Seattle Protesters Created An Autonomous Zone: Here’s What That Means

Getty A sign welcomes visitors to the so-called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The zone includes the blocks surrounding the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct, which was the site of violent clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters, who have continued to demonstrate in the wake of George Floyds death.

Several blocks of Seattle’s Capitol Hill area of the city have been abandoned by police as protestors claim the area, calling it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or “CHAZ.”

Seattle’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, tweeted on Tuesday,”In an effort to proactively de-escalate interactions between protestors and law enforcement outside the East Precinct, Chief Best and @SeattlePDofficers have removed barricades surrounding the East Precinct while safely securing the facility.”

Durkan said the move was to keep the residents in the neighborhood safer.

Within hours a banner unfurled on the city’s East Precinct police building that said, “THIS SPACE IS NOW PROPERTY OF THE SEATTLE PEOPLE,” according to the Seattle Times.

President Trump tweeted that Durkan and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee need to “Take back your city NOW!” Threatening that if they don’t he will and calling the occupiers “ugly anarchists.”

Mayor Durkan replied, “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Seattle’s Autonomous Zone is not a new idea,  and the original use of the terminology wasn’t necessarily about a revolutionary change as much as it is about living outside of the prescribed rules of society and enjoyment of life and liberty. Autonomous Zones are an idea sprung from anarchist ideals.

Autonomous Zones are an Idea Based in Anarchist Philosophy That Has to do With No Centralized Control, Freedom & Being in the Present Moment

GettyPeople paint an acronym for “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” near the Seattle Police Departments East Precinct on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

The term Temporary Autonomous Zone, or TAZ, was coined by an American Post-Anarchistic writer & Counterculture Guru in 1991 who goes by the pseudonym Hakim Bey. His real name is Peter Lanborn Wilson.

TAZ is a philosophical idea that can be applied in large and small ways. But no matter how it’s done, a TAZ means the absence of a hierarchy and the standard constrictions in a society. It is meant to be a place where ideas and freedom flourish. The idea embraces the present moment and can be something that is done in regards to revolutionary goals or just something that is more like a music festival.

According to the Unitarian Universalist Association:

Bey argues temporary autonomous zones come in many forms and have occurred at many times throughout human history. He posits that communities as widely varied as revolutionary communes, 18th-century pirate enclaves, contemporary all night dance parties and the common dinner party can all be described as temporary autonomous zones.

That’s because the idea means a temporary escape from the constructs and rules of established society. “Temporary autonomous zones are places where—for however brief a time—a community flourishes by experiencing and embracing values counter to those of the dominant culture,” the UUA writes.

Temporary Autonomous Zones Are Usually Spontaneous & Are Microcosms of Anarchist Culture, Though the Focus is Not Against the State — Rather, On the Experience of Liberation

Seattle’s Captiol Hill Autonomous Zone evolved in what may be a revolutionary time in American History, as millions around the country and world have risen up in protest after a widely-shared video of a black man being slowly killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis ignited a fire in people that has led to two weeks of demonstrations that show no signs of slowing.

Whether or not CHAZ will be something that is a catalyst for a revolution to the way people live and are policed is yet to be seen, though the new occupation would likely not exist if not for the George Floyd protests, and those have already created a change in police policy in several cities in the U.S. and law enforcement policies are even be re-evaluated at the federal level.

But autonomous zones are usually not as concerned with a revolution against something as they are with people living the way they want to without constraint from authority.

A website that calls itself a “Toolbox for Revolution,” Beautiful Trouble explains:

T.A.Z. seeks to preserve the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of autonomous uprisings without replicating the inevitable betrayal and violence that has been the reaction to most revolutions throughout history. The answer, according to Bey, lies in refusing to wait for a revolutionary moment, and instead create spaces of freedom in the immediate present whilst avoiding direct confrontation with the state.

A T.A.Z. is a liberated area “of land, time or imagination” where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life.

It is Not Clear What is Next for the Occupied Area of Seattle, But Armed Men Are Guarding the Entrances Even as  Inside They Say They Want Less Policing & More Social Programs

GettyA volunteer works security at an entrance to the so-called “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” on June 10, 2020 in Seattle.

Now that several blocks of the Capitol Hill area of Seattle have been relinquished to protesters, the obvious question is, now what? But in a movement that is not meant to have a leader and is built on the idea of living in the moment, the new utopia likely has to change from an autonomous zone in the true ideology to one with demands and organization if it is to have success in creating the society it wants to see.

Demonstrator Sarah Tornai who addressed a crowd by microphone Tuesday, “called for a pragmatic organization,” the Seattle Times reported. “We do not know when the police will arrive to reclaim this space,” Tornai said to the occupiers.

Tornai said the demonstrators intend for the East Precinct to become a community center and location for organizing “beyond protest” and for community action. According to the Seattle Times, other ideals include “programs to address homelessness and building a community movement where unarmed police are designed to de-escalate.”

Tornai said CHAZ means, “autonomous from the way the Seattle Police Department has been policing them.”

Yet according to a twitter user @caseyworks, there are men who are part of the occupation standing at the entrance points to CHAZ with AR-15s. Yet instead of clashing with those holding high-powered guns, occupiers are thanking them.


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