Seattle’s CHAZ — It’s not about Black Lives Matter

Including the first ever publication of my WTO photos

Welcome to CHAZ — There are chalk and paint on the street all over.

Wednesday June 10th.

I didn’t know what to expect on my first trip to CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) on Wednesday the 10th.

I had been to the area just a few days prior (Saturday the 6th) and witnessed the crowd in a pretty surly mood. The police were still on scene then and it was tense. So as I arrived on Wednesday I was on edge, I had heard on the news and seen other reports on social media about the area being controlled by warlords and armed patrols.

What I found was entirely different.

The Border Crossing
As a conservative I’ve spent much of my adult life arguing against collectivist ideas and showing why they have been demonstrable failures everywhere they have been tried. I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arriving at CHAZ but I expected to be treated with some suspicion and that I might have difficulty gaining entry. Especially since I’m a cisgender white male and unknown to them.

I had seen another article or post about them asking for food donations, which I found a little ironic. Regardless, even the misguided need to eat and I figured a peace offering couldn’t hurt so I stopped at Bartell’s drug store and bought some Hemp milk to donate.

I parked about three blocks away from the perimeter at the end of Cal Anderson Park. As I approached the park, I heard music and a lot of people talking. I approached the first “border fence” expecting it to be guarded. But there was no one there at the entrance.

This was the entrance on Wednesday the 10th- open and unguarded
This sign is just behind the first one. The fences are open on both ends with no one standing guard

Just to the right of this entrance is a small restaurant, you can see it on the right side of the second photograph above. The restaurant has an outdoor seating area that was roped off with a large number of signs saying no photography/no photos. This area was filled with the “medics” who are there on scene in case the need arises. I inquired about the no photography policy whether it was generalized or specific to this area. They told me that there really were no rules but since many of the medics were risking their jobs if people knew they were there, they were requesting no photos of the medics without their permission. While he said there were no rules, one is left to wonder what would happen if I began to take photos of all of the medics. I asked the folks at the medical station where the food donations were and they pointed me to an area with awnings and umbrellas just up the block on the right.

No Cop Co-op
So I walked up the block with my hemp milk to the “No Cop Co-op” situated near the heart of CHAZ. The smell of marijuana was everywhere. Of course, that’s now a normal part of visiting Seattle anyway.

The No-Cop Co-op operates on donations of food only. All food is free to take.
The whole area is a bonanza of nonsense sloganeering

I found a woman who appeared to be in charge of the co-op, or at least handling the public upfront. I asked her where to donate the hemp milk and she said I could give it to her and she was very appreciative. She was a medium-size woman with blonde hair dressed all in black. My guess is that she was in her early 40’s. Her name tag said “Mama Bird” and I got the sense from her and many others that there were several “burning man” or other similar experiences in their past. In fact at some level much of the thinking around this whole project appears to be related to the idea that there is successful self-governance at burning man. Of course this is a myth as burning man is known to be quite dangerous with 5–20 sexual assaults reported over the 3 day period each year with 2019 being particularly scandalous.

Mama Bird insisted that I write my name on a 3x5 card to hang up with names of all of the donors. I told her I didn’t want to do that, but she was insistent and then told me it was okay to use my “CHAZ name”. So I wrote J-A-C-K D-A-N-I-E-L-S on the card and returned it to her. Then she insisted that I have a name tag. I figured it couldn’t help if it looked like I’d been stamped “approved” by someone so I wrote my Chaz name down on the name tag and pressed it onto my left outside jacket with my right hand.

Now that I was up in the center part of Chaz it did feel very much like a street fair without vendors. People were milling about aimlessly and talking amongst themselves in small groups. Others were spray painting buildings, signs, curbs, streets, really anything.

It was about 5:30 PM and there were not a lot of people in the street at Chaz. My biggest observation from Wednesday was the level of vandalism and graffiti. While at one level, as an artist, I can respect the ability of the artists, having permission of the property owners seems fundamental.

