For about three weeks, activists in Seattle have occupied several blocks in the middle of the city, after a siege of the local police department, in which they were forced to leave after many days of protesters surrounding the facility.
The site has become a source of controversy for the city, as residents have disagreed about how to handle it. However, after multiple shootings in the area, the city told protesters that it was time to leave. Over the past week, many of the activists who occupied the area had left, but many of the most enthusiastic supporters still remained and promised to stay regardless of the order.
— Dustin Akers (@DustinAkers) July 1, 2020
On Wednesday night, following an emergency order by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, heavily armed police entered the occupied zone and arrested 31 people.
Hundreds of police officers worked afterward on cleaning up the area, and the damage there is “absolutely devastating,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told CNN.
The chief was “just stunned by the number of, the amount of graffiti, garbage and property destruction,” she said at a news conference.
Local residents said that the protest started out well-intentioned but took a turn for the worse after gathering national media attention.
Local governance in the zone was decentralized, with the goal of creating a neighborhood without police. On June 9, 2020, protesters demanded rent control, the reversal of gentrification, the abolition or defunding of police, funding of community health, and releasing prisoners serving time for marijuana-related offenses or resisting arrest, with expungement of their records.
The protest area was identified by several names, with the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) most common at the outset, along with Free Capitol Hill. By the second week of formation, the area was also referred to as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest and the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).
The Temporary Autonomous Zone is a book by the anarchist writer and poet Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson) published in 1991. The book describes the socio-political tactic of creating temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control. Hakim Bey is an extremely controversial figure, even among anarchists, because he was a defender and an apologist for pedophilia. He actually advocated for this terrible practice publicly, which is often brought up to cast doubt on his other ideas.
The concept of TAZ was put into practice on a large scale by the Cacophony Society in what it called Trips to the Zone, or Zone Trips. Its co-founder John Law, also co-founded Black Rock City, now called the Burning Man Festival. Another example is The annual Rainbow Gathering, which has happened every year since 1972 on public land in the United States. Despite having no organization structure, the gathering has continued for decades across the country.
On June 13, a group of several dozen informal protest leaders agreed to change the name from CHAZ to CHOP. The city’s government has promised to implement some of the reforms that protesters have asked for, but the activists are no longer confident now that they don’t have anything to bargain with.