Last night, Clynn and I went to The Autonomous Zone. We had no clue what we would find, but we knew we weren’t going to trust the media on this and that history was being made. We dropped off the kiddos at Grandma’s and decided to check it out for ourselves!
If you have no clue what I’m talking about, I did a quick scan review on The Autonomous Zone’s Wikipedia Page and most information looks wonderfully unbiased and factual (unlike every other media outlet I’ve seen). You can read that HERE. Keep in mind, blog posts will remain here for years and the Wiki page on this will likely change every day for a while as this is history in progress.
Here is the experience we had from 8:00pm-10:00pm on June 11th, 2020.
We drove around Capital Hill first. About 8-4 minutes (in-town drive time) from The Autonomous Zone to see how the local community was doing.
Eight minutes out (remembering from the GPS time. Wish I would have looked at miles…probably 3 or so.) we drove through THE WEALTHIEST neighborhood we had ever been in. We’re talking 3+ million dollar houses every where you turn and packed tightly. They were visibly unaffected.
Business as usual except less traffic and many of the houses were displaying signs reading “Black Lives Matter”, “Defund the Cops” and flying rainbow flags for Pride Month…though, knowing capital hill’s reputation, the rainbow flags may be permanent fixtures for their homes regardless of Pride Month.
No graffiti, no crowding, no vandalism. Locals leisurely meandered around chatting and walking their dogs as usual. We started to wonder if the entire thing was fake news as we found ourselves two minutes from the proposed intersection with no signs of a disruption.
I found a photo online of the green official sign that read “Welcome To Capital Hill Autonomous Zone”. Below the sign was a street sign that read 1500 E Pine Street. This is how we found out what to put in the GPS.
Windows down, we heard nothing as we pulled onto the street where you can see the barricade at the bottom of a not-too-steep hill. AAaaah we said. There it is. We parked right in front of it. Literally a 30 second to 1 minute walk from the car to the entrance of The Autonomous Zone straight ahead.
Clynn didn’t pay for parking. “No cops are coming this far” he said. I would have paid for parking…but that’s our balanced relationship. lol (He turned out to be right. No parking ticket)
Right before you hit the entrance (I’m talking like 50 feet before) is the Capital Hill Firehouse. Entirely respected from our perspective. Workers hung out outside watching the people walk by and chatting with smiles on.
We walked right in. No Open-Carry Guards at the front. (Even though, Open Carry is 100% legal in Washington State…in case you forgot.) No “Check Point”. No one asked us any questions. Just walked in on the side walk that is completely open to the public for people to come and go as they please. Just the road was blocked.
Right at the entrance, there were a few men working on strengthening the barricade by adding to it with orange road closure materials. A few people worked on small graffiti right at the entrance and a few random places throughout. As you got further into the little town, the graffiti went from tagging, to true works of art. The “BLACK LIVES MATTER” going down the center of the street was roped off for artists as they each took charge on their own letter and left the other letters to individual artists. People watched in awe and support at each artist working on their respective letter.
100 or so yards in from the entrance was a hot dog stand with a line of 20 or so customers right behind the main speaking group in the road. People gathered as Passionate leaders took turns speaking. Very similar to a church meeting. Phrases I remember hearing, “We are FAMILY. We take care of each other. We watch out for each other. We are a family here.”
A little ways down from the main speech area was a DJ. This is where I got emotional. He played Nipsey. Nip would be so freaking honored to be there.
The DJ’s music did not interfere with the speakers and interestingly enough, the sound didn’t travel very far, even being a small space.
Between the DJ and main speaking area was a fully stocked food market. A free food market overflowing with healthy choices for anyone to take from as needed. Baskets full of multiple fresh fruit options, bread, water, granola bars, I had to look away. The amount of food they had collected to give away was beautifully overwhelming. On the way out, I was going to give them a $20 before seeing a sign that stated something close to “No Food or Cash Donations Accepted”.
In front of and after the DJ was the street art work.
Behind the BLACK LIVES MATTER street work is a Taco Restaurant. That business is THRIVING. Open until at least midnight (I suspect 24 hours but can not 100% verify that. They had a sign that stated they stopped selling alcohol at midnight so I assume that means 24 hours.) The workers were fully masked and following regulations with tape on the ground and discouraging anyone from taking a seat. They danced as they worked and seemed genuinely happy.
Fun Note for the Vegans: The Taco Restaurant was out of Veggie Mix. I love seeing the rising and unexpected popularity of Vegan Options in Washington. Going meatless (even sometimes) is truly making a difference here. I’m happy to be a part of that.
I was happy to see there were both paid and free options for food. People who could and wanted to pay did, people who couldn’t or didn’t want to had plenty of options to not have to….ALLOT of people were paying. The small businesses in there that are open, are VERY likely not struggling anymore.
