“Domestic terrorists”, “ugly Anarchists”, “radical left Democrats”, “LAW AND ORDER’, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”. Just a slew of incoherent ramblings from the President of the United States.
The remarks were made about one of the most fascinating and encouraging developments in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter protests, and that is the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ (CHAZ) in Seattle, Washington.
Hundreds of protesters are occupying six blocks of the Capitol Hill neighbourhood, and have transformed the area into an inspiring community driven by self-determination and collectivised living.
As has been reported, there are garden areas where crops are being planted, a medical station, food and drink stalls and a ‘non-cop co-op’ where residents can collect food and supplies for free. There has been live music, speeches, open debates and film screenings including Ava DuVernay’s fantastic documentary 13th, tracing the plight of African American’s from slavery through Jim Crow segregation, police brutality and mass incarceration.
Along the main road, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is plastered in big white block letters, and walls and streets are filled with graffiti and street art. Contrary to some news reports, it has been made clear that the Zone is peaceful, guns having been banned in Seattle by its democratic mayor, Jenny Durkan on 30th May.
Honestly, I think it is the most incredibly exciting moment to come out of this movement for peace and racial and social justice.
Not since the Occupy movement in 2011 and 2012 have we seen such a striking materialisation of this type of civil disobedience. At his Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture at the Occupy Boston site in Dewey Square, Noam Chomsky said that “Occupy is the first major public response to thirty years of class war”. That being so, what CHAZ is demonstrating to the world is a 21st century response to centuries of systemic, institutionalised racism, fascist brutality and white supremacism. What CHAZ must be is an embodiment of ‘enough is enough’, an encapsulation of the deep-rooted anger that will drive the resistance to Fascist rule in the United States and around the world.
What CHAZ forces us to do is ask questions about how society can be organised for the betterment of its people, and specifically People of Colour. The murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers (yes, four!) has reignited this popular rage within us, all around the world. This time, it does feel different, it feels like the moment where the conversations don’t stop, where the pro-active resistance begins and doesn’t fade into obscurity as it has done in the past. Because this brutality, this murder and pillage, this oppression doesn’t stop, it doesn’t rest. So we cannot either.
And let me say this, CHAZ will not be perfect. No society can be. Especially not a young one. CHAZ will stumble, it will hit roadblocks, maybe the Capitol Hill neighbourhood will return to ‘normalcy’ sooner rather than later. These will not be problems. Because already, CHAZ has offered the world a vision of how communities can police themselves, and how communities can thrive when they are based upon foundations of cooperation, civic harmony, non-violence and collective action.
The great Audre Lorde said that “we have to learn how to think and act and struggle against that which is ideologically constituted as normal”. That is what CHAZ is doing. The people occupying Capitol Hill are helping us to ask the important questions about defunding the police, about investing in community care and social work, about re-evaluating our priorities as a society and how to best achieve those ends. Long may it continue.
In the state named after the slaveholding founding father and first President of the United States, the people of CHAZ are uprooting those foundational myths of the American Republic and re-imagining them for the 21st century. Long may it live.
Peace, love and solidarity to everyone involved in that beautiful experiment in Seattle, and to all involved in the struggle against Fascism, racism, police brutality and white supremacism around the world.