Fox News says CHAZ is a war zone. People I know who live nearby say that’s a lie. To cut through all the bullshit, I had to go see it for myself. Join me for a visit to CHAZ.
CHAZ is the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. It is an area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle that has been taken over by protestors.
Protests started here after the murder of George Floyd. After a few nights of high tensions and some violence (mostly perpetrated and instigated by the Seattle Police), the protestors took over a section of this neighborhood. Seattle Police vacated the East Precinct, which lies within the CHAZ.
Entering CHAZ is as simple as parking nearby (or riding the light rail or a bus) and walking to the area of 12th and Pine. There are no armed guards or ID checks; as some news agencies have reported. It feels like a festival or a commune instead of a demilitarized zone.
There seems to be only one real rule – if you support Black Lives Matter you can stay, if you don’t, you gotta go. Oh yeah, and no cops allowed.
This gentleman seemed to not support Black Lives Matter, and was shouted down and asked to leave.
They have some demands. Defund the Police, stop killing black people, release protestors who were arrested in the week prior. A complete list is here.
It seemed like a movement that is trying to figure itself out. They’ve been more successful than they’d ever imagined and they don’t know what to do with it. The group sat down in the streets and divided into working groups. One called “vibe-check” and others called “sustainability” and “tactics.”
The tactics group, out of probably 45 people, had only two black people in the circle. At one point a white member of the group asked a passing black lady what she thought “we” should do. Who even is “we?”
The most vocal occupiers of CHAZ are quick to point out that there is no leadership, but I saw a select group in charge of the microphone and bullhorn.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the group NEEDS leadership. I want it to have leadership; I want it to succeed.
They were very concerned about photographers. They were quick to jump on anyone they said was taking photos of peoples’ faces. One older black photographer implored a young black man speaking to “show your face – be proud, be seen, and be heard.” I couldn’t agree more.
When they reconvened as one group again, there were very few meaningful ideas shared. Mostly, white people talked about things we already know.
A white guy in his 50’s who took photos from a very safe distance from the CHAZ entrance said they won’t figure it out. Maybe he’s right. He asked if they were checking IDs to get in. I let him know that they were not and that it was safe to go in. He did not go in.
Maybe at 2 pm on a Thursday, there is a very different vibe than 11 pm on a Friday night. The air was calm and peaceful, but the message was clear. Welcome to CHAZ, let’s change the world.
On every corner it seemed there was a care station of some sort. Tents, community medics, community food, community drinks. The largest comfort stand by far is the No Cop Co-Op.
The crown jewel here for the CHAZ area is the reclaimed “People’s Department,” the Seattle Police East Precinct. It seemed to me some in the group are willing to give it back, by using it as a negotiating chip. It’s frankly amazing this is happening. I hope it ends well for all. Realistically, as we’ve seen, there has been little hesitation to come back with force. I suspect one day the SPD will come back through here to get it back.
This is the police station. Stenciled, graffitied, inspirational, and devastating.
For now, the protestors are blocking access to the precinct and making it harder to access by putting up a roll of chain link fence. They asked if anyone in the crowd has zip-ties. Yeah, that ought to do it.
Late in the day, the police made a weak effort to walk back to the precinct. The protestors intercepted the officers and they left without too much resistance. I’m sure they were acting as scouts to see what the resistance was like. It was impressive to see these protestors link arms and not let them pass.
The message is not lost at any point through the CHAZ that the reason for any of this is the murders of black people at the hands of police. The protestors’ chants, the graffiti, the signs, the vigils. It’s all very clear why we’re here, but where do we go from here?
Along Pine Street is our own DC-inspired Black Lives Matter Mural. Today it’s a stark white – but the artists have started to change the look of each letter. I am excited to re-visit the mural once each letter becomes a unique piece of art.
At times I found myself treating the walls like an art gallery instead of marks of protest.
Capitol Hill is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Seattle. There are extremes of inequality here. Businesses here are welcoming of all and intolerant to anyone who isn’t. Those signs on the Comet aren’t new – it’s been their M.O. since 1945.
The same Mayor who painted these rainbow crosswalks is now hearing calls to resign.
That’s anyone’s guess. I hope the situation is resolved in a way that benefits police reform. I hope no one else gets hurt. But revolution is messy and it will make a change or fizzle out a la Occupy Wall Street.
In the words of Malcolm X, there comes a time when you need to stop singing and start swinging. We’ll see what happens.
Update 6/13/2020: CHAZ is now CHOP, the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.” Protesters re-brand the movement in an effort to dispel the claims of actually seceding from the nation and to centralize the focus back to the BLM movement.
Good read and pics! Real news not fake news. Be vocal, be smart be safe.