(submitted via email)
On Tuesday, February 11th, 2014, a group of people blocked the train line that leads into the Amazon HQ in South Lake Union. They blocked the tracks with a banner that read CIAmazon, a reference to the corporation’s recent decision to provide cloud services for the CIA. Two smoke signal flares were lit in order to attract the attention of the workers inside the Day 1 South building of the campus. The contents of a flier were read over a megaphone and hundreds of fliers were distributed The action lasted around half an hour and group dispersed before the police arrived.
The following is an explanation for the action:
Death Squads, Fascism, and More!
In case you didn’t know, Amazon Web Services is building the digital brain of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), those famous proponents of death squads, fascism, and armed drones. This new data cloud will help the CIA coordinate their massacres, assassinations, and terrorism across the planet. Since 1949, the CIA has had a free hand to install fascist dictatorships in Chile, train death squads in Uruguay, oversee the massacre of students in Greece, and incinerate wedding parties with its Predator drones in Yemen. This horrific history, often obscured by duplicitous journalists and federal propagandists, should never be forgotten.
Amazon Web Services and the CIA are growing to resemble each other in many troubling ways. But before we can explain any further, we must tell a simple story, long buried but extremely pertinent. It takes place in the nation of Bolivia in 1964. A fascist general named René Barrientos, long-time solider and aspiring politician, staged a bloody coup against the established government and seized power. This coup was organized and facilitated by the CIA, who retained Barrientos as an asset.
With their puppet in power, the CIA hoped to create a Bolivian bulwark against anti-capitalism. However, their plans were eventually threatened by a miners strike at the Siglo XX tin mine in San Juan. Barrientos had reduced the miner’s pay to starvation wages, forbade unionizing, and ordered the assassination and imprisonment of any outspoken labor leaders. When a strike broke out at the Siglo XX mine and the workers demanded better pay and conditions, the CIA ordered Barrientos to crush them immediately.
On the morning of June 24th, 1967, the Bolivian military, trained by CIA advisors, surrounded the Siglo XX mine and proceeded to fire indiscriminately into the miner’s camp. Twenty were killed and seventy wounded in the initial massacre. An untold and unknown number of people were disappeared, executed, and imprisoned in the days that followed. All of this was done to prevent the poorly paid workers from organizing a better life for themselves and their families. To this day, the CIA has never been held accountable for this particular crime, let alone all of the others it has committed over the past 60 years. The fact that Amazon can openly build a data cloud for the CIA without any meaningful domestic opposition is proof of this simple fact.
One Click Union Busting!
Every attempt at unionization within Amazon has usually met with failure. The company absolutely forbids employees from organizing and will immediately fire anyone even suspected of communicating with unions. However, there have been notable exceptions and some unions have succeeded in organizing different groups of workers.
Outside of the US, Germany is Amazon’s largest consumer market. The company has nine fulfillment centers (where orders are packaged and shipped) in the country that employ nearly 9,000 workers. By classifying them as logistics workers rather than retail workers, Amazon can legally pay them €4 less for their labor. To combat this loophole, the Ver.di trade union has helped organize almost 2,000 workers, demanding better pay from Amazon.
In December, 2013, the union staged a strike against the company, hoping to disrupt the holiday shipping season. Five fulfillment centers were picketed and the strike lasted five days at some workplaces. A delegation of Ver.di unionists flew to Seattle in the middle of the strike, holding a press conference near the site of today’s protest. The press conference received scant attention and little outside support. Back in Germany, Amazon hired 14,000 temporary employees in the days leading up to Christmas and the shipping schedules were unaffected. These temps were let go once the holiday season ended and Amazon declared the Ver.di strike to be a failure.
In the days that followed, union members learned that Amazon had managed to organize a scab union to combat the growing influence of Ver.di. This “loyalty union,” about 1,000 strong, does not want higher wages and maintains that everything is fine within Amazon’s facilities. Combined with their insistence on the strike’s failure, this scab union represents a desperate move on the part Amazon. They are clearly frightened and doing everything in their power to stop the unionization from spreading.
The Ver.di union is part of the larger Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB). The DGB was formed in the 1890’s and existed until the Nazis dissolved it in 1933. Once the Nazis were destroyed, the DGB was allowed to reform itself in the newly partitioned West Germany. Fearing communist infiltration, the DGB suffered heavy repression from the supposedly democratic government throughout the 1950’s. Numerous ex-Nazis were given positions in the new West German government and continued their practices of union busting against the DGB.
Many of the children who grew up in this time period understood the new German democracy to be a sham and proceeded to attack it over the following decades. Unfortunately, the rebellions in Germany that lasted from the 1960’s to the 1970’s prompted the government to create a repressive surveillance apparatus that plagues Germany to this day. Critics have argued that this computerized surveillance apparatus, initially designed to fight the German rebels, has now engulfed the entire planet.
The Future at Your Doorstep!
