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Occupy Wall Street Showed Us How Seattle’s ‘Autonomous Zone’ Will End

Ten years ago radicals occupied a park in New York City, today’s “autonomous zone” in Seattle will likely suffer its same fate.


History has a tendency to repeat itself. This is especially true for the radical left not only because their playbook is about as thick as a communion wafer, but because it wallows constantly in nostalgia. ANTIFA, Black Lives Matter, and other assorted leftist groups see themselves in the tradition of the anti-fascist resistance in Spain of the ’40s and the barricade stormers of Paris 1968. But in looking at the nascent occupation of a few blocks in Seattle this week, another event springs to mind. Occupy Wall Street.

It was nearly 10 years ago that protesters took over Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan to create their autonomous occupation. What they quickly brought to life was a bizarre wonderland of progressivism and anarchy. As is often the case in such movements, there was a sharp divide between the intellectual leaders of the movement and the black block anarchists itching for a fight.

In the case of OWS, these two groups held separate sections of the park. The college kids on one side, held General Assemblies, ran a library, organized a newspaper and free food. The Anarchists on the other side of the park pounded out their rhythms in drum circles, the smell of drugs wafting and the tired look of junky eye scattered among the faces.

These are groups within the revolutionary movement that need and tolerate each other but they don’t always get along all that well. The anarchists are suspicious that rather than truly seeking revolution the intellectuals seek only to install themselves as the new group in power. The intellectuals know that at any moment anarchist action could undermine their entire enterprise.

The reports coming out of Seattle suggest that unlike Occupy Wall Street, the anarchists are the vanguard in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). In New York in 2010 a more professional, even corporate set of organizers was on hand from the outset. These are people that CHAZ will need if it is to survive into the coming days and weeks. Anarchists are good at causing trouble, they are not good at setting up food supplies and bathrooms, and dare I say hand sanitizer stations.

There is reason to believe that the intellectuals will be coming to the rescue in Seattle. The online organization Anonymous, a big player in OWS has come down firmly on the side of CHAZ, and that brings with it organizational heft. Given the fecklessness of Seattle and Washington State’s government, this is an occupation that might very well have legs.

If a long lasting stalemate is beginning, then the question becomes how does it end? Here Occupy is informative. Then mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD gave OWS an alarmingly wide birth during their illegal occupation of Zuccotti Park. The original strategy was something along the lines of “let the kids tucker themselves out.” That didn’t happen, but something else did, something at the heart of the protests that gave birth to CHAZ.

Reports of crimes inside Occupy Wall Street began to emerge. The occupiers insisted that they were capable of policing themselves (sound familiar?) and refused to allow police to investigate. But then reports of sexual assault began. Not only that, a “women only” tent was constructed to “protect” women in the occupation. That was enough for the NYPD to act. Within days it was over.

If Seattle doesn’t nip its own occupation in the bud, it is very likely these events will repeat themselves. An anarchist street fair taking up a few square blocks of the city is tolerable and tenable, violent crime including sexual assault is not. The question for Seattle’s government and police is, just as it was in New York a decade ago, not if, but when they will break up the so called “autonomous zone.”

This is a stark and important decision. If they act sooner they risk raising the ire of a segment of the public sympathetic to the occupiers. But if they let it stay and grow there is no question crime will exist within CHAZ and they will have to do their jobs to protect the citizens of Seattle. The bottom line is that this is a situation that is bound to become ugly. Maybe cooler heads will prevail before that happens, but don’t count on it.