest our concerns. In the end, Jack lifted his policy and allowed us access to the Swiss. To this day motorcycle colors are allowed in the Swiss.
In fact, motorcycle club members continue to patronize the Swiss and Jack has even hired patch holders as doormen and security. The Washington COC proved that grassroots activism can be an effective tool in the fight against discrimination and result in meaningful and lasting change.
Legislative relief is ultimately the best way to protect motorcycle rights. But grassroots protests can be important for two reasons. First, successful protests generated more support and participation from the motorcycle club community because success instills hope and empowerment. Second, protests can change the perception and mindset of owners one establishment at a time. This is particularly important at a time motorcycle clubs are facing increased scrutiny and unconstitutional access restrictions nationwide. Grassroots political movements are proving to be the best mechanism motorcyclists have to protect our civil liberties and our culture going forward.