On May 1st, 2012, Amazon purchased Kiva Systems, a robotics company specializing in the automation of warehouses. Amazon has no desire to retain its tens of thousands of human fulfillment center employees. Quite the opposite. It hopes to make them redundant. Robots cannot unionize, nor can they complain, nor can they walk out. Robots are the perfect workers and will replace humans as soon as the capitalists have the ability to do so.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, recently showed off his new robotics scheme. After cheating the United States Postal Service out of money that was due them, Bezos now wishes to introduce autonomous drones into the skies that will deliver packages to consumers doorsteps. His new octocopters are a statement to his entire workforce that they have no future in his robotic utopia.
Along with Google, Amazon is one of the main forces pushing for the total automation of capitalism. We see only one outcome if these corporations are successful: the complete redundancy of the traditional working class, the creation of a massive service class, and ever greater levels of resource extraction across the planet. The upper class of programmers and engineers will be served by the impoverished lower classes while the slave class extracts the gold, platinum, and other precious metals that allow this new technology to exist. Commercial drones will deliver commodities to consumers while military drones incinerate rebels in the periphery. Both commodities and death can be delivered with the click of a button. Something like this is often referred to as a dystopia, as mere science fiction, but to people like Bezos it is simply called The Future.
This action is taken in solidarity with everyone fighting the reign of Amazon and its policies of exploitation, greed, and domination. The only way to stop their obvious and undeniable plans is to gather our forces together internationally and begin formulating an exit strategy from the global dictatorship of capitalism. The struggle must be expanded and hopefully this text will serve to ignite the imaginations of antagonists worldwide.
Down with Amazon!
Down with the CIA!
Up with Freedom!
Up with the Spring!
(submitted via internent)
On Monday, February 10th, a small group of people blocked a Microsoft Connector shuttle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
One bus was initially blocked as people unfurled two banners and began handing out fliers.
In the shadow of a new luxury apartment building, Microsoft employees stood in the rain waiting for another bus. However, when another bus arrived, the group blocked it in.
With fifteen minutes, another three buses had arrived, completely throwing off the Microsoft commute schedule.
In total, five buses were blocked for 45 minutes before the authorities arrived, at which point the group dispersed.
What follows below is an explanation of the action.
The Dark Lords of Microsoft
A long time ago, Microsoft was the evil empire, the dark colossus that every free-thinking engineer and programmer gravitated away from. Their hierarchical and competitive corporate culture was a nightmare to be avoided at all costs. Apple and Google frantically developed in directions that would take them away from the monopolized markets controlled by the Redmond based corporation. These competitors succeeded in breaking Microsoft’s grip on the marketplace, only to become precisely what they had been rebelling against. Google now circles Redmond like a vulture, with offices in Bothell, Kirkland, and Seattle, waiting to devour Microsoft’s corpse should it collapse.
As it stands, Microsoft is alive and well within the city of Seattle. For decades, Microsoft has spread its wealth throughout the metropolis, often under the guise of philanthropy and benevolence, but always with the aim of making itself essential for the functioning of the local economy. Youth centers, grants, interest-free loans, scholarships, and other civic projects constitute the philanthropic arsenal of Microsoft. Beyond this, the Gates family is embedded within the structure of the University of Washington (UW), with Bill Senior serving on the Board of Regents and Microsoft products on every campus computer.
Through this graciousness, the corporation hopes to insulate itself from potential attacks and prove to the world that Microsoft cares about the region it calls home. However, it has been quite clear for some time that Microsoft will do whatever is necessary to protect its image and trick the public into thinking it is something other than what it is: a greedy corporation with growth and profit as its ultimate objectives. Like every corporation, Microsoft will use its power and influence to maintain this illusion through manipulation, deceit, and trickery.
Get Off The Bus!
At the time of this writing, there is currently a job opening at Microsoft for an individual who is able to begin “managing facilities operations and space allocation utilization for Microsoft Research.” This person will organize existing office space and help acquire more as it becomes necessary. Microsoft Research is the branch of the corporation developing the new technology that is meant to give it a lead over Google and Apple. Whoever ends up with this job will have the privilege of taking the free Connector Shuttle from the Redmond campus to wherever they choose to live.
With their $100,000-plus salary, this employee will find it easy to afford any of the new apartments available on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately for them, certain housing developments on the Hill have no vacancy. The Brix Condominiums, developed by Schnitzer West, has been entirely purchased and filled with residents. Condo construction has stopped, with developers now erecting giant apartment buildings across the neighborhood in the hopes of making higher profits.
Condos, unlike apartments, have a single purchase price. Apartment rents, on the other hand, fluctuate with the market, allowing speculators and developers to make more money over time when demand is high. Most of the condos on the Hill were built during the recession when developers wanted a sure bet for their investment. But now that the money is flowing again, the condos have been forgotten and new apartment buildings are rising across the Hill. Thus, for $1500 per month, a new Microsoft employee can now select from an ever-expanding array of bland one-bedroom apartments.
