Seattle’s CHAZ Seems Pretty Chill

Donald Trump is having a fit over Seattle. So is Fox News and just about every conservative media pundit in America. How on earth could a city’s police department abandon a precinct, allow people to overtake a six block radius, and establish a functioning collective in which cops aren’t allowed? Surely this must be the work of violent Antifa thugs and lawless anarchists?

Nope, just peaceful protestors. Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) seems pretty chill.

The CHAZ was established several days ago in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood after protestors ran the Seattle Police Department out of its Third Precinct Building. What’s sprawled out of that uprising is a modern commune complete with medic stations, crop farming, a grocery co-op, a speaker circle, and an autonomous environment completely free of police. Unsurprisingly, it’s been a peaceful success thus far.

Scores of peaceful images from the CHAZ haven’t stopped right wing politicians and media from freaking out. Washington Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Fox has attempted to get into the zone, only to be shouted down by the CHAZ’s unarmed cyclist patrols (who prefer not to be called security). Fox News and other broadcast media outlets have similarly been shouted away. Trump has thrown one of his typical tantrums, saying that Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Seattle officials need to get serious and take back the neighborhood. Hosts like Tucker Carlson have been frothing at the mouth, eager to paint the CHAZ as the lawless manifestation of Democratic politics gone awry.

But the city is actually helping the CHAZ function—and it’s working out just fine.

“All the essential services are available, besides police of course,” says Rich Smith, who covers politics for Seattle’s alt newspaper The Stranger. “Fire services are available, sanitation is around helping people clean things up. The city is making a point of cooperating.”

Smith and fellow Stranger staffers have watched the CHAZ develop from its infancy, as the paper’s offices are located within its borders. His detailed dispatch from the ground describes a serene environment in which protestors are working together to maintain a peaceful existence without armed or uniformed police. The No-Cop Co-Op provides free groceries and snacks, crops have been planted in an unmowed park, and several medic stations fully staffed by volunteer professionals have been set up throughout the CHAZ.

The city’s cooperation is in part due to how violently Seattle Police dealt with Black Lives Matter protestors—dousing peaceful demonstrations with so much tear gas the city’s mayor attempted to ban its use for a month. It’s an attempt to show goodwill, to let the people demanding police be defunded and abolished live as they wish, without the burden of badged officers in their midst.

The CHAZ has thrived, providing not only free food, shelter, and safety for protestors but a way to demand concessions from the city government. Town halls are held each day and readings and movie screenings are held each night, highlighting Black and indigenous voices. Several lists of demands have arisen from protestors there, which include an end to policing, prison abolition, and more. Seattle has seen several community uprisings before, but it seems like the CHAZ is most closely emulating Latino activists who overtook an abandoned school, occupied it for several months, and negotiated with the city to renovate the building and turn it into a community center for activist group El Centro de la Raza.

While the attitude in the CHAZ remains jovial for now, protestors can’t help but wonder what might come next. The city has cooperated and planned to negotiate in good faith, but on Thursday, Seattle Police announced they’d like their precinct back.

“There was an attitude expressed at one of the town halls I went to that basically felt like ‘they haven’t given us shit,’” Smith says. “[People here] know, and they know that eventually police might want to form lines and take back their precinct.”

For now, though, life in the CHAZ continues and crowds get bigger, eager to witness and take part in a real-time revolution at the center of a major American city—a peaceful one at that.

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