Charlie Sheen once said that “someone once wrote, hell is the impossibility of reason. That’s what this place feels like, hell.” That’s what the CHAZ felt like June 11th, hell.
I appreciate the CHAZ, or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, but it’s time to move on or get serious. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re capable of the seriousness CHAZ requires. Full scope nation building wasn’t on the roster and we should remember that any perceived authority over CHAZ is legally imaginary, except for whatever authority Durkan’s lent. It seems like CHAZ only exists because SPD has lost the political capital to use force and they refuse to reform. But the situation is changing so we should consider whether or not the gain really outweighs the cost. Aside from its value as a symbolic totem, I’m not sure CHAZ has anything to offer. It’s costs, on the other hand, are quickly becoming apparent.
As you read on you’ll see that I say “our” sometimes when referring to the protests or CHAZ but I’m only a face in the crowd. There may be leaders with plans but I don’t know them and they don’t know me. So, on one hand, I write from a place of ignorance though, on the other hand, being a face in the crowd affords one a kind of ten-thousand-foot view. I initially characterized CHAZ as a trap, I wrote about that here. I outlined how our strategic position changed when Seattle Police (SPD) abandoned the East Precinct and what our strategic objectives should be in order to maintain momentum. I think I called it alright but now more needs to be said.
A lot’s happened since that first article on CHAZ, which I released in the afternoon hours of June 9th.Since the birth of CHAZ, June 8th, Kshama Sawant appears to be co-opting for socialism. SPD has accelerated it’s misinformation campaign. Local and national media have widely propagated SPD’s false claims and have worked to frame CHAZ in a staunchly partisan lens. Individuals inside CHAZ have acted foolishly, reflecting poorly on the group. The group, as it were, has at times taken the form of a mob, reflecting poorly on individuals. There’s been infighting and bickering on the ground, and an unelected group of ideological guardians shout down anyone who offends the tender sensibilities of their woke-ness.
First, I want to address this cancer of woke-ness and the way it dumbs us down. This seems to be a recurring theme for me so I’m gonna cover it well enough to leave it alone from here. I visited CHAZ June 11th, around three in the afternoon, as a speaker asked the crowd, “what issues should we talk about?” No one answered so I offered, “police use of force.” I think as protesters we should create an alternative for the policing model we intend to replace. And, as it happens, I was in the war and I know about gun-fighting and danger and stuff. So re-imagining police use of force is a way that I can offer my expertise to a movement I unequivocally support. In fact, I have already begun this work, check out my plan, here – it’s not comprehensive but it’s something, it’s a start at least.
But take a wild guess how my reply, my attempt to contribute, was received by the crowd. And mind you we’re talking about me of all people, I’m hella smart. Someone behind me followed my answer to a non-rhetorical question with a suggestion to discuss the issue of “white co-opting.” Never heard of white co-opting? It’s a reference to an unauthorized white person having an opinion in CHAZ. Not that white people can’t come and go freely, but that they cannot freely speak outside the lanes of speech that “woke” discourse allows, apparently.
The woke discourse at CHAZ has become a kind of the-left-eats-itself-while-the-right-cheers clown show. It turns inclusion into a pretext for exclusion, and once that happens it’s over. You’re doomed to spin around the sink til you’re pulled down the drain like wastewater. I saw it coming, and I knew the woke-ness was gonna be harmful to the movement. I wrote about that here.
But what is “the movement?” Some say it’s Black Lives Matter, exclusively. To suggest otherwise, they say, is to engage in white co-opting. Personally, I think a narrow view like that is co-opting in itself, though I’m certainly not accusing BLM of doing that and I’m happy to follow with BLM in the lead. BLM is out front, naturally, because many of us do in fact see a legacy of racism in our present affairs. I’m just saying that though the murder of George Floyd is what called us all to action, our motivations are personal, even if many of them overlap one person to another.
At this point, I know some readers will be frustrated, wondering why I’d bother to risk ambiguity. Am I dancing around a criticism of BLM or a denial of structural racism? No, I’ve seen the videos and statistics that support that critique and it seems clear to me. Rather, it’s because at protest sites I’ve seen BLM dragged into woke discourse to alienate people who’ve physically shown up in support. That’s terrible discourse strategy. History hits hard and it leaves marks and nobody doesn’t have to work that out, so why not help each other along?
To some extent, I think a sense of alienation for white people is inevitable when people of color express the frustrations of their perspective. It chaps my ass sometimes, honestly. That’s called “white fragility,” I’ve heard. But I also heard a black dude say to the white people at CHAZ, “ask yourself why you feel that way.” I can think on that, ya know, I can do that, at least. For my Black brothers and sisters, Native, Mexican and Asian, too. Everybody. We’ll make a better America, together. But it’s something entirely different when a pretty white girl, or whomever else, carries the perspective of a black dude like a springboard to the top of morality. Unfortunately, that’s what woke discourse allows. What we need instead is a discourse that bolsters the adoption rate of our cause for people undecided. That, I think, is the factor that will ultimately determine our success or failure, because if we can’t convince people for change that’s a vote for the opposition. And the longer this plays out, the more our success will depend on our control of the narrative, and control of narrative depends on the integrity of our discourse.
