September 20, 2020

The Birth of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

The Birth of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

From Hampton Institute, By J. James F., republished from Industrial Worker

In my understanding, an autonomous zone is an area where state authority has been consciously rejected. What makes those blocks on Cap Hill autonomous is that the police have been pushed out, and people are free to self-manage. A big side effect is that folks can just go out there and live unlike the rest of capitalism, which forces us to always be consuming or working, you can just be in an occupation like that, which is incredibly liberating.

– Laura, @anarchomastia, eyewitness

The capitalist class in American society has been in a state of denial over the growing disenfranchisement of the people who live here and create all the wealth. BIPOC communities and the LGBTQ+ community have been mistreated and abused for the entire history of the United States. In doing so, the capitalist class has sold the working class down the river with a worldwide war on the workers, the most recent wave of attacks begins with the founding of the World Trade Organization, and it is here where the story of Capitol Hill picks up.


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Capitol Hill has been a center for radical action for a long time. Ever since the ’70s, it has had a reputation of being the “queer neighborhood” of Seattle. According to Laura, “back in the ’70s and ’80s it was one of the few places you could just be openly gay and not be at risk of getting bashed for it.” The radical spirit on Cap Hill saw the neighborhood take point and be the center of Seattle’s WTO protest in 1999. Cap Hill has since then been gentrified, though the sense of community was never truly repressed or replaced. Instead, it has been tested and matured by the generations of workers who have been mistreated by the capitalist. All of this has culminated in a breaking point.

On May 25, 2020, the police were recorded killing George Floyd in Minneapolis. This act would set off the United States’ powder keg of injustice and send the whole nation into a state of unrest. Seattle erupted on the fourth day of the protests and demonstrators met the same response of police brutality and repression seen at protests across the country. Tear gas was used liberally, video footage showed entire streets covered in a foggy haze.


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On June 8, a man drove his car into protesters and shot Daniel Gregory as he attempted to stop the attacker and protect others. In shocking footage released on social media, the cops let the attacker walk to their lines with no issue. The attacker wasn’t even arrested until later that evening. This attack built militancy within the ranks of the protesters with leaders suggesting that those who can, arm themselves and help defend the barricades. After the attack, cops were ordered to abandon the precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, fully expecting the protesters to burn it down so they could have an excuse for a mass arrest. Much to their dismay, that didn’t happen. Instead, the protesters began to build barricades to protect themselves and dig in.

Laura explained, “The cops were very clearly expecting folks to try to march into the station or set it on fire. They even put wood boards up all around it and left pallets lying around. The protestors marched straight past it because they wanted to tear down all the fences the police put up. Then, they used those fences and blockades to build staggered barricades at intersections. The barricades are staggered so that crowds can pass through easily but a car would just run into one and be stopped. After the attack yesterday, everyone was very concerned about protecting the protest from any vehicle attacks.”


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In the moments following the police abandoning the scene at Capitol Hill, a feeling of excitement swept through the air even before the barricades were put up. Knowing the police had withdrawn, the protestors began marching without fear of repression . It was at this moment that the protest transcended into an autonomous zone. The group settled in front of the police station and began the process of establishing a zone of about six blocks.

CHAZ has a feeling of liberation and community described by Laura as “a lot like a local sports game or big potluck, mixed with the feelings of a militant struggle against the police.” At the time of writing, CHAZ has survived over a day and is growing to include the nearby Cal Anderson Park. The community in Capitol Hill is united in a mutual desire to see the autonomous zone grow stronger. Regardless of how long CHAZ lasts, it will spark hope in the hearts of the global working class. It reminds you that no matter the obstacles, the working class will win our freedom from the capitalist class.

The CHAZ continues to grow while cops hide in a supermarket. Map courtesy of Chloe, @basicflowrrr

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