After an 11-day siege of Seattle’s East Precinct by activists protesting police brutality, police and National Guard forces pulled away from the building. Over the ensuing two-day period, protestors used police barricades and construction equipment to form makeshift battlements around the six-block area. The sign at the main entrance reads “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” and for dramatic effect, “You are now leaving the USA.”
The Autonomous Zone spans the heart of Capitol Hill. It extends from 10th Ave. up the hill to 13th, and from Pike to Olive, including Cal Anderson Park—or the relaxation and dining field. Stands are providing hot food, toiletries and medical care, all free of charge in keeping with the communal nature of the space.
When police and National guard withdrew on Friday, they intended to continue staffing the East Precinct. However, after they cleared the space, the group that had been protesting outside police blockades since the beginning of the month poured in. They began setting up what is now the largest community-organized occupied space in Seattle since the 1999 WTO riots blocked off much of downtown.
“People just started bringing this stuff,” said one protestor-turned-co-op-clerk. She stood under a pop-up tent frame laden with a web of abandoned umbrellas and tarps sheltering her from the rain. The sign in the front read “The No Cop Co-op.” She was providing protestors with snacks, water, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves and a place to shelter from the rain and enjoy the leftist literature donated to her table. She was also putting together care packages with food, socks, toiletries and space blankets to give away to the homeless.
“This wasn’t like something that I set up, it just happened, and I was here. People started dropping stuff off, and I started distributing it.” And this could describe the entire space, now complete with a PA system, medic tent, DJ booth and projector system to view movies. This is only the smaller of the two areas where protestors and community leaders can gather and speak.
Cal Anderson Park is now a makeshift amphitheater where local religious leaders, union leaders and even City Councilmember Kshama Sawant came to give speeches and bring protestors together Tuesday. More than two thousand gathered before taking to the streets and marching to the Seattle City Hall, which they briefly occupied.
Another group of speakers took the floor in the large stone lobby of city hall to call for the defunding of Seattle PD, the banning of chemical crowd control weapons, and the resignation of Mayor Jenny Durkin, among other demands.
Sawant and another member of the Tax Amazon group received criticism from Black activists, who accused them of using a movement about police violence against the black community to push their political agenda. Other protestors called for women and LGBTQ activists to step up and take leading roles in the movement.
As for now, the group occupying Capitol Hill is only growing. They continue to build infrastructure, gather supplies and entrench themselves. With police nowhere in sight and much of the local community supportive, the group is showing no signs of leaving any time soon.