I spent five days in CHOP. I marched and sang… but most importantly I met people working towards and building a better world.
On June 8, 2020 The Seattle Police Department abandoned their East Precinct building in Capitol Hill, a hip neighborhood boarding the I-5. Tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray flowed through the streets like the water that surrounds the city on the nights of the 6th and 7th, but the people could not be quelled. The police turned and ran, leaving their precious precinct unlocked to be burned. The headline would read, “More Property Damage in Peaceful Protest Turned Riot,” in hopes that readers would sympathize with the policemen who had lost their clubhouse.
Protestors saw through it.
In an act of spontaneous solidarity, protestors surrounded the East Precinct, protecting it from any damage. The Precinct was now the people’s prisoner, held for ransom, no cops in or around the area until the people’s demands were met: Defund The Seattle Police department by 50 percent, refund that money to the communities in the most need and amnesty for all protestors arrested during the demonstrations.
Through the occupation, a six-block police free zone was established, at first Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) and later Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). A medical corps, aid, food and emotional support stations were established; a community was born.
I spent five days in CHOP. I marched and sang. I ran away from Proud Boys with guns but most importantly I met people working towards and building a better world. A more compassionate world where human beings are treated with decency and respect instead of with violence and terror.
These people are the revolution. They put themselves on the line everyday and night for what they knew was right and were met with brutal and illegal force. In the face of rampant unemployment, economic collapse, deadly disease plaguing communities and a brutal murder caught on tape, you’d think the government would be a bit smarter than play the facism card. You’d hope at least. Free people from 40 hours a week, show them how undervalued their labor truly is and show them the abject horror a massive population of this country lives in and of course they’ll start fires.
The real world ended at the concrete barricades that separated CHOP from the rest of Seattle. In its place was a new world where consequences were swift and direct. Odds are you’re going to be pretty respectful when anyone and everyone could be armed. That respect transcended reading lists and social media social justice trends. It was palpably human. This was a community born from collective trauma striving for the same goal, and that goal of dignity for all people outlasted the moments of infighting and strife.
There is of course humor in extreme situations, the binding and unifying kind. The kind that makes your enemy not so big and gives you a sense of community. It’s in every serious organization, just ask a veteran in your life about humor in the military. It makes us human in inhuman situations that we the people would rather not be in. We are placed or forced by circumstances or institutions that are out of our direct control and lean on the absurd and the funny to connect. Because humor and jokes are born from respect, respect for shared experiences and communal humanity. Thank goddess for the jokes. A revolution without jokes isn’t a revolution.
There are some serious people at your local radical protest and sometimes you have to do a double-take and rub your eyes because that same person you saw on All Gas No Brakes is performing in your city. But it’s not the same person, they just look like a separate casting of the same character. Like a Mel Gibson to Tom Hardy Mad Max kinda thing.
There is a ridiculousness to protests that comes out in its main/recurring characters, and they are some truly great characters. Sometimes real life is crazier than any movie. Here are 5 types of people you are likely going to find at your local occupational or revolutionary protest…
All black, usually slim pants. Sporting a Marx tattoo, possibly looking to buy drugs. Definitely has some xeroxed pamphlet to give you, maybe a smoke or a granola bar if you’re desperate. Can often be found cooking vegan food in an aid tent, in a massive cloud of tear gas or at a meeting, lots of meetings with these folks. Good for a chat or some help, exceptionally well-read despite an ambiguous educational career. Solidarity.
Very serious while on the job, but has a lot of jokes. Supremely calm, with a dry sense of humor. Full armor pieced together with catchers gear or hockey pads. Willing and able to walk through tear gas or rubber bullets to extricate a comrade in need. Formally trained, either usually an EMT, Paramedic or Nurse. Straight back and confident posture. Can be found in tents, on patrol and wherever everyone is screaming.
Incredibly kind with a loud laugh and gap tooth. Refers to fellow occupiers or protestors as fam. Formidable opponent in battle to be sure, but generally non-violent despite intoxication. Can be spotted up in the face of federal troops and sucking down on gas without a mask. Practically impervious to crowd control munitions. Full blown pyromaniac. Will light anything and everything on fire if given the chance. Definitely very good at Call of Duty Zombies, hates facism almost as much as they hate cops and hate cops almost as much as they love ICP. WHOOP WHOOP.
Grows mushrooms but not just the kinds that help you cast spells. Avid recycler and courageous leader. Most definitely a hugger but won’t make you feel bad if you don’t want to, they are very empathetic. Sometimes they have special spells they cast through differing electronic means; be it an auto-tuned super megaphone, some light display or a twirling staff. They are very powerful.
Some portion of a suit. At least 2 of the 5 pieces. Calm and measured. Always waits for their turn to speak to the group and if chaos ensues will turn to small groups, explaining the key points. Quick with the joke and not too severe while being serious. Charismatic leader but happy to step back and let others take the helm as the group sees fit. Sometimes some small glasses are involved, maybe a beret but it’s not too much.
If you enjoyed this article…
Read our activist/editor Sean’s impressive
which premiered on Salon.com on August 1st.
All photos taken by author, Sean Edwards, unless cited otherwise.