Sunday, July 12, 2020

3397. Beyond the Milky Way, a Galactic Wall

By Dennis Overbye, The New York Times, July 10, 2020
The starry core of our spiral Milky Way galaxy, in an infrared image from NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. Obscured behind it is the South Pole Wall, a curtain of thousands of galaxies across at least 700 million light-years. Photo: NASA. 
Credit...NASA

Astronomers have discovered that there is a vast wall across the southern border of the local cosmos.

The South Pole Wall, as it is known, consists of thousands of galaxies — beehives of trillions of stars and dark worlds, as well as dust and gas — aligned in a curtain arcing across at least 700 million light-years of space. It winds behind the dust, gas and stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, from the constellation Perseus in the Northern Hemisphere to the constellation Apus in the far south. It is so massive that it perturbs the local expansion of the universe.

But don’t bother trying to see it. The entire conglomeration is behind the Milky Way, in what astronomers quaintly call the zone of avoidance.

An international team of astronomers led by Daniel Pomarède of Paris-Saclay University and R. Brent Tully of the University of Hawaii announced this new addition to the local universe on Friday in a paper in Astrophysical Journal. The paper is festooned with maps and diagrams of blobby and stringy features of our local universe as well as a video tour of the South Pole Wall.

It is the latest installment of an ongoing mission to determine where we are in the universe — to fix our neighborhood among the galaxies and the endless voids — and where we are going.

“The surprise for us is that this structure is as big as the Sloan Great Wall and twice as close, and remained unnoticed, being hidden in an obscured sector of the southern sky,” Dr. Pomarède said in an email.


“The discovery is a wonderful poster child for the power of visualizations in research,” Dr. Tully said.
The new wall joins a host of other cosmographic features: arrangements of galaxies, or a lack of them, that astronomers have come to know and love over the last few decades, with names like the Great Wall, the Sloan Great Wall, the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall and the Bootes Void.

The new paper was based on measurements, performed by Dr. Tully and his colleagues, of the distances of 18,000 galaxies as far away as 600 million light-years. By comparison, the most distant objects we can see — quasars and galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang — are about 13 billion light years away.

The galaxies in the wall cannot be seen, but Dr. Pomarède and his colleagues were able to observe their gravitational effects by assembling data from telescopes around the world.

In the expanding universe, as described in 1929 by the astronomer Edwin Hubble and confirmed for almost a century, distant galaxies are flying away from us as if they were dots on an inflating balloon; the farther they are, the faster they recede from us, according to a relation called the Hubble law.

That motion away from Earth causes their light to be shifted to longer, redder wavelengths and lower frequencies, like retreating ambulance sirens. Astronomers use this “redshift,” which is easily measured, as a proxy for relative distance in the universe. By measuring the galaxy distances independently, the “Cosmicflows” team, as Dr. Pomarède and his colleagues call themselves, was able to distinguish the motion caused by the cosmic expansion from motions caused by gravitational irregularities.

As a result, they found that the galaxies between Earth and the South Pole Wall are sailing away from us slightly faster than they otherwise should be, by about 30 miles per second, drawn outward by the enormous blob of matter in the wall. And galaxies beyond the wall are moving outward more slowly than they otherwise should be, reined in by the gravitational drag of the wall.

One astonishing aspect of the wall is how big it is compared to the volume that the team was surveying: a contiguous filament of light 1.4 billion light-years long, packed into a cloud maybe 600 million in radius. “There is hardly room in the volume for anything bigger!” Dr. Tully said in an email. “We’d have to anticipate that our view of the filament is clipped; that it extends beyond our survey horizon.”

And yet the South Pole Wall is nearby in cosmological terms. “One might wonder how such a large and not-so-distant structure remained unnoticed,” Dr. Pomarède mused in a statement issued by his university.

But in the expanding universe, there is always something more to see.

On the largest scales, cosmologists attest, the universe should be expanding smoothly, and the galaxies should be evenly distributed. But on smaller, more local scales, the universe appears lumpy and gnarled. Astronomers have found that galaxies are gathered, often by the thousands, in giant clouds called clusters and that these are connected to one another in lacy, luminous chains and filaments to form superclusters extending across billions of light-years. In between are vast deserts of darkness called voids.

From all of this has emerged what some astronomers call our “long address”: We live on Earth, which is in the solar system, which is in the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is part of a small cluster of galaxies called the Local Group, which is on the edge of the Virgo cluster, a conglomeration of several thousand galaxies.