Whereas a Microsoft employee would have been turned off by the prospect of working in Redmond and living in sprawling suburban Issaquah, that employee now has a free ride to and from work to any Seattle neighborhood they choose. Starting in 2007, when the glut of condos had begun to appear in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Microsoft launched the Connector Shuttle. These shuttles are equipped with WiFi, turning the once torturous commute into productive work hours for the company. Over the past seven years, the Connector has helped fill the vacancies within these new buildings, built largely for high-paid tech workers and their peers.
Without the Connector Shuttle bringing these employees to Capitol Hill, Ballard, South Seattle, and the North End, the hyper-gentrification we now see would not have happened. Microsoft currently employs more people in the Seattle area than Amazon, Google, and Adobe combined. So it is not unreasonable to place the blame for the drastic restructuring of our neighborhoods largely on Microsoft and the developers who built according to their needs.
Whenever a tech worker pays the inflated rents the developer charges, they embolden those same developers and encourage them to build more exorbitantly priced apartment buildings. This cycle only leads upwards, and the baseline of $1,500 a month will only increase as more buildings are added to the landscape. The city considers paying $1,000 a month for a one bedroom to be “affordable.” Those of us who cannot afford to rent some of these “affordable” units must leave the neighborhoods where our friends and family live. The Connector Shuttle only facilitates this process and for this reason deserves to be disrupted and dismantled.
Join the rebellion!
The only way to effectively counter their plans is to first become fluent in their development schemes, technological aspirations, and guiding philosophies. From this pool of information, we can constitute a counterforce against them. Their plans have long been materializing all around us, restructuring our interior and exterior worlds. Just as our neighborhoods are becoming alien, so too is the territory of social relationships. Everywhere you look: more and more boxes.
Since its inception, the corporation started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen has pushed for the privatization of education, helped recruit young men and women into the military through the X-Box, collaborated with Monsanto in creating GMO crops, and helped the FBI and NSA monitor the internet for any signs of subversion. These simple facts, carrying the full weight of their own particular horror, cannot be denied by either Microsoft or its defenders. Any curious party can easily determine the validity of our claims.
The situation in Capitol Hill and Ballard, two neighborhoods selected by the city government for high-density housing, is a situation that can inspire depression and dread. However, we are tired of falling prey to these emotions and instead make the first steps to address this very specific aspect of the Microsoft leviathan. The Connector Shuttle has directly impacted our lives and the lives of those around us. It is simultaneously a symbol of and a concrete component in the process of hyper-gentrification.
We have been inspired by actions against Google in the Bay Area and choose to propagate the Counterforce. We view it as a concept borrowed from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow. The title itself refers to the shape a rocket traces when shot into the air. There is the initial thrust of the rocket that delivers the technological evil into the sky, followed by the fuel cut-off, followed by the descent. The counterforce kicks in once the rocket has reached the apex of its ascent. It is the force that brings evil crashing back down to Earth. The counterforce is as natural as gravity.
We will fight every evil empire wherever it emerges. Feel free to organize your own actions. We are taking the simplest actions for now, but imagination and initiative are all that is necessary to expand the rebellion. Feel free to bring the struggle wherever you see fit and communicate your intentions clearly. Fight their future! Join the Counterforce!
A bore, a paranoiac, a madman, a watcher with no one to watch him in turn, someone it’s going to be hard to get rid of.
-Roberto Bolaño, “The Secret of Evil.”
Head bone connected to the neck bone, neck bone connected to the arm bone, arm bone connected to the hand bone, hand bone connected to the internet, connected to the Google, connected to the government.
-M.I.A., “The Message.”
I: The Twitter Employee and the Airport
My flight is delayed for two hours. The people around me text on their phones, update their Facebook status, use the Google search browser for their homework, and listen to music through tiny headphones. While I wait with them, all of us sitting in identical rows, I read over a hundred pages of Assata Shakur’s autobiography.
After the Boston Marathon bombing, the FBI had once again added her to their Most Wanted list, hoping to capitalize on the public hysteria and to remind the public that Assata is a “dangerous terrorist.” I brought her book into the airport in defiance of their media campaign, hoping to get into an argument with some official or other and learn exactly what they were up to behind the curtain.
For the past several months, my boarding passes have been labeled with “SSSS” in the lower right corner. In the Sea-Tac airport, I first learned that I had been flagged as a threat of some sort and was to be thoroughly searched. Thinking it was because my hair was curly and my skin was dark, I started antagonizing the TSA employees, asking them if all brown people were terrorists and if my beard scared them. Hitting a nerve, one of the employees pointed at the “SSSS” and told me they were only responding to my classification, that it wasn’t their personal decision. I asked them who had deemed me a Secondary Security Screening Selection, and he said that he had no idea.