This is (or used to be) the Seattle Police Departments sixth precinct

And when I say without vendors, I mean the kind you normally find, pretzels and scones and curly fries, home decor, yard art, jewelry, etc. Although, huge shout out to the guy with the hotdog cart who is in there as a good capitalist making a killing. He was the only one there with something to sell for cash.

The Democratic Socialists were there selling their dangerous ideas to young kids and there were a handful of assorted literature tables handing out propaganda as well.

DSA Democratic Socialists are the only actual organization with a table

Other than the spectacle of all of the defaced buildings, the entire enterprise was quite tame and a little boring.

Friday, June 12

I returned to CHAZ, this time with a much better sense of what to expect. I also came prepared to conduct interviews if I could find anybody actually associated with the “management”.

The feeling on this trip was definitely different. The entire setting was somehow more formalized even though there was still no apparent structure. The entrance on the Cal Anderson park side pictured above was much the same, with no apparent guards or border checkpoints. However, as I approached the barriers erected to wall off CHAZ from the rest of the city and control vehicle traffic in and out it was a different story.

Most people had some kind of mask on

Each of the closed streets had two rows of barricades. In between the rows of barricades were 3 to 6 people all dressed in black all wearing masks apparently there for purposes of managing who is coming and going. I was able to enter and exit without being questioned or challenged through each of these, but each case the people on patrol appeared to be charged with observing who comes and goes. I asked to photograph these folks and they declined. One did give me an interview. He had been involved from the very first night and told me the story of how they entered the precinct. He also made it clear that BLM was the “reason for the protest” but it wasn’t about BLM it’s about the “system”. I will have the audio from this on the Republic Keeper Podcast #85 on Monday the 15th. The feeling close to the barricades was one of tension. People were making quick passage through these areas into the main area which felt more like a street fair. Most of the ingress and egress appeared to be on the open Cal Anderson side.

As I walked around the park the street fair feeling had expanded quite a bit from Wednesday. There were several sources of music all around the area including a number of live performers of varying styles and abilities. The performers seemed to universally be capitalists as they were performing (work) and people were leaving them money (profit).

Man wearing a dress and clogs playing guitar and singing
Volunteers patrol the streets to pick up trash

There were now three co-ops offering free food and food collection has been centralized into a donation center that supplies the co-ops.

The center tent with the brown awning is the Food Donation Center

I stopped at the coop set up out on the field where I had a discussion with “Bootleg Bill” who was working at the co-op. Bill agreed to be interviewed and I will have the audio from that on Monday’s show as well.

“We got goals were hoping for, the whole thing about defunding the SPD, making sure that none of the protesters are locked up, we want Durkan to get out”.

Anti-Durkan sentiment seems higher here than with Republicans

While I don’t agree with defunding the police or letting criminals out of jail Bill and I found common ground on the need for Jenny Durkan to rejoin the private sector. I asked Bill if he thought Trump would roll in with troops to shut them down, he said, “I don’t think Trump’s gonna get aid from the military on that note, you know, attacking their own people. We’re not doing anything illegal”. Bill wanted to make sure that I told people:

“We are not terrorists, we are not annexing from the US (I think he means seceding), we are not trying to dissent and become our own country as Tucker Carlson wanted to say, we aren’t a country with no skills, we are US Citizens with many skills. We, we…. Our biggest skill is that we love the fact that we are just here to to give to the average person. Yes, Black Lives Matter was the push, because we are tired of the police brutality, you know, being the force behind the thumb is just, you know, look, anything you want to say about this it’s just ridiculous.”

Such as this was the logic stream of most of the people I talked to. Except “Mark”.

So this is a Venmo fund to donate to so they can give Marxist books away

Bootleg Bill introduced me to Mark. I don’t think Bill was supposed to do that, but it was too late.