In 2014, Dr. Tully suggested that these features were all connected, as part of a giant conglomeration he called Laniakea — Hawaiian for “open skies” or “immense heaven.” It consists of 100,000 galaxies spread across 500 million light-years.

All this lumpiness has distorted the expansion of the universe. In 1986, a group of astronomers who called themselves the Seven Samurai announced that the galaxies in a huge swath of the sky in the direction of the constellation Centaurus were flying away much faster than the Hubble law predicted, as if being pulled toward something — something the astronomers called the Great Attractor. It was the beginning of something big.

“We now see the Great Attractor as the downtown region of the supercluster that we live in — an overall entity that our team has called the Laniakea Supercluster,” Dr. Tully said. All the different parts of this supercluster are tugging on us, he added.

As a result, the Great Attractor and its relatives are shedding light on another enduring cosmic mystery — namely, where we are headed.

Astronomers discovered in 1965 that space is suffused with microwave radiation, a bath of heat — with a temperature of 2.7 degrees Kelvin, or minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit — left over from the birth of the universe 14 billion years ago. Subsequent observations revealed that this bath is not uniform: It is slightly warmer in one direction, suggesting that we — Earth, our galaxy and the Local Group — are moving through the microwaves, like a goldfish in a fishbowl, at about 400 miles per second in the approximate direction of Centaurus, but aiming far beyond.

Why? What is over there, on the other side of the fishbowl, compelling us? That is the kind of question that would come up in an Arthur C. Clarke novel, where humanity is always gearing up for some definitive expedition around the curve of the universe.

“A major goal in cosmology is to explain this motion,” Dr. Tully said in a series of emails. In theory, the motion arises from the lumpy distribution of matter that grew out of tiny ripples in the density of the early universe.
“The Great Attractor is certainly an important part of the cause of our motion,” Dr. Tully said. “The South Pole Wall also contributes but, again, only in part,” he added, listing more local galaxy clusters and voids. “Every hill and valley in the density distribution makes itself felt.”
A projection of the South Pole Wall in celestial coordinates. The plane of the Milky Way is shown by a dust map in shades of grey; what lies behind it is obscured from direct observation.Credit...Daniel Pomardède

Most of that is stuff that we cannot see directly. According to the prevailing theory of a confoundingly preposterous universe, the cosmos contains about five times as much invisible dark matter as luminous atomic matter.

Nobody knows exactly what dark matter is made of, but according to cosmologists it provides the gravitational scaffolding for the luminous structures in the universe — galaxies, galaxy clusters, superclusters, voids and chains like the South Pole Wall, all connected by spidery filaments in what’s known as the cosmic web. The visible universe of stars and galaxies, cosmologists like to say, is like snow on mountaintops or lights on dark, distant Christmas trees.

But by following the lights and how they are moving, astronomers like Dr. Tully and his cosmographers have now been able to probe the shadows on which they sit: galumphing clouds of mass whose gravity shapes the destiny of the visible cosmos, arranging it into shapes and neighborhoods, walls, valleys and voids.

Friday, July 10, 2020

3396. Book Review: Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba

By Kamran Nayeri, Review of Radical Political Economics, Summer 2007

Fernando Funes Monzonte in his agroecholgical farm, named after his mother Finca Marta, outside Havana.
Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba Fernando Funes, Luis García, Martin Bourque, Nilda Pérez, and Peter Rosset; Oakland, CA: Food First Books, 2002, 307 pp., $18.95 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European regimes at the close of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, the Cuban economy experienced a severe external shock as it depended on relations with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance for 85 percent of its imports and 75 percent of its trade, finance, and credit on a preferential basis. GDP, which grew by an average of 3.1 percent annually during 1965-1989, declined by 2.9 percent in 1990, 10.7 percent in 1991, 11.6 percent in 1992, and 14.9 percent in 1993, shrinking the economy to 65.2 percent of its 1989 size (Campbell 2000; Nayeri 1996). At the same time, the U.S. government intensified its campaign to isolate and choke off the country through the Torricelli Bill (Cuban Democracy Act) of 1992 and the Helms-Burton (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity) Act of 1996. 

