This is a video of my first visit to CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupation Protest) on Thursday, June 11, 2020. As you will be able to tell, I was extremely moved. I wanted to make a visit to support their community garden, plus my heart was hurting from reading so many hateful tweets on Twitter and comments on Fox News stories that I knew were not true from watching the live streams, so I had to go in order to help document the reality, which is peaceful, inclusive, compassionate, and a bold, historical move. Watch it and see for yourself. Note: You will not see the most substantive conversations that were happening in multiple places around the Zone. I deliberately did not film those out of respect for their privacy. My primary intention was to counter the “terrorists have taken Seattle” propaganda that Fox News and other conservative media outlets have been spewing and amplifying.
The next day, Friday, June 12, 2020, I spent a couple of hours there with my daughter after we marched in a 2 mile silent Black Lives Matter march that reportedly had an estimated 60,000 marchers. https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2020/06/12/43899496/an-estimated-60000-march-in-silence-for-black-lives. For those who don’t know, The Stranger is a local newspaper, unabashedly liberal, but factual for all of that. I wanted to introduce her to the historical event taking place here.
The gardens at CHOP are expanding, under the direction of a Black man with an Energy Resources Engineering degree from Stanford University, a Master’s degree in Sustainability in the Urban Environment, and years of experience working in sustainable agriculture. More about him and the gardens here: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2020/06/12/43897621/meet-the-farmer-behind-chazs-vegetable-gardens. (The organizers of the movement have asked that the Zone be renamed. CHOP is one of the new acronyms floating around to replace CHAZ.)
The vibe is peaceful, determined, and hopeful. There were about 4 times as many people there on Friday than Thursday, but it was later in the day. The No Cop Co-Op was serving a tasty pasta salad with penne, kalmatia olives, cherry tomatoes, basil, spinach, canola oil, and Parmesan cheese. They had lovely heads of lettuce and other leafy vegetables, canned goods, many types of fruit, lots of cookies, water, energy drinks, toiletries, and lots of umbrellas and face shields. Here’s a photo I took that includes signs stating their policy.
No money or monetary donations accepted. Their currency is kindness. Lots of art happening, and conversation salons on a variety of topics such as: What does it mean to Belong? How to talk to racists., and Mutual Aid with people sitting around on couches and chairs in the middle of the street which has been closed to traffic.
Even the “liberal” media are getting it wrong. In this CNN clip, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXjvrkmXd4s, Chris Cuomo mischaracterized the actions done to the precinct building twice, once saying the building was completely defaced, when the only part of the building they defaced was changing the word Police to People’s, and again calling it destroyed when it has barely been touched. The police boarded it up. All the protesters have done is tag the plywood. News reporting is designed to be inflammatory. It’s really disgusting to me.
My other criticism of the CNN clip is his characterization of there being mostly white people at CHOP, saying that gives the opponents ammunition to call them Mayor Durkan’s liberals, and saying the video clips back that up. That’s not the racial mix I saw either time I was there. My theory is that a CNN anchor person doing a live feed looks a lot more obvious than an independent journalism live streamer, and People of Color stayed out of the frame when the camera was rolling. I can totally understand why. Organizers have been targeted and arrested of ridiculous charges and held without bail recently.
While it is very positive and peaceful, it’s much more than a street festival. That’s doing a disservice to the brave protestors that faced down tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets night after night for 9 nights to outlast the police and National Guard. There is a seriousness and pride there of demonstrating a new, compassionate, and peaceful way to live. The only time I felt the least bit afraid was Thursday when I heard a siren. Other than that, my guard came down as soon as I stepped past the barricade where no one is challenged or denied entry.
Saturday, June 13, 2020, I ran into this list going around suburban, mostly white, fb groups attributed to a white person, but not attributed to anyone’s name. It jives with what my experiences there have been, so I’ll post it here with some additions of my own.
“So You Want to Go to CHOP? to the white people from a white person:
That’s great! You should! But here’s somethings to keep in mind, some Do’s and Dont’s:
– bring money and give to black organizers
– Participate in anti-racism education
– Listen to black speakers
– Follow community rules
– Respect black bodies
– Take note of the space you’re occupying. This isn’t only about your physical space but your vocal space. Ask yourself: Are you taking up space a black person could be? Does your opinion need to be voiced if it’s silencing a black person’s voice? Is it even necessary to say? What does it contribute?
– Keep watch of the barricades and be on the look out for suspicious behavior, plain clothed police, informants etc
– When the need for bodies to hold the line occurs, go to the front
– Always be willing to protect the black community around you
– Recognize that this place was fought for by the black leaders and community organizers and that it is not yours to take over and co-opt
– Come here to get drunk
– Come here just to hang out with friends
– Spend all your time chilling in Cal Anderson like it’s any other day
– Silence the speech of any BIPOC
– Demand answers or explanation of the movement from black organizers
– Come here if you don’t value and respect black voices
– Come here if you’re trying to get brownie points for being a “good ally”
– Don’t call yourself an ally, period.
– Argue when you’re called out
CHOP is a beautiful place to see and I hope everyone gets a chance to come see what this amazing black community we have here in Seattle has created and it holding for us to witness. But do be mindful of your presence here and understand Seattle’s deep history of racism and that by being in this space you’re witnessing history.
This isn’t a place to have “fun”. This is a battle and an active war zone. For the past two weeks almost every night people all around you have been maced, tear gassed, flash bombed, shot with rubber bullets, police are targeting people and hunting them down. This isn’t Capitol Hill Block Party. This is history and you need to be aware of what you are witnessing so we all can get our demands taken seriously and met.”
My four additions:
- Don’t take selfies with iconic images as your backdrop. This is very much a time to NOT be centering ourselves.
- Film without getting people’s faces as much as you can. Many of the people who created and are holding down this space are at risk of being sought out and arrested. Please don’t endanger them. It helps that most people are wearing masks, but still, it’s a good policy to point the camera downward or upward, and not at face level.
- Honor the “No photography” signs in the medic and other support areas that are set up. Respect people’s privacy.
- If you’re going to donate supplies, make sure they are wanted or needed. Do a little research, read up, ask questions. In past situations I’ve been in similar to this, well meaning people caused a lot of issues due to lack of storage space and utility of what was donated. Don’t do something that makes yourself feel good that only puts a burden on who you’re trying to help.
In conclusion, it is up to each one of us to counteract the racist, violent, and vitriolic propaganda in whatever capacity we have. If you hear people misrepresenting what is happening in any part of these nationwide protests, please gather up your courage and speak out in defense of the truth. We are at a very pivotal time in the course of history in the US. We need all hands and voices pitching in and helping out.