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Escape from CHAZ

CHAZ is an oasis of acceptance amid a society hell bent on glorifying discrimination and prejudice

Portland, Oregon

When I heard about the murder of George Floyd, I was angry. I raged at the sky for seven days and seven nights, demanding it rain down rocks of burning fury upon the Minneapolis Police Department. As I watched the news and saw rioters had set buildings alight, I felt in a roundabout way that my prayers had been answered. But this vigilante vengeance, as justified as it was, was not enough. Nothing could ever be the same again. Things have to change* (*at this point, I would like you to imagine me saying ‘Things have to change’ with a fiercely sincere expression on my face while being filmed in black and white against an emotive soundtrack for extra significance).

For this reason, the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (or CHAZ) in Seattle has been established. Six entire blocks of the East Precinct, abandoned by the police and reclaimed by the community. But Godfrey, ‘What is the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone?’ you may well ask. Well, in short, it is an oasis of acceptance amid a society hell bent on glorifying discrimination and prejudice. It is a place built on love, respect, tolerance and above all, hope. People are free to join CHAZ and become part of a movement dedicated to change. In CHAZ, there is no police force. No authoritarian laws, only rules voted on and agreed by committee. No capitalist oligarchs to take advantage of the oppressed underclass. Unfortunately, according to a news article I read, there’s also no vegan salad dressings or quinoa because supplies quickly depleted. That was when I decided to load up my hemp satchel with whatever plant-based comestibles I could find in my solar-powered refrigerated eco-pantry and booked a flight to Seattle.

I arrived at the entrance to CHAZ around 5 p.m. the following day. I was somewhat surprised to find two guys holding AR-15s standing guard. However, once I’d explained my intent to join their struggle against systemically racist institutions and shown them a packet of freeze-dried mung beans, they allowed me entry. Walking through the district, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of ‘togetherness’. Anti-fascist murals adorned the walls of the buildings and sidewalks. I paused to admire a crude yet strikingly potent portrayal of a flaccid penis, presumably symbolic of the ‘impotence’ of a failing capitalist state.


As I continued on my way, I witnessed a large group of people tilling a small patch of soil, an area of which they had covered with flattened out pizza boxes drenched in fertilizer. This was no doubt part of a bigger project to make CHAZ a self-sufficient commune. To my right, another group of people were trying to work out how to use a ladder and judging by their obvious determination I had every confidence that by the end of the day they would succeed. I saw a sign outside one of the buildings, on which was written in black marker pen: ‘Community Resident Support Center’. I knocked on the door and walked inside.

I was greeted by a resident who introduced themselves as Layla. I noticed from the ID Label attached to their lanyard they identified as non-binary and so I was careful to respect their plurals during our conversation. I learned that CHAZ was in the middle of establishing a community-led system of administration which would allocate roles and guidelines to residents based on a democratic structure never before been attempted. I was hugely excited by all of this and I asked Layla if they would consider allowing me to become a part of their brave new world. Of course, Layla said yes and instructed another CHAZ resident to furnish me with a tent.

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I was awoken during the night by the sound of a disturbance. I unzipped my tent flap a little and saw a feminine-presenting person arguing with another person who was possibly non-binary due to the androgynous nature of their…OK look for the sake of brevity here let’s just say it was ‘probably two women’. As far as I could make out, the first probable-woman was complaining that some of her ‘possessions’ had been ‘stolen’ and nobody was willing to assist her in finding the perpetrator. I was horrified by this and emerged from my tent in order to help calm the situation. I approached the anguished maybe-lady and asked her why she felt her things had been taken. She began to give me a list of items, telling me they had disappeared from her tent. I informed her that she had misunderstood me and asked her to clarify what she meant by ‘my stuff’. She looked confused. I explained to her that in order for a society to be fair and equal, she needed to relinquish any previous capitalist notion of ‘possessions’. Her iPhone had not been ‘stolen’ it had been ‘reallocated’ by someone who was obviously more in need of it than she was. ‘Theft’ is a concept driven by materialistic greed, and as she was white, it was far more progressive of her to see this as an ‘unplanned donation’ to an oppressed minority. She still remained quite angry, so I stared intently into her eyes and began to sing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon until eventually she shook her head at me and returned to her tent, no doubt to dwell on my words and rethink her outdated prejudices.

The next day I marched straight into the Resident Support Center with the plans I had drawn up for the future of CHAZ during my flight the previous day. Layla looked at me expectantly as I thrust my hand into my satchel to retrieve my MacBook. It wasn’t there. I ran back to my tent to check to see if I had left it in my other bag. But oh no. My other bag was also missing. I looked around wildly for signs of whoever had robbed me, but the group which had gathered appeared to be avoiding my gaze. ‘OK, which one of you shifty fuckers took my stuff?’ I demanded. My fury was met with shrugs and I swear it, even a couple of grins. ‘As the only black Muslim trans woman here, I am certain that literally NONE of you are entitled to reallocate MY THINGS,’ I educated them. Again, my words were rewarded with an insolent silence. “Right, fuck you all. You don’t deserve to benefit from my lived experience.” I cried and I stormed towards the entrance barricade, making sure to kick the crap out of those ungrateful beatnik’s pathetic attempt at a garden as I left.

Thankfully I still had my phone and was able to book a coach ticket. When I got back home to Portland, I called the Seattle Police Department to report what had happened but was told they were unable to do anything about it as CHAZ was no longer operating under official state law, and I could swear I heard laughter before they put the phone down on me.


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