The impact on the daily lives of Cubans was immediate and grave. About half of the calories and protein for Cuban consumption was imported in the 1980s. Thus, per capita calorie intake was reduced by 40 percent, from 3,130 daily calories in 1988-1990 to 1,863 in 1993. Per capita protein intake was similarly reduced by 42 percent, from 79.7 grams to 46 grams (MINSAP 1994). From 1992 to 1994, more than 51,000 Cubans were affected by an epidemic of optic neuropathy associated with low levels of vitamin B1 and toxic habits. Many observers predicated widespread chaos and the collapse of the Cuban revolution. Food security emerged as the central issue facing the revolution (MINSAP 1995).

However, Cuban agriculture based on large-scale, capital-intensive monoculture with import coefficients of greater than 90 percent for fertilizers and pesticides had already begun to stagnate in the early 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, import of fertilizers and pesticides dropped by 77 percent and 60 percent, respectively, while availability of petroleum was reduced by half. To survive, it was necessary to double food production while reducing inputs by half and maintaining export crop production to generate much-needed foreign exchange (Rosset and Benjamin 1994: 3–4). 

Cuba has proven uniquely prepared and capable to face this challenge. The book under review, the English edition of the Spanish version that was published by the Association of Forestry and Agricultural Technicians in Havana in 2001, explains how Cuba took up the challenge and in the process began to develop a Low Input Sustainable Agriculture model that has increasingly met the requirements of the economy, society, and environment. The book could gainfully be read as the sequel to The Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture (Rosset and Benjamin 1994), a report by an international scientific group that visited Cuba in November of 1992 to learn about its experiment with sustainable agriculture. That report documents how—given a supportive mix of institutional arrangements and public policy—Cuba was able to effect the transition to sustainable agriculture. The present volume, authored by Cuban pioneers and experts, provides an up-to-date and detailed account of the history, theory, and practice of sustainable agriculture in Cuba. As such, it also includes differing and largely implicit notions for Cuba’s developmental course, which require further elaboration and discussion. For reasons of space, these tempting issues will remain outside of this review. 

The book has three parts. Part 1 provides history and context, including some discussion of the socioeconomic and political structures within which the sustainable agriculture movement in Cuba has developed. Part 2 details certain alternative practices in Cuba’s new agriculture. Part 3 offers examples and case studies. 

The six chapters that make up part 1 place the movement for sustainable agriculture in the context of the evolution of the peasantry and its organizations as well as transformations in property and production relations in agriculture since 1959. Fernando Funes outlines a compelling overview of the intellectual, political, social, and institutional roots of the organic farming movement; he places the Cuban movement in its international context while emphasizing its unique characteristics. Armando Nova discusses land ownership before and after 1959 and agriculture production in the first three decades of the revolution to document the onset of the agricultural crisis in the 1980s. Marcos Nieto and Ricardo Delgado take up the question of food security. They indicate that by 1993, food consumption had declined by 30 percent, after which access to food has improved, and the Cuban state remains committed to ensuring the most equitable distribution possible. Lucy Martín examines transformations in agrarian relations with a focus on property, markets, and technical change to understand class formation in agriculture. She finds a tension between the role of the state as the protagonist in redistribution of wealth and the decentralized nature of fragmentations in property, opening of markets, and technological change. Mavis Alvarez addresses the critical role of small farmers in Cuba’s sustainable agriculture. This chapter is a must-read for anyone interested in the social organization of Cuban peasants. Finally, Luis García examines one form of state support: agroecological education and training. Together, these chapters provide information on how self-directed activities of peasants and agricultural visionaries have combined with supportive state policies to ensure the success of the movement for sustainability.

Chapters 7 through 11 constitute part 2: “Alternative Practices for a New Agriculture.” Nilda Pérez and Luis Vázquez discuss ecological pest management to reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides. Ecological pest management began in the 1980s when Cubans learned of the extent of damage caused by the intensive use of chemicals. Twenty years later, Cuba has “a pest management policy which takes into account ecological, economic and social aspects of pest control” (136). Antonio Casanova and his coauthors discuss intercropping. Polycultures date to pre-Columbian times. The practice survived on personal plots of agrarian workers, runaway slaves, and campesinos. These practices survived thanks to the empowerment of the peasantry after 1959 and were studied by Cuban agronomists. Arcadio Ríos and Félix Ponce focus on mechanization versus animal traction in sustainable agriculture. Mechanization was largely undertaken after 1959 under the influence of what Cuban planners called the “classic model,” that is, Soviet industrial farms. Mechanization resulted in soil compaction, erosion and salinization, and poor drainage. Thus, Cubans turned to the use of draft animals and new technologies that combine with it. Soil management is examined by Eolia Treto and her coauthors. Soil degradation began under the Spanish on large-scale farms but accelerated under U.S. domination of the island. Despite adoption of the Soviet industrial farm model, the rate of soil degradation actually slowed—but degradation continued. Only since 1990 has a major soil conservation effort been undertaken using biofertilizers and biopesticides (microbial formulations that are nontoxic to humans). The final chapter by Marta Monzonte and her coauthors looks at integration of crops and livestock. The highly specialized and intensive model of agriculture separated processes of production of crops and livestock. Thanks to the social policies of the Cuban revolution, small- and medium-size farms survived, and with them the traditional mixed system of land use based on locally available resources. These served as the starting point for the current alternative agriculture.