After they swabbed my bag to test for explosives, an alarm went off. Magically, my bag had acquired trace amounts of explosive residue. After a second swab triggered another alarm, the airport bomb expert inspected my bag and found no secret explosive devices. I repacked my bag and they let me walk to my gate, no longer a potential threat, safe to board my plane.
At the Oakland airport months later I received the same treatment, but this time there were no explosives detected on my bag. A few months after that, again at Sea-Tac, explosives were detected once, twice, and then the bomb expert was summoned for another thorough inspection of my dangerous bag. Sea-Tac is evidently where I suddenly acquire explosive powder on my belongings. Every time I fly through its terminals, I have the sense that someone is behind a screen in an office pressing a button to trigger the alarm.
Back at the Oakland airport, reading Assata’s autobiography, waiting for my delayed flight to Seattle, I notice that I am one of a few people not using a computer or smart phone. When the staff finally starts the boarding process, I sit down near the line next to a young woman who is deeply mesmerized by the soft blue glow of her phone screen. As we wait for our turn to line up and board our plane, she sighs and anxiously looks at the long lines of upper class passengers boarding before us.
“Why is it taking so long?” she asks me.
“Don’t know. It just does.”
We sit silently for a moment and watch the other passengers.
“Do you live in Seattle?” I ask.
“No, I’m from there, but I live in San Francisco now.”
“It’s getting really expensive to live in San Francisco.”
“Yeah,” she nods.
“I know people who grew up there who can’t afford to stay. It’s Google that’s doing it, all their employees making the rent spike.”
“No, for sure, it is. I have rent control, though, so it doesn’t really affect me. But I’m all for it because I work for Twitter.”
The line of passengers sways back and forth. I have no idea how to respond to her statement and suddenly I realize that in the center of her black shirt is the little blue bird of Twitter. This was the moment when I began to discover the secret of evil. Continue reading
(submitted via email, hyperlinks provided by TOF)
Open Letter To Dominic Holden
I am writing this letter to you in order to clarify a few points that may have been missed along the way. Much time has elapsed and memory is short all around, but I want to revisit a few moments in recent Seattle history.
Two years ago, almost exactly, the Occupy movement quickly spread across the United States. It was a moment no one had experienced since the anti-war movement in 2003, although it was more similar in form to the anti-globalization movement that existed from 1999 to 2001.
The anti-WTO protest in Seattle was the seminal event that triggered the emergent global movement. Everyone who contributed to the anti-WTO protests in Seattle, whether they marched, burnt, wrote, chanted, filmed, heckled, observed, sang, danced, or reveled, was a maker of history, a participant in something far grander than themselves. It was a movement to save the planet from global capitalism that carried the promise of victory. Unfortunately the events of September 11th, 2001, inaugurated the nightmare world of surveillance and ecological devastation we live in today. Now we can all see how important that moment truly was and what it could have meant for the planet.
The Occupy movement was no less important. When it appeared in Seattle there was an outpouring of support I couldn’t believe was real. Across divisions that were vast only weeks before, there was now a polyvalent movement bringing rhythm, life, and struggle to the middle of Downtown. There was so much promise there that it really sucked to hear so many people arguing about the police. Night after night, the police would enforce insane laws banning umbrellas and sitting on blankets, arrest and beat people, and generally act like real sick people. All of this, you’ll remember, with mayor McGinn nodding his wise gray head. And still, night after night, the general assembly of Occupy Seattle would argue with each other about whether the police should be respected. Very frustrating, but by the end of the first month, pretty much everyone had their minds changed about the police. But not quite everyone.
From what I remember, you were a little upset about how mean people were to the police. Now that I actually look up an article you wrote back then, I find some stuff like this: “the anarchists and agitators that we’ve heard about—people driven by an anti-cop agenda—were silent or absent at the assembly. That said, plenty of people I spoke to were concerned by the persistent division between organizers looking for sustainable occupation and anti-authority types seeking dramatic displays.” The more I sift through all of these articles you wrote, I see that you really had a lot of animosity towards the people in Occupy Seattle who hated the police because of the murders they have committed, the beatings they have inflicted, and the jails they have thrown people into.
Let’s take a look at another one of your articles on the SLOG. When things were really getting nasty, rainy, and fragile, you helped cause some more divisions with words like these: “In a nutshell, lots of people who have supported and camped with Occupy Seattle are getting fed up with a radical, anti-cop contingent of protesters. These folks who have contacted us—including some who slept on the pavement and risked arrest—say these agitators are swooping into meetings and forming a contingent that uses incendiary rhetoric aimed at police.”
See, back then, a lot of people in the assembly were saying that the police enforce the laws of the 1%, attack communities of color, and cannot be reformed. By a lot I mean at least 100. That was the size of the core that consistently went to events that were overt in their antagonism towards capitalism and its police. But it was way more than 100 people, because the Occupy Seattle encampment itself was largely filled with people who were poor, lived on the street, and were quite familiar with the thousands of little abuses the police put people through every day. After a while, it seemed like the little group of 100 was voicing the concerns of the people in the camp (wanting no police, wanting shelter, wanting freedom) while people like you continued to voice the concerns of the comfortable, the not-poor, the housed, and the fed. The anti-police sentiment and the incendiary rhetoric was never the product of a small clique, it was a natural reaction to years of abuse.