Mark apparently served some kind of leadership function. These guys were priding themselves on free speech and openness as a hallmark of what they were doing there. Because of that, I decided to identify myself by first name as well as inform him that I was an opinion journalist from the conservative side of the political spectrum. Mark and I spoke for about 15 minutes. He refused to go on camera or to allow me to record the conversation. I wasn’t taking notes so the below is a paraphrase of some of his remarks. Most of these came after I shared with him the photos below.

The Birth of the Black Block
These have never been published before. These are among the first photos ever taken of the use of the black bloc tactic. I shot these on disposable cameras purchased at the drug store on the first day of the WTO riots November 30th, 1999. I had them developed same day at the one hour photo. Two of these ran in the next week’s edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal as that’s where I was working. Although I was a salesman, I did get the photo credits. The rest have remained in a drawer for two decades. I had no idea that these photos were of a new phenomenon that would one day be dominating our headlines. They even had street medics in 1999.

This is the first time this photo of the Black Bloc has been published.
Someone sent out a memo for everyone to come in uniform — including gas masks
Notice the Street Medic — Red Cross and a Bottle of water or milk for teargas
The Black Bloc protesters caused other protesters to also begin covering their faces with whatever they had available.

But I digress, apparently Mark felt comfortable talking with me after we reviewed these photos. He shared with me that he had been to many protests and riots around the country. DC, Atlanta, Philly, Chicago, and now Seattle. He told me that he was only here for the protests and that it sounded like a good time. When he said “good time” I picked up that he meant a “good time for ______”. So I asked, “A good time for what?”

Mark’s answer surprised me less in its content than in its candor. And again, this is a paraphrase, I wasn’t taking notes or recording him. His answer was that any time there are protests that bring people to the streets it creates opportunity to demonstrate the flaws in the current system and as people see the flaws exposed they become more open to revolution. He went on to describe that he believes that our system is fatally flawed and will ultimately collapse regardless of what happens but that the slow collapse that he sees coming will be more painful than a people driven revolution. He listed a litany of sins in our current society, everything from healthcare to schools to prisons to industry to monetary policy, Mark just doesn’t like America very much.

He indicated that both the current paradigm and his revolutionary paradigm would have a human toll. He he wondered out loud to me how I can support the current paradigm given its many faults and difficulties. He said it would’ve been a mistake not to use the emotion of the George Floyd murder and the people in the streets for Black Lives Matter as a catalyst to bring about the revolutionary change that he believes is least painful.

Mark was polite articulate and affable.

He continued to explain that the pandemic had demonstrated the failures of market-based healthcare since the largest fatalities were in the US, England France, Italy etc. Mark claimed that the low fatality rates in China (LOL) were because of their communism. Who cares if this is true, Mark appears to believe it.

Mark told me this was a “golden opportunity”. He also said that they figured it was now or never and explained why Seattle. With so many people out of work because of the pandemic, no signs that the governor was going to reopen fully or quickly, and the failure of the unemployment system and associated discontent in Washington. Even Jay Inslee and Jenny Durkan are having trouble with their own bases. It was clear from my discussion with Mark that he and some others had come here for purposes of challenging the current power structure and had thought about it somewhat.

I asked him what he thought the outcome would be. He told me that he thought it would be illegal for the president to do anything and they were fairly certain that the governor and the mayor would have a negotiated settlement with them that would give them some of what is on their list of demands.

I tried to press Mark on who the “we” were, but he wasn’t going there. Maybe later today if I go back down there, now that we’re “friends”.

Chief of Seattle’s Police Department Carmen says the city is not abandoning the precinct building on a long-term basis. Chief Best also expressed concerns over response times since the change and has indicated she wants her officers back in that building sooner than later.

So while Chief Best is attempting to regain ground, Mark and his team are trying to advance. Meanwhile Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council are tuning their fiddles and deciding which demands to acquiesce to in exchange for their own building back.

But the people holding it aren’t terrorists. As long as you give them what they want.

Creator of the Repulic Keeper podcast at Prior magazine publisher with background in journalism, photography, radio and automotive