Part 3 (chapters 12–16) provides fascinating examples of the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Mercedes García’s essay deals with green medicine, which has a long history in Cuba. Yet scientific study of medicinal properties of herbs is relatively new. Dr. Juan Tomás Roig y Mesa, considered the father of green medicine, studied Cuban flora in the middle of the twentieth century. More recently, the Central Laboratory of Herbal Medicine at the Higher Institute of Military Medicine of the Revolutionary Armed Forces has researched the medicinal properties of Cuba’s flora as part of the country’s defense strategy in the face of potential U.S. invasion. Thus, when the economic crisis of the 1990s arrived, there were herbal remedies ready to substitute for hard-to-produce or hard-to-purchase industrial pharmaceuticals. Ever since, the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Agriculture have continued this line of research. Nelson Companioni and his coauthors discuss urban agriculture, which has grown in Cuban cities and suburbs ever since the early 1990s. The immediate goal of urban agriculture was to provide much-needed food. But its goals expanded to include organic farming, rational use of resources, and direct marketing. Urban agriculture is an important part of sustainable development. It has the potential of producing a large portion of food, especially the easily perishable, to feed the city population. The authors expect that “in the near future urban agriculture will satisfy a high percentage of the food needs of our population” (235). Urban agriculture also makes it necessary to rethink city planning and development in keeping with principles of sustainable development.

Miguel Socorro and his coauthors report on the Cultivo Popular (“Popular Rice”) program, a small-scale rice production program that requires little or no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Rice is one of the most basic components of the Cuban diet, and large-scale production of rice suffered with the onset of the economic crisis. Rafael Suárez and Rafael Morín discuss sugarcane production and sustainability. This is more like a think piece with important implications for sustainable development, not just sustainable agriculture, in Cuba. Sugarcane production has been the centerpiece of the Cuban economy for centuries. Since 2002, it has been recognized that sugar production, hence sugarcane farming, could not retain its historic role in the Cuban economy. This chapter discusses some alternative uses for sugarcane, including production of protein and energy from sugarcane molasses and biomass, respectively. The authors’ goal is to “show that the sugarcane industry in Cuba has all the necessary ingredients of sustainable industrial development” (260). In the final chapter, Niurka Pérez and Dayma Echevaría discuss the experiences of two Basic Units for Cooperative Production. Beginning in September of 1993, state farms were gradually transformed into Basic Units for Cooperative Production to create material incentives for greater output with the least use of resources. The authors show that the cooperative that grows tobacco has been more successful in developing organic farming methods while sugarcane production still depends on old methods and technologies. This is because sugarcane is a highly industrialized crop, produced on large plots of land where machinery is used to make the work easier on workers. Tobacco is a hand labor–intensive family crop produced on smaller plots and has a semi-artisanal production cycle requiring minimum use of machinery. The authors conclude that “there is still a long way to go for the development of organic production at the large farm level” (273). Perhaps sustainable agriculture would require a move away from such large-scale farms to an economy supported by family farmers (small producers) or cooperatives (medium producers).

In the prologue, University of California, Berkeley, agroecologist Miguel Altieri emphasizes the democratic and participatory nature of the sustainable agriculture movement in Cuba. It has been spearheaded by the Cuban Organic Agriculture Association, now called the Organic Farming Group, of the national Association of Agriculture and Forestry Technicians. And it involves all the national peasant organizations built after the 1959 revolution, in particular the National Association of Small Farmers. Peter Rosset (Stanford University) and Martin Bourque (The Ecology Center, Berkeley), who are coeditors of the present volume, note in the introduction that Cuba offers an example of how a fundamental shift in policy backed by meaningful resource allocation have supported the sustainable agriculture movement. “It is therefore important all people interested in developing food systems that are socially just, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable, pay close attention to current policy and technological development in Cuba” (xv). In the epilogue, Harvard ecologist Richard Levins caps the volume by drawing attention to the socialist course of the Cuban development. “What we see in Cuba is the emergence of a socialist society, with socialist patterns of production, demography, settlement, human relations, and relation with our habitat. Agriculture is one aspect of this process” (276).