The more I look at these SLOG articles, the more I see you were against these people. And this surprises me, given that you recently have been writing a whole lot about a negative experience you had with the police. You admit that far worse happens to other people at the hands of the police every day, which is appreciated, but it doesn’t read right to me. Why did it take you so long to realize such a simple thing? The police view the population as an insurgency base and treat select civilians with a baseline of suspicion and scorn.
All of those evil people in Occupy Seattle had been expressing their total distrust and animosity towards the police, but back then you thought they were scum who stunk of BO. You wrote them off as insane extremists who alienated normal people like you from the movement. And now that you’ve had a truly negative experience with the police, you are ready to take your first steps towards presenting a critique of the police.
I’ve noticed you still think police in general are okay, they just need to have better oversight. In this, you typify what is wrong with the people in the United States: it’s okay to be a little against something only when you feel comfortable and only if it maintains the status quo. When there were hundreds of people taking to the streets in defiance of the police, you condemned them, you blamed them, you demonized them. And in the end, you wrote off the Occupy movement entirely.
The Seattle Police Department was something we all could have tackled together and was a far more realistic target than the big banks that, as you well know, are still coming up with record profits. I’ve been thrown to the ground and kicked in the ribs repeatedly by the SPD. Every single one of my friends has been beaten and jailed by the SPD at some point in their life. Some of my friends have received broken bones, large lacerations, and neck damage from their violence. Recently, one of my friends even had a run-in with another psychotic transit sheriff who almost hauled her off to jail for accidentally walking on the SODO Busway.
A few of my friends have received some money through lawsuits, but the rest have learned to live with the reality that the police can do whatever they want and get away with it, including murder. I suppose we deserve it and are just bad people, but hey, I’m glad you’re finally stepping out of your shell a little bit and helping us out. As you said, it’s not really news to anyone that the police are real shitty, but that Stranger cover with your cop pics on it was great!
All this is to say that we only have a few a few chances to change our worlds. The potential exists every day, but there are specific moments when everyone begins to rise together, wake from the hypnosis of everyday life, and learn to fight back against abuse and oppression. Occupy Seattle was dirty and crazy, but it was filled with promise, a promise of a world that doesn’t look like that Capitol Hill that exists now in 2013. It’s getting really bad, really fast. I don’t know what to say. When I look back at the winter of 2011, I feel heartbreak and love at the same time. We could have done anything, and in the end we could only do exactly what we did, nothing more. I wish we could have reduced the SPD into a clerical staff, I wish we could have abolished rent, I wish we could have held onto a building and then taken another. Seattle changed because of what we all did, and even though the machinery of capitalism is still chugging along, the lines between the oppressors and the oppressed are clearer now than they were before. We know that we can seize and occupy, and hopefully next time we’ll have roofs and heating rather than tents and rain.
We only have a few chances in our life to act together, to be together, to see each other and learn how to live together in world without oppression. We’ll get our chance again, sooner rather than later, so let’s all get our act together for the next round. It’s coming soon, I assure you. So, Dominic, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We are an image from the future,
A meditation on hydro-electricity and the story of the bombing of a City Light substation by the George Jackson Brigade in 1976.
In the early 1970’s, a group of people dubbed “the produce section” drove recently harvested grain from radical farms in rural Oregon to the emerging metropolis of Seattle. This grain was taken to a cooperative mill called CC Grains, located near the contemporary Northgate Mall. In an old newsletter, a woman identifying herself only as Gwen wrote the following description:
“I look at CC Grains and I see something wonderful. A place where I could learn and grow non-oppressively. A place where I could dare to challenge my own socialization in a supportive atmosphere. The time, the energy, the tears and hurts, joys and laughter all rolled into a group of women committed to finding another way besides hierarchical, capitalistic, imperialistic ways.”
After the grain was processed, it was distributed through a network of co-operative grocery stores or directly to the kitchens of comrades. Everyone in the network was allowed to purchase everything for exactly 1% above wholesale price. Along with the drivers who brought grain, produce, and dairy products from friendly farms, CC Grains represented material autonomy for the counter-culture of the 1970’s.
In 1970, the New York Times undertook a study in which it found that there were 2,000 communes in the United States that year. Over a dozen of them were near Seattle, and all of their members were plugged into the radical network in the city. During the early 1970’s, the collective spirit was concerned with breaking from capitalism and living in balance with the earth, ideas that shaped the radical infrastructure that grew towards this vision. But as the decade progressed, repression and war took its toll one everyone involved.
