In a tweet, President Trump threatened to “take back” the city of Seattle, Wash., after protesters responding to the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police camped out around a vacated police station near downtown. They have vowed to resist any Trump effort to dislodge them.
This Capital Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, as it’s called, in recent weeks has gone from being labeled a “terrorist organization, to sovereign nation, to violent anarchists,” reported slate.com.
But, if you read accounts from people on the ground, you’ll find similarities with peaceful street protests less than two years ago outside of Khartoum’s military headquarters that ended with the killing of nearly 200 unarmed peaceful demonstrators by Sudanese military personnel.
Portland State University professor and author Alexander Reid Ross says autonomous zones are nothing new. “The ideology behind CHAZ dates back to the autonomous markets movements of Italy in the 1960s, emerging every so often in Europe among radical leftist movements that attempt to create post-capitalist communes.”
In a July 2019 piece in Quartz Africa titled “Sudan’s street protests have inspired another revolution–in art,” Abdel Latif Dahir, who holds a master’s degree in political journalism, wrote “murals, paintings, and graphic art have sprung across the nation, agitating peace, extolling the place of demonstrators and martyrs, exhorting the world to stand up for the Sudanese people, and imagining a better future. Besides painting, free books were distributed at the protest sites in Khartoum, drawing tents set up for children, and music concerts held that drew tens of thousands of people.”
If you visit CHAZ, according to slate.com reporter Jane C. Hu, the preferred nomenclature is now CHOP or the Capital Hill Occupied Protest. If you juxtapose the U.S. references to protests against injustice and ending to police brutality to Sudanese activists fighting against a military regime, you’ll discover striking similarities.
“CHOP, like any cross-section of the U.S., is a mix of beliefs, politics, and ideologies, and to paint it as either a utopia or a hellscape is to erase its nuances. The one message activists and CHOP visitors I talked with seem to agree on is that Black lives matter, and that CHOP is a symbol of the powerful cultural shift currently happening in the U.S.; CHOP, as a place, is meaningful to many, but the movement is bigger. At Culture Day on Sunday, community organizer Nikkita Oliver reminded the crowd that the movement is ‘not about this space–it’s about a system of dismantling white supremacy.
’ She asked people to reflect on why they were there. ‘There are folks taking pictures and saying they went to the CHAZ–that’s not about Black lives,’ she said. ‘Be about the work. Be about the movement, not just hanging out at CHOP or the CHAZ or whatever you call it.’ The future of CHOP is still unclear, but the cultural conversations it has spurred will last a long time yet,” Hu wrote.
Like CHOP or CHAZ, the autonomous zone in Sudan used artists, music, photo sharing, workshops and social media to get their call for dismantling the military regime out to the global public.
“The similarities are striking,” said Khalil Charles, a former reporter for the Sudan News Service known as SUNA. Charles, who is assistant news director for the Istanbul-based TRT-World, continued, “It is quite amazing that there should be a group of people that have donated a space in the state capital and the same way that the people of Sudan dominated the space outside the army headquarters for roughly about four months in Khartoum.”
Charles, who was interviewed by Africa Watch from his office in Istanbul and “was privileged enough” to visit the Khartoum-based protest zone, said, “Their (CHOP) demands include the complete disbanding of the police force and a complete revisitation of the Seattle (city) council and state government.”
Charles, who is completing a book on Sudan’s former president Omar el-Bashir and who this author first met while covering Sudan’s 2010 elections, said other similarities include “demanding a complete step down of the government which had been ruling them so viciously and brutally.”
“They (Sudanese protesters) were asking for changes to the way in which people were allowed to live. And all the request that is coming out of Seattle looks at the crimes by police … the way in which Black people have historically been unfairly treated.”
They are also requesting that all the convictions against Black people to be squashed at the state level and federal level, he added.
And they are asking for people who are incarcerated to get the “full and unrestricted right to vote” and not to be denied what should be their right, Charles observed.
Seattle’s protestors’ demands also include a ban on the use of armed force by Seattle officers, which includes “no guns, no batons, no riot shields [and] no chemical weapons, especially against those exercising their First Amendment right as Americans to protest.”
To contextualize Seattle’s history of corporate greed and systemic racism you only have to go to the founder of the Boeing company, William Boeing. According to medium.com, to guarantee the lasting impact on the city’s widening economic inequality Mr. Boeing authored bylaws restricting the sale of real estate in his neighborhood to anyone who wasn’t White. The city’s legacy of “racially-restrictive housing covenants in Seattle is a staggering wealth gap: In 2019, the median net worth of a white household in the region was $456,000. For Black households, it was $23,000.” Blacks represent six percent of the population.
The city’s recent growth cycle was dominated by Amazon, which surpassed Microsoft in 2019 as the region’s number one employer, with more than 53,500 local employees, most of whom were added over the last decade. And while the city became the country’s hottest housing market, many Black Seattle households through gentrification were displaced from the Central District, the only neighborhood where they were allowed for decades to own homes. Seattle has the country’s third highest number of homeless people.
Journalist Emily Pothast describing Seattle’s mayor, said, “Before (Jenny) Durkan was mayor, she was a U.S. Attorney who conspired with the SPD (Seattle Police Department) and FBI to pay a convicted child molester $90,000 to infiltrate activist circles. In 2013, she explained her rationale: ‘It’s not the saints who can bring us the sinners.’ ”
And to help give insight into Seattle Police Department behavior in the wake of recent protest, for an entire week cops teargassed a residential neighborhood and shot a female protester in the chest with a blast ball, severely injuring her. One resident said she felt like she was living in “a war zone.” This was done under the authority of Mayor Durkan.
Charles said, “The sad thing that I am fearful of, given what we saw in Khartoum, where nearly 200 were massacred last year and people were removed from that area through violence.”
The U.S. commander in chief, Mr. Trump, has said he wants to move in on this autonomous zone, Charles noted.
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