In the parking lot of the Taco Restaurant is the medical head quarters. The amount of Medical Volunteers walking around is immense. THERE WERE SO MANY MEDICS!!! I didn’t see any of them having to work. Just being present. Talking. Walking around. Ready to help when needed. A sign hung from the medical HQ that read “Please protect the identity of our medical volunteers. No Photos or Video here please.” Photos and video were not discouraged elsewhere. I predict many of those medical professionals are risking their jobs to be there. The medical providers (and I suspect Taco Restaurant Workers) vehicles were parked by their HQ inside the walls. It was clear they were aloud to drive their vehicles in and out to help.
In front of the main road, in front of the Taco Stand, is a football field! People peacefully sat in groups of 2-5 well distanced. Another speaker spoke in the field as people visited.
ONE individual, clearly not sober, stood in the middle of the field with his penis out. Just standing there looking around. I think he was confused that no one was arresting him, yelling at him, or even cared. He just stood there staring blankly as people walked by unfazed.
Another individual, clearly not sober, threw a bit of a temper tantrum near the field, alone. People cleared out of the way to let him get whatever he needed to get out, out. A few community members kept an eye on him and it was over within five minutes. I have NO DOUBT, that if he had touched ANYONE, there would have been fifty people helping in the blink of an eye.
I have been to Seattle for photo shoots MANY TIMES in my almost six years of being a wedding and couple’s photographer in the Pacific Northwest. NEVER, have I felt safer in Seattle with a community I knew had my back.
Nearly every time I’m in Seattle with a couple, I guide them to cross the street to avoid an all out brawl in public near Pike’s Place. I’m used to it. As long as we can cross the street or turn around, I’m not too worried. I didn’t see a single fight or man on man aggression (unless you count dazed penis guy as aggression…I wouldn’t.) THOSE TWO GUYS were the only “potentially unsafe to visitors” events I witnessed.
Outside the field was a tent for signing petitions, a tent for signing up for “Night Watch”, a space for signing up to volunteer, and a table where spiritual leaders volunteered their time and compassion to talk to anyone who needed someone to talk to.
Public garbage cans were everywhere with volunteers constantly pulling and re-bagging. The sidewalk was so clean. The field was so clean. I dropped a tiny piece of my food’s foil on the ground and immediately bent to pick it up as it was obviously the only piece of litter around. I’ll bet 90% of the people there would have done the same thing. I felt like that ground was just as much mine as everyone around me…so I had a duty to help keep it clean. Something many others were feeling as well. I hadn’t felt that in public. Ever. Like what I did really mattered down to a tiny piece of foil.
No one was a stranger in there. I could tell everyone felt compassion and love for the people around them. It was unifying.
The vast majority wore face masks. I’d say 70-80%.
The fire escapes to the buildings had been pulled down. People climbed to the roofs of buildings, freely, to view the scene from above. We could of, had we wanted to. People could consider this “Dangerous” or “Reckless”…but honestly, it was no more dangerous than the view from Rattle Snake Ridge or hiking trails on Mt. Rainier.
I’ll never forget the scene of a man climbing a street pole to sit on top of a crosswalk indicator. You know those signs that display the stop hand or the walking man with the number count down at a crosswalk? A man climbed up there to sit on it to watch the speeches. It was like something out of a movie.
While we waited for our food, a baton twirler performed in the field. The baton was lit up with LED’s.
The only way I felt unsafe, was knowing the police or military could barge in at any moment…
And that’s it! That’s my complete account of The Autonomous Zone at 1500 East Pine Street.
I left in shock with a heart full. Faith freshly restored in what could be. In awe and knowing there’s so much more to come.
I did not take any photos. It did not feel like my story to capture. I would never want my photos of this historic moment to overshadow the photos of black men and women documenting their own history, and there are plenty of them who are so talented and present. This was the moment I understood silencing accounts to “Amplify the voices of the black community”. I knew if I took a photo that went viral, it would take away the opportunity for someone documenting THEIR OWN history to have that image opportunity. So I left my camera at home, this time. I remember when a family member brought a DSLR to my child’s first birthday party. I felt offended and silenced. I am a professional photographer at my child’s first birthday party. Wouldn’t you prefer to have the photos that I take? Isn’t this my story to tell and share? I was so hurt and confused by it that I ended up not taking any DSLR images…I understand silencing your self so the right person can tell the story. That’s my newly discovered truth on documenting this event as far as photos go.
But I wanted to write. To tell the truth about what we saw. Because the noise of false media is overbearing and wrong about The Autonomous Zone. And because I knew, some day, my children or grandchildren would ask me about my experience during the Black Lives Matter Revolution.
Sincerely, Jaclynn June 12, 2020