The Black Panther Party
During this time period (1968-1978), there was a concurrent network established by the Black Panther Party that focused on feeding and supporting the black community against a violent and racist police force that was often cheered by equally fascistic elements with the population. The group initially established itself in the Central District, Madrona, and Capitol Hill. It’s first headquarters was located at 1127 ½ 34th Avenue, just up the hill from Union and MLK. Three blocks away was the Presbyterian Church where the Party distributed breakfast to 250 children before school every weekday. There were three of these food distribution centers, accompanied by a medical clinic staffed by UW student volunteers, a clothing center, and a free bus that took people to visit their incarcerated family members.
The Seattle chapter of the Party armed themselves to protect their community and infrastructure, following the example of their leaders in Oakland. Against a society that was determined to destroy black people through poverty, drugs, and violence, everyone involved in the Party understood their armament to be a necessary precaution. This proved itself to be true almost immediately.
It started with the morning arrest of two Party members by the SPD. They were accused of stealing two typewriters. Following the arrests, a rally was held at Garfield Highschool on July 30th, 1968.
What followed was a rebellion against the SPD, described here by the Seattle Times:
“A fire bomb thrown at the Special Patrol Squad on the Garfield school grounds about 9:30 PM resulted in a tear-gas dispersal. There was no damage to the landscaping, police said. Tear gas was used at Garfield and also in East Cherry Street at several locations. A flare was used to illuminate the scene as police attempted to clear the playfield. Police reported they routed about 50 youths taking part in making fire bombs behind Garfield Highschool.
“The incident involving the two injured youths occurred at 2608 E. Cherry Street. The [white] man who fired the shots was taken into police custody. The police car in which officer Marquart was injured was fired on 25th Avenue and East Cherry about 9:40 PM. Firemen were summoned to the house about 10:25 when fire bombs were thrown at the building. Damage was slight. Police said three officers assigned to guard the building were fired on at least six times about 3:15 AM.”
This was the climate in which the Party began building its infrastructure. In October of 1968, the SPD killed a young black man and over the months various Party members were arrested on a variety of charges. The Panthers were later evicted from their headquarters and the King County Prosecutor continued to allow the SPD to murder them with impunity, all while the FBI waged its COINTELPRO campaign against the Party. Despite all of this, the breakfast program, the clothing store, and the medical clinics persisted and even outlasted the Party.
Today, the two medical clinics set up by the Panthers are still in the Central District. One is now called the Country Doctor Community Clinic on 19th, the other is the Carolyn Down Family Medical Center on Yesler. Were it not for this infrastructure, there would not have been a history or memory of black militancy in Seattle today.
Black Duck Auto and Leonard Peltier
The rebellion in the Central District in 1968 signaled the opening of a new period of struggle in Seattle. Like the rest of the country, the following years brought repression, drugs, confusion, experimentation, rebellion, shoot-outs, deaths, and moments of freedom to the city. While the Black Panthers were building their own infrastructure, they were accompanied by other allies throughout the city who not only helped fund the Party but built their own networks of supply and distribution. By 1974, there was a large network that included CC Grains, the nearby Little Bread Bakery that used the grain from the mill, co-ops that fed thousands of people, several farms providing the food, Left Bank Books, dozens of collective houses, an auto shop, and over a dozen communes. Each collective project would send representatives to a large spokes-council where the entire network would coordinate.
The collective auto shop was started in Capitol Hill in the garage of a house rented by Ed Mead and Roger Lippman. Lippman was a former SDS leader in Seattle who later became affiliated with the local section of the Weather Underground. In 1970, he was sentenced to three months in jail for his role in organizing a protest where the Federal Courthouse in Seattle was vandalized. After he was released, Lippman continued to live in Seattle and eventual found himself living with Ed Mead, a young man from Alaska who had spent most of his life in prison and would go on the help start the George Jackson Brigade guerrilla movement. At their shared house, the two began working on their friends cars on the sidewalk outside their garage. When the number of people needing auto help grew into the hundreds, the men decided to open a proper auto shop called Black Duck Auto.
A flier for the space reads:
“We are a people’s garage, not a capitalist business. We try to relate to you as friends, as well as customers. We depend on the community for support and expect you not to objectify us. (In other words, not relate to us as objects who magically fix your car quietly, quickly, and cheaply without personal or mechanical hassles along the way.) When we work, we take time to do the job right, we explain things to you, work with you if you wish, and enjoy each others company at the garage. It is a learning workshop and a humane environment.”
The auto shop moved out of the house and into a commercial space in Chinatown. On the sly, Roger Lippman and a few others were making fake ID’s for whoever needed one. It is unknown who received these false documents. The garage also serviced vehicles for AIM, the American Indian Movement, and Ed Mead personally equipped an AIM warrior on their way to an armed occupation in 1974. However, when a man named Leonard Peltier arrived seeking fake documents, the forgers in the network turned him down. In anger, Ed Mead moved out of the apartment he shared with Lippman.
