I'm sure you have read about it or seen it on the news: a group of protesters in Seattle took over a few blocks of the city as police evacuated a precinct building. The protesters blocked the streets and declared it the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone."
My right-wing friends and acquaintances have been chortling over the homeless in that area depleting the "community food supplies" in short order, sharing stories about a self-appointed "warlord" and his well-armed minions, and rumors about entry restrictions and shakedowns of businesses.
Blogger Joe Huffman -- not a sympathetically-inclined observer -- went and had a look for himself.
It doesn't appear to be hell on earth. There are borders, but nobody stationed at the gates. People stroll in and out. The would-be warlord and his group appear to have voluntarily stopped carrying guns openly, and he's as clueless as anyone about what happens next.
They've set up open-air movies and designated smoking areas. They allowed the city to supply portalets. It's no paradise; picture a sparser "Occupy Wall Street" encampment, with all that entails, and you're close.
And yet the Right, from the President on down to the blogger next door, wants to move in and shut it down by force.
Why? What is there to fear?
Did we learn nothing from the brutal razing of the Bonus Army's encampment in Washington, D.C.? Are there no lessons to be found in the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE rowhouse and subsequent tragic fire, in the horrors of Waco or Ruby Ridge? How many dead people do you want to see on the evening news?
Indianapolis had a tense standoff at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in 2001; seems the church and associated school hadn't been withholding Federal income tax from employee paychecks and after a few go-rounds, the Feds moved to seize the buildings and grounds. The Baptists forted up on the site, U.S. Marshal Frank J. Anderson moved in with his people and-- Waited. Why not? The Federal government had demonstrated the folly of frontal assault twice in the previous decade and he was in no hurry to be lucky number three. The standoff dragged on and on, with a few especially tense moments, but in the end it was resolved quietly, in so unremarkable a manner that the whole thing doesn't even have its own Wikpedia page.
Cities that pushed back hard on the Occupy Wall Street protesters generally had uglier outcomes than cities that simply managed the situation, mitigated the harm and waited.
The CHAZ is a not very well-prepared experiment in anarchosyndicalism right out of Ursula K. LeGuin's work, lacking the coherent philosophy of her fictional "Odo,"or, sadly, even advice from the late SF author herself. As such, it is providing valuable lessons in civic engagement and the actual work involved in running even a small slice of city to the people involved. Lacking the structure, community spirit and free-standing commercial enterprises of, say, Freetown Christiania, it is unlikely to stand for long; with essentially open borders and city emergency services still having access, it's not even all that separate an entity.
Let 'em run the experiment. Who knows, they -- or we -- might even learn something.
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