While it is not possible to conceive of the successes of the sustainable agriculture movement in Cuba without acknowledging the 1959 revolution and the socialist direction of the revolution since, it is important to consider what the experience with the sustainable agriculture movement implies for socialist development strategy in Cuba and beyond. More precisely, what models of socialism are compatible or even mutually reinforcing with sustainable development? As Funes and Nova underscore in their respective contributions, the Soviet model of large-scale, high-input, import-dependent monoculture was unsustainable. By 1986, the revolution’s leadership had already criticized the Soviet developmental model adopted in Cuba in the 1970s as contrary to the interest of socialist development. In her discussion of transformations in the countryside, Martín notes, “The key is that the link with the state should not be one of dependence and subordination, but rather a two-way transmission between different mechanisms and centralized state planning” (67). But Martín has also pointed to social differentiation caused by differentiated property rights, market relations, and technologies. All this invites the challenge of designing a socialist development strategy that is truly participatory and egalitarian while promoting human solidarity and harmony with nature.

While in Havana in May 2006, I had the good fortune of attending two conferences that took place almost simultaneously. I attended the closing session of the Sixth International Congress of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in Havana, May 2–8. The congress was attended by hundreds of organic farmers and sustainable development experts as well as representatives from Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mozambique, North Korea, Venezuela, and the United States. Some of these participants visited organic farms in the provinces of Havana and Santa Clara after the close of the conference. I also participated in the Third International Congress of the Work of Karl Marx and the Challenges of the 21st Century. There was little explicit overlap between the two conferences. But few of the participants in either conference would have disagreed that a central challenge of the twenty-first century is how to forge a sustainable society and that the work of Karl Marx has some bearing on theorizing and actualizing this critical effort. In the same spirit, I would recommend this book, perhaps in conjunction with The Greening of the Revolution, for courses or seminars with a focus on sustainable agriculture and sustainable development. It should also be required reading for courses dealing with the economic and social development of post-1959 Cuba. 

Kamran Nayeri 
Academic Planning and Budget 
University of California Office of the President 
1111 Franklin St., 11th floor Oakland, CA 94607-5200 
E-mail: kamran.nayeri@ucop.edu

3395. Seattle's CHOP Went Out Both with a Bang and Whimper

By Arun Gupta, The Intercept, July 2, 2020
Capital Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) zone
My family has been brutalized by police for every generation,” said Christopher Hunt, standing last week in what was then the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, an occupation-style protest in Seattle that was dispersed by authorities on Wednesday. When asked to explain the police brutality, Hunt’s voice rose.

The 53-year-old Seattle native pointed to a scar above his right eye. “When I was 21, the police hit me upside the head with a baton. Three stitches,” he said, gesturing toward the East Precinct, a block away, where he said he was beaten. “My son was beat up in 2010 by police,” he went on. “My mom was beat up by Seattle police during the civil rights movement because her husband was a Black man. That sounds generational to me.”

Hunt was among the few protesters still occupying the CHOP during the last weekend of June. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered authorities to vacate the East Precinct police department on June 8, weeks before I stood with Hunt near the boarded-up building. On Wednesday, the day finally came: The occupation was dismantled and 13 people were injured as police retook the East Precinct.

The last days of the protest told the story of an attempt to build a long-term occupation against police brutality – an outcropping of the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that erupted with the Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd. While the CHOP had lived, the East Precinct was renamed the “Seattle People Department” and decorated with signs, memorials, and graffiti dedicated to the movement. But, by its last weekend, the protest had dwindled considerably.

“When we started, there were thousands out here,” said a man with blond-tipped dreadlocks and a “Friends” shirt, standing on a concrete block in front of the precinct speaking into a megaphone. He swept his arm across a smattering of people: “Now, I can count everyone.”

“We need Black leadership. We need white bodies,” he said. “For white people, it’s easy to get a gun. Get it and tell them if they keep killing Black people, it will be war.” A few murmured hesitantly in approval.