Peltier had lived in Seattle for several years after leaving his small reservation town in North Dakota. He took part in the occupation of Fort Lawton in Magnolia where he and dozens of other natives were beaten by police and dragged to jail after trying to take back the land. After this radicalizing experience, Peltier took part in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Washington, DC in 1972. That November, Peltier was charged with the murder of a Milwaukee police officer. After spending five months in jail, AIM bailed him out just as the occupation of Wounded Knee began in South Dakota. After going underground, Peltier made plans to travel to the occupation but it ended before he could get there.
Officially an outlaw, Peltier returned to Seattle, received a car and weapons, and went off to participate in three more occupations before eventually finding his way to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It was in this place that a shootout between AIM and the FBI took place, leaving two federal agents and one AIM warrior dead. Leonard Peltier was eventually convicted of murder and sits in prison to this day, the victim of a frame-up that has been extensively documented.
Peltier is one person who was materially supported (or not supported) by the radical infrastructure that existed in Capitol Hill. In his case, the underground network supplied him what he needed, but the above ground network fed thousands of people in Seattle. One of the main nodes of the food network was the Central Co-Operative on 12th and Denny. It began in 1971 as a wholesaler of beans, flour, grains, and cheese, most of it supplied from the farms in the network. Inside there was a lending library and communal stove for warmth and cooking. Anyone could come in at any time and start working.
This network also included the Puget Consumer’s Co-op, or PCC as it is now commonly known. It started as a small network of 200 people who purchased food together and picked it up in a basement depot. By the mid 1970’s, PCC had opened a location in Ravenna and sold food to thousands of people. PCC was part of a growing move towards organic food, inspired by the counter-culture’s desire to escape from the networks of capitalist dependency. While all of these co-ops were blossoming, a boycott against Safeway was also taking place, in solidarity with the United Farmworker’s Movement and against corporate agriculture. The original aim of the co-ops in the radical network was to replace capitalism with a more egalitarian and healthy system built by the people themselves. This vision was pursued by all but when repression landed on the network, things began to change.
The initial FBI offensive against radical movements in Seattle first affected the Black Panthers at the end of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s. It also affected the predominately white left, although not to the same extent. In 1975, when the George Jackson Brigade (GJB) began its guerrilla campaign against the state and capitalism, the FBI repression intensified against the entire left, either black or white. A Grand Jury was convened in Seattle, jailing one woman for six months and harassing dozens of people in the wider network. Although the vast majority of the GJB attacks did not harm anyone, the radical left in Seattle did not unify in support of the armed group. This caused various splits, leading to Left Bank Books leaving a support coalition for the Grand Jury resistors because of their critical support for the group.
While the FBI pursued the GJB, the co-ops began to move away from their former ideals and focused only on food, money, and new storefronts. PCC began voting about whether to buy sliding glass doors and electronic tellers. Their P-Patch program was adopted by the city and other urban farming projects were given Federal money to expand. Meanwhile, the mental and physical stress of capitalism and repression caused the Central Co-Op to implode in 1978. Most of the volunteers and members of the co-op could not sufficiently discard their former ideals enough to create a “solid business plan” that would allow them to survive in the market.
This was the pattern that emerged after the repression: communes, farms, collective houses, and co-ops began to seal themselves off and become inward focused. No longer was there a vision of a world free from capitalism, instead there was survival, practicality, and money. PCC agreed to help finance the restart of the Central Co-Op only if they agreed to have paid workers and not a collective. Today, the co-op is now called Madison Market. Its benefactor, PCC, exists in ten locations across the Seattle area. Along with similar establishments across the country, these stores are part of what has now become known as green capitalism, the attempted regeneration of a toxic system. There is no more informal 1% above wholesale price for members of the tribe, family, or commune. There is simply a money making enterprise catering mostly to the wealthy.
There are other remnants of this infrastructure in existence today. Some of it exists as part of a network called the Evergreen Land Trust that includes four houses in Seattle and three nearby land projects. One of the collective houses, the Sunset House in the Central District, is well known for its purple exterior. Many of the famous figures in Seattle’s radical left entered the establishment in various ways, some even becoming advisers to the Clinton’s, others becoming local politicians or small business owners. Jeff Dowd, one of the seven people jailed for the vandalism of the Federal Courthouse, went on to become a movie producer. He helped gather the money that financed the creation of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, a film that helped shape the minds of the children of the 1990’s.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, dozens of collective houses sprung up in Capitol Hill. After the rebellion in the Central District and the loss of 60,000 Boeing jobs between 1969 and 1970, many affluent white people left the neighborhood, causing a drop in rent prices. The counter-culture quickly filled this void, giving Capitol Hill its bohemian reputation. For the first years of the 1970’s, Capitol Hill was a cheap place to live for those hoping to destroy capitalism and build a new world. With them came new ideas, more tolerance, and a desire for experimentation. But soon it was clear that these radicals were unwittingly acting as the vanguard for a force that was just beginning to be understood: gentrification.
