In the wake of the Seattle Police Department partially abandoning the East Precinct after days of clashing with protesters, occupiers sequestered the area immediately surrounding the building and have rechristened it the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ. Over the past week the CHAZ has produced murals, movie nights, community gardens and food banks. There has been no violence in the CHAZ since it was established (EDIT: the end of June saw multiple shootings and a kidnapping within the space, perpetrated by the Proud Boys).
The CHAZ is facing misinformation issues on multiple ends. On the right, we have have Fox News photoshopping fires and looters into the space to frame it as a lawless antifa thunderdome. On the left, there is a contingent of locals insisting that the CHAZ has become a space for gentrifiers and affluent white day-drinkers. Neither can be fully correct.
The CHAZ is an anarchist space and by its nature does not have a creed. It doesn’t have etiquette. It barely has common courtesy. It only has a values system inasmuch as the people within it do. These individuals have mostly complimentary views, but they will never be condensed by councils or ratifying committees into something we would understand as formal consensus. As such, anything framed as bylaws or lists of demands from the CHAZ should be viewed with abject suspicion. Over the past week I have heard at many points, “this information came from inside the CHAZ,” implying then that it must have a certain truth to it, but there’s no legitimacy in that statement. Any viewpoint can come out of the CHAZ – that’s the nature of the place. Everything and nothing is true in the CHAZ.
We are too used to spaces that are established for the enforcement of particular sets of rules. In the park you play; in the library you read. In the city you work, and keep your head down, and engage in the obligate forms of leisure such that you don’t get in trouble. The CHAZ is the opposite, a space entirely without credo. As such, confused by the concept, people have been trying to find the lay of power when there doesn’t appear to be one. This is where the rumors of CHAZ ‘warlords’ come from – social media finds a SoundCloud rapper or a member of the John Brown Gun Club and goes ‘look, he’s armed – he’s the leader!’ The idea that the most dangerous people will become the most significant people in a space has some credence, but in the CHAZ anyone who declares themself a warlord is warlord. Autonomous zone: do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
In this way, the CHAZ is not the utopia it was expected to be. It is not a test site for decolonization. It is not an apocalypse in a bubble. It simply is whatever is inside it. It has no inherency. It just is.