My hometown, Seattle, now makes the news. Young leftists, mostly white, have occupied six blocks of the city including the East Precinct station of the Seattle Police. Using left-anarchist terminology, they have proclaimed this territory the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, “a universal community based on mutual aid.”
Capitol Hill is the city’s densest residential area, the center for young singles who live in rental housing. Its shops, restaurants and bars display the rainbow flag of gay pride. It has Seattle Central Community College, which has long been a haunt of leftists. If the Seattle Left wants to make a stand, Capitol Hill is the right turf.
What can you say about this? It’s a fantasy, starting with the principal demand.
What do they want? They have laid out their demands on a web page, here, so you can read them. Boiling them down, here is the gist of it. They want:
- the Seattle Police Department abolished. “This means 100% of funding, including existing pensions for Seattle Police.” While that is being done, they want the police disarmed, including the use of defensive equipment such as riot shields.
- the “decriminalization of acts of protest, and amnesty for protesters generally.” They don’t define “acts” to include obstruction, trespass, vandalism, arson and theft — and they don’t exclude those things, either. They just say, “acts.”
- “a retrial of all People in Color currently serving a prison sentence for violent crime, by a jury of their peers in their community.”
- prisoners to have the right to vote.
- free medical care, free public housing and free college. Also “reparations for the victims of police brutality, in a form to be determined.”
- Seattle, which is already a Sanctuary city, to “disallow the operations” of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
- hospitals and clinics to “employ black doctors and nurses specifically to help care for black patients.”
- “the degentrification of Seattle, starting with rent control.”
- the removal of “any and all monuments dedicated to historical figures from the Confederacy.”
There’s more, but that’s the gist of it.
What can you say about this? It’s a fantasy, starting with the principal demand, the abolition of the police department. Even the movement’s favorite politician, Seattle’s Trotskyist councilwoman Kshama Sawant (CNN just interviewed her on national TV!), advised them that a 100% cut is not possible in a capitalist society. (And in a socialist society?) Ask for 50%, she said. Well, they want the whole thing.
Most of the rest of their demands are impossible. Sales-tax revenues have taken a big hit on account of the coronavirus shutdowns, and free medicine, free housing and free college are pie-in-the-sky. (Washington has no income tax.) ICE is part of the federal government, and the city cannot tell it what to do. Police pensions are protected by contract and by law, a pension being the property of the employee who earned it. The criminal law, under which convicted felons are in prison, is the creation of the state, and is operated by the superior courts. The courts are not about to segregate out prisoners of one race and retry them in some leftist-approved way. Except for houseboats, private housing cannot be subject to rent control under state law. As for black physicians, nobody will object if the hospitals hire more of them, but if hospitals start assigning doctors and nurses to patients by race, there’s going to be a problem.
The Capitol Hill occupiers style themselves as The People — but in Seattle, the face of the people is the mayor, Jenny Durkan.
As for Confederate monuments, I have never seen one, but supposedly there is one in a graveyard around here somewhere. The only reason it could still be there is that nobody knew about it. There is no constituency in Seattle for Confederate monuments. Washington Territory was not within a thousand miles of the Confederate States of America. At the opening of the Civil War, this state did have a pro-Confederate governor, who had been appointed by President James Buchanan. But when Abraham Lincoln took office, our Johnny Reb governor resigned in a huff, went off to fight for the South and died. As for slavery, Washington Territory never had that system, though one man did bring a slave here and try to keep him. The slave got wise and escaped to Canada, and that was the end of it.
The Confederate monument can go. But the demand for the resignation of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on account of the police use of tear gas and truncheons is asking the near-impossible. Durkan is a star in our Democratic establishment, a daughter of a longtime Democratic state legislator. She was US Attorney in Seattle under President Obama. She was elected mayor by a landslide, defeating a weak opponent to her left. As with the World Trade Organization protesters of 20 years ago, the Capitol Hill occupiers style themselves as The People — but in Seattle, the face of the people is Jenny Durkan.
President Trump, who is about as popular here as Kim Jong Un, now demands that Durkan take back the six blocks and “dominate the streets” by force, or he will do it himself. She tells him to follow the Constitution and butt out. (A Democrat invokes the Tenth Amendment: I love it!) She says the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone is peaceful and she’s going to treat it like a street festival. She has issued an order banning the police choke hold, and she has promised fight against institutional racism (whatever that means).
Our mayor clearly intends to take back the East Precinct and the six blocks around it. But if the occupiers are peaceful, and the city takes it back violently, the property destruction, injury and possible death will be blamed on Jenny Durkan. A botched reconquest would boost the Left, possibly allowing it to take power, which it has never had.
A Democrat invokes the Tenth Amendment: I love it!
Look at it from Durkan’s point of view. Protesters hold six blocks. What can they do? There was a report that they were extorting the businesses for money, but the businesses quickly denied it. Extortion would provide an excuse for the police to come in. Ejecting owners from their property, or destroying private property, would provide an excuse for the police to come in. The occupiers understand this, and so far have minded their manners.
And that is the occupiers’ problem. A street festival will grow stale. Supporters will drift away, leaving only the hard core of anarchists and Kshama Sawant’s Trotskyist groupies. Without their crowds of supporters, they can’t hold the six blocks, and they lose. If they ramp it up and burn down a Starbucks, they lose. Of course whatever happens, they will declare a moral victory, but it is likely to be a “victory” that looks very much like a defeat.
Seattle has seen other big protests, from Coxey’s Army of 1894 and the Seattle General Strike of 1919 to the Seattle WTO protests of 1999. All of them had impossible goals, and they all failed. Each had some political effect, though, and I expect this one will, too. Whatever it is, I don’t expect it to include the abolition of the Seattle Police Department. I do agree with Kshama Sawant about that.