Between Africatown and Camp Jalapeño: The Road to Autonomy

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23rd and Union

Africatown Seattle, WA – Not even a month has passed, yet the heart of Historic Africatown in Central Seattle, Umojafest Peace Center has already been displaced twice this year in what is amounting to a peoples last stand against capitalist urban development and the resulting displacement of black and poor people from Seattle’s historically black central district. Elder Omari Garret said earlier this week, “Africatown is an idea, it’s not a building. There’s no way that they can erase it” (Garrett 2017). Garrett comes from a deep tradition of direct action in Seattle.

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Umojafest Peace Center

According to Patricia Allen, Omari Garrett was one of the four founding occupiers of the Pullman School in Seattle during the 1980s for eight years, which is now the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). The occupiers asserted that, “In 1986, resistance from activists in the community led to the creation of Northwest African American Museum” (UPC 2017)  Allen argues in a video broadcasted in the aftermath of the first eviction this year that we would have these spaces without direct action of elders like Omari Garrett. In 2013, the Seattle Police Department used SWAT team to evict Garrett and a team of occupiers from the Horace Mann school building that was held in the name of Africatown.

On April 19, 2017, an autonomous collective holding space at 23rd and Union in support of the Displacement Stops Here campaign were forcefully evicted by Seattle Police Department. This group held the space “to fight displacement and erasure of the black community” (UPC 2017). Their analysis is that “the Midtown Center, located on the corner of 23rd and Union, is the largest square block that has not been developed in the Central District” making it prime real estate in Seattle’s booming housing market (UPC 2017). Simply put, when poor people of color are displaced, when black people are forcibly removed from an ancestral community, the very fabric of that community is destroyed in the name of 21st century land speculation.

According to the collective the “Umojafest Peace Center, founded by Omari Garrett and other members of the community, has been a place of community gathering, refuge and resistance against forces of colonization, displacement and racism for Seattle’s Black community. This space and other Black-centered spaces in the area MUST be protected” (UPC 2017). In many ways, Umojafest Peace Center has been a container for that fabric of the black community that has been under attack and was displaced the “weed and seed” community policing model that paved the way for gentrification and urban development in Seattle.

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Our audacity to govern ourselves, to visibly show the powers that be that we are not afraid, is our 21st century united front against gentrification, against incarceration, and against the neo-fascism that this regime has wrought. As Maru Mora Villalpando has said during the encampment in front of the Northwest Detention Center in Solidarity with the ongoing Hunger Strike, “This is no longer a crisis, this regime has declared war upon all people in the United States” (Villalpando 2017). This weekend, Subcomandate Insurgente Moíses from Mexico’s Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) came to the same conclusion that what is required of our people now across the world is a united front against capitalism, he argued eloquently, “Whether you vote or don’t vote is not the problem, Capitalism is the problem” (SI Moíses 2017).

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Camp Jalapeño in front of NWDC

Temporary Autonomous Zones against Capitalism are that United Front against capitalism that is absolutely necessary for our movements to survive these times. Just as it is important to show up, it is important to practice governing ourselves, it is important to practice defending ourselves, and it is important practice our solidarity.

Hakim Bey describes a Temporary Autonomous Zone as being like, “an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (Bey 1991). Bringing Bey’s poetic interpretation of an idea down to reality, what we see when we look at Africatown, or for that matter Camp Jalapeño in front of the Northwest Detention Center are Temporary Autonomous Zones that very explicitly engage the State and by extension capitalism. Like Standing Rock, these temporary autonomous zones are a form of direct action that places all that which we hold sacred, life, on the front lines of possible death to make it difficult or impossible for capitalism to function in secrecy and without any resistance because we are here to speak truth to power, to witness, to protect one another as a community regardless of individual merit.

The purpose of Umojafest Peace Center, the purpose of Camp Jalapeño is to make public the abuses that have taken place with impunity. These include offenses that range from incarceration, to displacement, to deportation. These offenses are perpetrated by agents of the state beginning with the enforcement agencies and bleed into the politicians that are the intellectual authors that approve of these development and economic plans, which in turn are implemented by the capitalist businessmen that sit on the board of directors of the corporations and public agencies that oversee these atrocities. All of those responsible for these offenses to the community have names, addresses, and families with roots in the region. Seattle is the stomping grounds of the worst of these individuals, one who is set to be the world’s first trillionaire in the casino economy that has been created by capitalism, Bill Gates. The false solutions that these responsible parties attempt to inundate our movements with, the money, much of it public, much of it tax exempt, that they drop on the non-profit industrial complex comes with the consequences of fragmenting an already deteriorating fabric of the community.

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In the face of all of this, the encounter and movement relationships that we build in our movement spaces, our Temporary Autonomous Zones against the state breathe life into the movement in a much needed moment. Within these encounters we move from a capitalist logic model that privileges the individual to one that centers the community.

They may cage us, they may displace us, they may disappear and murder us. But they cannot do it to all of us. And further, they can’t kill our imaginations in the liberation that we exercise strategically before re-forming elsewhere. Karl Marx offered the most beautiful insight, that we, the working class, are the only class that is able to produce more than we consume, and we by extension are the only class that can create life. It is our duty to win.

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