Visiting the Capitol Hill Organized Protest in Seattle

I wasn’t witnessing domestic terrorism.

Recently, I blogged about the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a protest society that has sprung up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which makes me love this city even more. I don’t know how long this little enclave will last, but I was intrigued by the concept. I wanted to bear witness.

I was glad to see that it was still there, even though it has undergone a name change. CHAZ is now CHOP: Capital Hill Organized Protest, because it can’t be considered autonomous in the strictest sense of the word. It doesn’t have its own utilities. It does not maintain its own streets or provide its own bureaucracy. It has not enacted its own constitution. It’s more like a barnacle on the shell that is Seattle, which in turn is a barnacle on the shell of the Duwamish tribal lands. But if CHOP is a barnacle, it’s a beautiful one.

CHOP has three demands: 1) Defund the police. 2) Invest that money in the community. 3) Release all protestors.

Trump would have you believe that a part of the city has been taken over by domestic terrorists, and that if he has it his way, he’ll send in the troops. There’s also this huge rumor that people are toting guns up in there. In essence, that it’s a war zone, all hell has broken loose, and the inmates are running the asylum. I wanted to find out for myself.

The weirdest part about CHOP, as far as I’m concerned, is that there were thousands of people there. Many were lookie-loos like me. Most were masked. But it was the largest crowd that I have been around in months, thanks to the quarantine, and I have to say that it felt exceedingly strange. Such are the times in which we live.

The biggest danger in CHOP, in my opinion, is COVID-19. I didn’t see a single gun the entire time I was there. I saw no violence. The only destruction I saw was the graffiti, which for the most part is really beautiful and well thought out. I felt completely safe.

I was able to listen to several protesters speak. One emphasized that this was a peaceful community. They didn’t destroy. They didn’t burn. And it was obviously true. I also saw a makeshift salon on the street, a circle of couches and chairs, where people were talking about race in the forthright way that you’d never see at a gathering at your average coffee shop. There are several teach-ins going on at any given time at CHOP.

I visited the No Cop Co-op. Free everything. They don’t even accept money in the form of donations. And everyone is welcome to help themselves. I did not do so because I’m sure there are people out there who are more in need than I am.

Cal Anderson Park was full of tents and gatherings. There’s even a vegetable garden starting out there. People were talking quietly. There was no buying or selling going on, and it was refreshing. This wasn’t some festival. These people are seriously wanting to make a change.

If anything, they were earnest to the point of exhaustion. Everyone seemed to be right on point. I did not get the impression that this was a bunch of freeloaders taking advantage of a hassle-free space.

I honestly felt kind of out of place. I was a lot older than the demographic, and a few times I felt like I was being viewed with suspicion. Was I a police or city plant? But everyone treated me, and everyone else, with respect.

I wanted to contribute to the place, so I brought some books to donate from my little free library. One was an anthology of working class literature. But the rest were just, you know, books to read. Because you can’t be on message all the time, can you? Sometimes you just need to read a good book. That was my thinking.

But when I turned them in, the guy at the co-op got a hopeful look in his eye, and asked if it was anarchist literature. Then I felt kind of silly, and was glad that the blush was hidden behind my mask. He was gracious and took the books anyway. I wonder what he did with them.

Hey, you know? You have to at least try. Even if your good intentions miss the mark.

I’m really rooting for CHOP. I walked away feeling like I had witnessed something historic, something important. I certainly know I wasn’t witnessing domestic terrorism.

Here are some pictures that we took in CHOP. I’ll do my best, out of respect for the protesters, to not include any where the unmasked faces are identifiable.


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My Recipe for Peace on Earth

Have you ever noticed that the most prejudiced, judgmental, belligerent people are often the very ones who have had little or no exposure to the groups that they are complaining about?

Many years ago I decided to travel to Puerto Rico with my boyfriend at the time. Upon hearing of our plans, his mother completely freaked out. She was convinced that he’d wind up in some Puerto Rican prison and she’d never see him alive again. Please understand that we weren’t even going to be leaving our own country, but…”those people” speak a different language! Gasp! She was fine when we went to Canada. There would hardly be a culture change; no language barrier; therefore, in her mind, safe for her baby boy. (You should have seen her face, years later, when we went to Turkey.) The fact is, it’s much easier to fear that which you do not know.

If I were queen of the world, the first thing that I would do is require that every student, at around the age of 17, spend at least 4 months in a foreign country, preferably one that is extremely different than the one in which they normally live. I had the good fortune to be able to do this, and it really opened my eyes. I lived in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points of my life. Not only did I learn a great deal about myself and make some wonderful friends, but I also learned lessons about the wider world that I will carry with me forever. For example, I am MUCH more resistant to the “us” and “them” arguments. We are all in this together. I no longer immediately assume that “our” way is the best way. Instead, I think that our way is one of the many ways of doing things, and that perhaps we might be able to learn a thing or two from each other.

Since that time I have traveled to 18 countries, and have discovered that the vast majority of the people in the world are decent and kind, regardless of their race, religion or creed. It is important to know that people are not their governments. Do you agree with every single thing your government does? Then why do you assume that other people do? Do you honestly think that most people WANT to live in a state of war?

When I think of the racist, anti-immigration comments that come out of the mouths of so many people these days, I think of the friends I’ve made in Mexico and I just shake my head in sadness. When I hear blanket statements about Islamic people and how they are all full of nothing but hatred toward the west, I think of the old woman who saw me crying on a street corner in Turkey. The last bus had gone, it was getting dark, and I was about 20 miles from my hotel in a small town. She couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Turkish, but she knew I was crying and that distressed her. She hugged me. She sat me down. She brought me tea. She dried my tears. She found someone who spoke English, and after understanding my situation, she got someone to drive me to my hotel, and they would not accept any money. I will never forget that wonderful woman. I think if more people had experiences like this, there would be less war, less prejudice, and a great deal more understanding in the world.

According to an interesting article in the Huffington Post  ( ) less than 5 percent of Americans traveled overseas in 2009. I think this is a crying shame. I also think it says a great deal about the fear of the outside world that seems to be spiraling out of control in this nation.

Instead of listening to the opinions of others, instead of fearing the unknown, go and see for yourself. Find a way. Do without cable TV for a year. Skip the morning Starbucks run. Make travel a priority. Only then can you truly draw any sort of a rational conclusion about the people in the wider world.

Wishing everyone, everywhere, a peaceful holiday season.

In the spirit of international communication, if you liked this post, please share it with as many people as you can, especially those in other countries. My blog has been viewed by people in 17 countries as of this writing. Every time a new country is added to my viewer list, I get excited. Everyone is welcome! Lets send this blog around the world!