This is my abstract way of evaluating our protest discourse. It seems we’re all looking in at the same injustice of militarized, racist police from different places in perspective, as if perspective itself were a circle-perimeter around the injustice. I think as a movement we need a discourse that allows us to converge on that injustice directly from our respective positions in perspective. What the woke discourse suggests, on the other hand, is that we traverse the perspective perimeter to offer our individual critiques through the lens of a predetermined perspective. That’s counter-productive because it adds unnecessary steps to confrontation, for one, and categorically denies the value of unauthorized perspectives, for two. Woke discourse is killing the movement against militarized, racist policing by undermining the adoption rate with its categorical devaluation of white perspective. That statement is sure to make woke heads explode, but they’d do better to wonder about why conservatives are so supportive of the “jack-booted government thugs” they’ve always warned about. Could it be, in part, that our discourse alienates potential allies?
Still, there’s this thing of white delusion, which is what woke discourse wants to correct. I can’t let that go unsaid. I see this in my father, who’s slow to criticize police because they’re largely “good people.” He says that even now, after five years of visible, sustained, and unaccountable police violence. Sadistic violence. Yet, he doesn’t want to “jump to conclusions” before he’s “seen all the facts.” Even after watching a cop kneel on a man’s neck for eight minutes, forty-six seconds he’s not willing to “give in to the hysteria. How could the other officers have known to intervene? They’re just doing their job.” Indeed, they were.
It’s not that my father needs more facts to make an informed decision about the function or effect of police in our society. He’s just waiting for whatever information will allow him to sustain his ignorance. That information is plentiful, unfortunately. Reported by people like Andy Ngo, and broadcast by outlets like TheBlaze and Brietbart. I can hardly speak to my Dad anymore without screaming at him. I see his “patient reason” as cowardice before the facts at hand. If the police were “good people” it would be reflected in their conduct but we see huge investments in the opposite direction. Not as a series of isolated incidents, but as a course of policy. As a trajectory through history.
I’ve tried reasoning with my father. I’ve presented him with reading material. I’ve listened to him. I’ve yelled and screamed at him. I’ve called him names. I don’t know what else to do, he’s lost and he won’t respond to our cries. He’s committed to the belief that police are intrinsically good. There appears to be no amount of evidence capable of dissuading him from that view. I saw this same thing play out in the German TV mini-series “Generation War,” where a families youngest son could do nothing to undermine his parents support for the Nazis as they rose to power.
If I can’t enlighten my father as his son, a loudmouth teenager with pink hair and woke discourse has no chance whatsoever, so let’s not oversell its utility. The discourse of this movement must balance challenging ignorance with the generosity to extend the right to be right to those who’ve yet to see the light. My father has lost that right, because the facts support the conclusion that the police are committed to causing harm, and he’s simply choosing to ignore that truth. Police could reverse course but they won’t, that’s why we’re protesting. It’s really not more complicated than that, police are committed to policies known to cause harm though alternative solutions are readily available. There’s an authority in that truth but like any authority it must be handled responsibly as we negotiate change.
To bring this back to CHAZ, the accusation against me of white co-opting was absolutely absurd. Offering a contribution in line with my expertise is not legitimate grounds to revoke my right to be right. But with woke discourse, that’s about as far as the conversation can go. I got shutdown by some spring-boarding nineteen-year-old who thinks she has the insight to verify credibility on the basis of demographic. Sorry if I think that’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard. Non-woke discourse, in contrast, is willing to educate counter-perspectives on their oversights to bring the conversation further along. This movement needs a non-woke discourse that doesn’t condemn on the basis of ignorance, otherwise the movement is doomed to eat itself because what human isn’t ignorant?
Next, I think we should spend a minute trying to understand how CHAZ has changed the protest game.
In the article I released June 9th, linked above, I wrote:”…it seems quite likely that SPD’s retreat was a strategic move meant to deny the protesters the political expediency afforded by the public outcries that grew following each show of force at the 11th and Pine barricade. SPD, I imagine, has reasoned that without an ongoing conflict with officers in riot gear, protest leaders will fall prey to infighting and lose external support quickly enough that they can successfully intervene through back channels to limit impending reforms while the mayor and city council stalls in the interim.”
In a press conference June 11th, Durkan said:”The Chief [Carmen Best] made it very clear in our discussions last week that those barriers [at 11th and Pine] were the flash point and needed to be removed and we want to make sure that moving forward SPD is in the planning for Capitol Hill.”
Durkan gave us CHAZ because it changes the way white America evaluates the legitimacy of our protest. No longer are we protesting against unaccountable police violence. Thanks to CHAZ, we’re occupying land and will be evaluated by our ability to carry out the functions of a state, an impossible task for a diverse group informally united to protest police violence. Imaginary statehood was never our goal but the media’s clearly intent on framing our legitimacy by those terms and, let’s not forget, SPD has not surrendered it’s interest in the East Precinct.
I have a wildly controversial suggestion, I think we should let SPD reclaim the East Precinct and then continue to press peaceful confrontations right outside their door. Peaceful, in their face, loud and unrelenting – all day everyday until we disband SPD and rebuild public safety in a new light. This would keep our focus tight allowing for decentralized organization and would minimize the imposition on local residents.. Durkan has put us in the position of turning our frustrations inward by removing our common enemy from the equation. We need to adapt accordingly to deny them the opportunity to change the narrative. Currently, we are losing bit by bit and if we don’t self-correct quickly it could prove devastating if things evolve faster than we can respond.
Note: Since this was published I have forgiven my father’s ignorance and again recognize his right to be right as he’s advanced the conversation in good faith. Also, maybe I was being too hard on him in the first place because I know it wasn’t hate in his heart. It’s a heated issue right now for us.