Like the punks and squatters of other cities, the radicals of Capitol Hill cleared the way for a new group of people to move in. In a report from 1979, a UW masters student writes: “About 1973, at first gradual, imperceptible—and in many ways quite unusual—changes began. Growing numbers of typically young, white professionals began moving onto deteriorated sections of central and southern Capitol Hill. While Capitol Hill for many years has been the home of people of all income classes, ages, and races, the social composition is now changing towards a young, white, professional, and usually childless resident.”
Following the same pattern as in other cities, the mostly white radicals were able to live normal lives in a neighborhood that other white people found scary or dangerous. Once it was clear that crime rates and dilapidated buildings did not deter new renters, the petty-bourgeoisie began its push to invest and rebuild the neighborhood. With the same “pioneer” spirit that is exhibited today, these small capitalists saw the neighborhood as a cash machine. From the same report:
“In 1973, a very chic restaurant, Boondock’s, opened near the intersection of Broadway and Roy. At the time of its opening the owners were informed by their friends that the location was a bad one because the neighborhood was too poor to support such a restaurant and that they were opening a high-class establishment in the middle of the ‘boondocks,’ hence the name. One of the two owners said of Capitol Hill, ‘It was on the way down,’ but that he was good at ‘sensing trends’ and that after a demographic study of the area they decided it was on the verge of rejuvenation, which would result in the restaurant’s success. ‘The study showed that the white population would come back. And that’s what happened. Professionals, singles, young marrieds [sic].‘”
While this was taking place along the Broadway strip, something more sinister was happening on the other side of the hill near 23rd, in what was then called East Capitol Hill. In the same report, a person identified only as “an elderly black woman” from the Central District explains:
“They gave me a hard time when I tried to move in around here in 1963. Every rooming house turned me down, some even asking if I was a prostitute! Finally I decided to build my own place, and they gave me a hard time downtown with the permit. I ran into a lot of resistance because of my color. The real estate agents are paying to have houses burned down. All my neighbors have been offered enormous sums of money to sell. The whites want this place, but I’ll be damned if they’re going to get it!”
The process of gentrifying the Central district is still underway, although it has met with resistance over the decades. Ever since the rebellion in 1968, there has been an effort to retain the black and working class character of the neighborhood against the tide of gentrification. However, the government sponsored influx of drugs and gangs starting in the 1970’s has severely damaged the Central District and allowed the developers and out-of-town landlords to acquire more property. It also created a justification for racial profiling by the SPD, an organization that has continued to murder, jail, and plant drugs on young black people for decades.
During the last years of the 1970’s, two SPD officers led a campaign to repeal a city ordinance that protected gay rights. The group these cops formed was called SOME, or Save Our Moral Ethics. On Capitol Hill, the radical gay community mobilized against this initiative and in the process revealed some new truths about the neighborhood: firstly, that throughout the decade the gay population had exploded; secondly, many gay people were conservative and just wanted to live a normal capitalist life, in contrast to the radical gays of the neighborhood who wanted to subvert it. The same report quoted above goes on to say:
“Every week or so new graffiti appears on walls on Capitol Hill, sometimes the slogans suggesting it was written by radical lesbians. The pro-gay graffiti is more a sign of efforts to gain a political footing rather than a reflection of actual dominance. The radical gay community on Capitol Hill is numerically small, yet vocal and politically potent. Some of the recent graffiti demands—in no uncertain terms—that the rich leave Capitol Hill immediately, and demonstrates in a graphic fashion growing class conflict in the community. On the other hand, I also interviewed gays who were financially secure and bothered by the growing anti-development sentiment.”
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the conservative, mainstream gay population began buying and renting property in the Central District, creating more conflict in their wake. Today, the gay identity has been absorbed into capitalism rather than continue to be excluded from. The 1970’s was a time of emancipation and coming out, but it was also a time of mainstreaming and the beginning of the gentrification that continues to this day.
1968 was a year of uprisings across the planet. France, Italy, the US, Mexico, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, and Brazil were all host to rebellions against the established order. It was the beginning of a period of struggle that would last for nearly a decade and engulf the planet. Some call this time period the Cold War, others call it World War III, and still others call it simply the revolution. It was a global battle that swept up two generations in its complexities and day dreams. Ultimately, the battle was between the USA and the USSR, between state capitalism and state capitalism, but within the cracks of these monolithic entities life was able to blossom.
Two years have elapsed since the Occupy movement arrived in Seattle and it was just a few months ago that police gassed hundreds of people downtown during May Day, 2013. Another network has started to form in Seattle that is just as rhizomatic, nuanced, and informal as the last one. It carries the flame of rebellion within it, raw and new, gathering momentum, constantly growing. Repression has recently swept through the city in various forms and yet the network persists. There is an entire history of struggle to look back on and learn from. This article was written as a contribution to the transmission of those old lessons and a reminder to not repeat mistakes that have already happened.