Author: Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja
Throughout the past weeks, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests, Seattle has seen violent clashes as the police, and the National Guard attacked protesters in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. However, the clashes seem to have inspired self-organization in the area which finally lead to the formation of a police-free, community lead territory known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. As the protesters constructed barricades around the perimeter of the newly proclaimed autonomous zone and erected signs containing messages such as „You are now entering free Capitol Hill“ (which seems to be visibly inspired by the mural thats stands at the entrance of a self-declared autonomous nationalist area of Derry, Northern Ireland, that existed between 1969 and 1972) , „People’s republic of Capitol Hill“, „No-cop co-op“ and alike, the Zone caught the public eye and caused an avalanche of various responses on social media.
While the US (as well as the international) left largely praises this newly founded entity as an excellent example of anarchist grassroots resistance with numerous Twitter posts by Seattle locals also comparing the neighborhood to Woodstock and describing it as „big and colorful and crowded with people who are all focused on one thing: helping each other heal.“, as well as „filled with people bringing their children, sitting, laughing, asking questions, eating free food.“, the media such as Fox News, an American conservative news channel, seems to percieve CHAZ more as a threat than as an inspiring story of ‘the regular people’ working together for the betterment of society.
The aforementioned news channel even went so far as to digitally alter images from Capitol Hill by Photoshopping protesters with a military-style rifle in front of what appeared to be a smashed retail storefront in order to influence the public image of the people behind the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and portray them as violent and chaotic rioters. Even Donald Trump himself expressed a sentiment that implies the readiness to use violence against CHAZ residents in a tweet directed at the Mayor of Seattle saying „“Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped [sic] IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!”
Due to conflicting attitudes towards CHAZ and a myriad of contradictory information spreading throughout the media, as well as a lack of official press releases (since CHAZ does not seem to have official leadership and constitutes of citizens of various lifestyle/ideological backgrounds coming together in an impromptu struggle against police violence and white supremacy), I talked to one of Seattle’s locals who describes themselves as a non-binary, queer, POC producer, artist and burlesque performer going by their stage name Mx. Pucks A’Plenty whose body and politics are both radical. Together with many other artists, activists and alternative folk, they are currently on sight at CHAZ taking part in various activities that serve the purpose of maintaining the functionallity and the people-lead nature of the area. As such, they have shared first hand accounts of how CHAZ came to be, what activities are taking place, as well as shared the short and long term goals the Autonomous Zone aims to achieve:
1. To start off, in the context of the current situation in Seattle, what kind of role do you play in CHAZ?
I am a Black mother of a nine year old little boy. My role has been that of a supplies coordinator and network coordinator.
2. As the protests in the US gain traction the news of Capitol Hill Autonomous zone started spreading through social media and through leftist channels like wildfire. Could you elaborate more on the events that preceded the proclamation of Capitol Hill Autonomous zone and how it came to be? Would you say it was inspired by any other existing/historical movement of such sort?
This was all started by the events surrounding George Floyd and Breonna Taylor death’s respectfully and the use of excessive force by law enforcement in both of these cases. Black people have already reached their breaking points, but something about this made folks wake up. White Americans just woke up and it was too much for them to see anymore. I definitely think that COVID-19 and the social distancing had a lot to do with this. People had the time to learn, to get mad, and to protest this time. Unemployment is high and people had the time to be allies and to speak up.
The East Precinct on Capitol Hill became sort of a beacon, the Seattle Police Department immediately started to protect it after a precinct was burned down in Minneapolis and that became a major focal point for protesters. Capitol Hill is considered an art district and has larger been the Gay part of Seattle for decades. During WTO riots, protesters were pushed up on Capitol Hill. It has a rich history of stand offs between protesters and police. The stage was set a long time ago for Capitol Hill to become the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
Seattle Police pushed the protesters onto the Hill on May 31, 2020 and that was the beginning of what is now Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. For 7 days there was a stand off between protesters and Seattle PD. Some nights the air would be thick with tear gas and flash bangs made it sound like a war zone. The residents of Capitol Hill kept their cell phones pointed at Seattle PD and their aggressive use of force against protesters. Medics arrived, people providing snacks and water to protesters, and before you knew it there were several teams of folks providing almost 24 hour support to protesters. By Monday, June 8th when the Seattle PD abandoned the East Precinct the PEOPLE came together and that is how we have the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has shaped some of what we are seeing at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
3. Could you elaborate more on how self-organization within the autonomous zone is currently manifesting. What are the activities that are currently taking place within the zone and how are they being organized?
We are seeing movie nights with a focus on racism education, Black led speeches, community gardening, political art, and food provisions. It is all done through folks coming to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and seeing what needs to be done or fulfilled.
4. Since Capitol Hill Autonomous zone is said to be a grassroots, bottom-up anarchist entity. With that in mind, what are the current primary goals of the people behind the formation of the autonomous zone?
The goal is to back the following demands by Black leadership in the Seattle and King County area:
- Defund Seattle Police department
- Fund community-based health and safety
- Drop all charges
To stop police violence, the police must be reduced in size, budget and scope. The police are rooted in violence against Black people. In order to protect Black lives, this moment calls for investing in and expanding our safety and well-being beyond policing.
5. There are also reports of the zone expanding. If so, how large of an area is currently within the autonomous zone and how is the expansion conducted?
The zone isn’t expanding. It is currently about three city blocks in a square.
6. What are the long term goals behind the proclamation of Capitol Hill Autonomous zone? Is the zone more than a response to a crisis situation. Could it be here in the long run?
The long term goal is equity for Black folks in Washington State and beyond. I don’t see the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone leaving any time soon until demands are met by the Mayor of Seattle. I think it will remain as long as it needs to.
7. In the US, it can be argued that there is definitely anxiety about the future and many do not identify with existing political parties anymore. In your case, how do you think that will reflect on spreading of anarchist or other alternative ideas and modes of organization?
I honestly don’t know. I think we are seeing some radical and transformative ideas coming to light. People are talking about the kind of the world they want to live in and leave for their children. We know that the current system isn’t working for the mass majority of humans. How do we create a justice and compassionate society? What is happening on Capitol Hill might not be the final answer, but it is as good as any place to start.
8. Judging by numerous posts on social media, even outside the US the idea behind forming the autonomous zone seems to strongly resonate with with people and seems to have a lot of support. What would you say is the main reason that is happening?
People are waking up and seeing with their own eyes the injustice of Black and Brown people. People are seeing that our history books kept information from us. People are seeing this idea as a way to bring folks together and think about what a world without cops and without white supremacy as the gold standard could look like. The liberation of Black humans is honestly the liberation of all humans. We are tied.
.Could you inform our readers of effective modes of international solidarity with the events in the US that can be implemented at the moment?
Support Black Lives Matter,
Organize Black Lives Matter marches or protests in your town,
Support Black artists,
Learn about the history of Black folks not just in America, but all over the world.
Like I said Black liberation is liberation for all humans.
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