Early that morning, on June 26, the city sent in crews to remove concrete barriers it had installed to reduce the risk of vehicular attacks. The workers retreated after protesters lied down in front of a bulldozer. A call went out for protesters to defend the CHOP. Later in the afternoon, dozens of people milled around the station and in the adjoining Cal Anderson Park.

Durkan had been threatening to end the CHOP for nearly a week. Since June 20, there have been five shootings outside the CHOP that left two people dead and four injured. The violence chased most people away. The protest shrunk to hardcore activists, reporters, security, medics, and cooks for the protest — along with teams of “heavily armed … high-threat private protection” for businesses and residents.

Local gangs were behind the shootings, some people inside the protest said, including the last incident on June 29 in which a 16-year-old was killed. Activists claim that police allowed the violence to seep in by being absent from streets surrounding the CHOP. Nonetheless, Durkan had her opening. On July 1, she issued an order declaring an unlawful assembly, dispatching hundreds of riot police and assault vehicles to clear the CHOP, arresting dozens of protesters. Police Chief Carmen Best chimed in describing the CHOP as “lawless and brutal.”
The CHOP went out with a bang and a whimper. But given anger over police violence, the movement to defund Seattle police is unlikely to dissipate. And the CHOP has spread, inspiring Occupy City Hall in New York that is demanding $1 billion in cuts to the New York Police Department.

CHOP began as an accident. After Minneapolis police killed Floyd, Seattle police responded to protests with more violence. That eroded Durkan’s credibility, a former federal prosecutor.

Police allegedly maced a 7-year-old boy, and videos of him screaming in pain went viral. Durkan claimed the strips of black tape covering police badge numbers were “mourning bands” for fallen officers. The last time a Seattle officer died in the line of duty was 2009. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the city for “indiscriminately used excessive force” against “overwhelmingly peaceful” protests. Two days after Durkan and the police chief announced a 30-day ban on tear gas, police again used tear gas on protesters. On June 7, a man drove into a crowd of protesters, shot a demonstrator, exited the car waving a handgun and surrendered to East Precinct police without incident, claiming that his brother was a cop there.

Durkan’s standing was further tarnished by repeated police assaults on protesters and tear-gassing residents inside their homes in Capitol Hill, which has a history of queer and trans activism. Democratic Party activists called on her to resign or be impeached over the police violence and previous killings of Black Seattleites, leading thousands to sign petitions in favor of her removal and garnering support from three of nine city council members.
Kshama Sawant, the socialist council member who represents Capitol Hill, said Durkan “overreached” after disruptive protests began May 29. Instead of allowing protesters to march past the precinct, Sawant said, “police threw hundreds of flash bangs, attacked the medics tents, tear-gassed the entire neighborhood. The violence backfired and built support for the movement. Hundreds of activists, led by Black and brown youth, decided to challenge the intimidation of police at the East Precinct.”

It was similar, Sawant noted, to historical moments when the governments’ reflex to escalate violence against protests created more support rather than crushing them, such as May 1968 in France, the Arab Spring in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011, or Occupy Wall Street in New York later that year.

Finding herself in such a moment, Durkan told police to abandon the East Precinct against the wishes of her police chief.

The fiery Seattle protests were Mark Anthony’s baptism into protest activism. He had been on the streets for barely a week when on June 8, the 32-year-old former brand ambassador and tour guide for Boeing headed to Capitol Hill. “I drove the entire way with some very choice words for the police,” he said. “I was disappointed when I got here, and they were gone.”

Anthony, who became a leader in the CHOP, said, “One of our white allies grabbed the first tent” — founding the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone that night.

The early vibe was like a festival. “It was a cross between Burning Man and Coachella,” one visitor said. Just as historic protests after Floyd’s death served as a release valve for deep rage against racist policing and relief from months of pandemic lockdown, the CHAZ was a flowering of hope that drew thousands in a season of death. (Organizers later changed the name to CHOP, saying that they were not seeking autonomy and to keep the focus on Black Lives Matter.)

Artists painted an enormous Black Lives Matter street mural that popped with life. DJs hosted late-night dance parties. Documentaries such as “Paris is Burning” and “13th” were screened outdoors. Native American drumming circles cohabited with meditation sessions. Plots of black earth sprouted leafy greens and placards honoring Black historical figures. A “No Cop Co-op” handed out toothpaste, toilet paper, and other supplies while the Riot Kitchen and Feed the Movement dished out free “vegetable kimchi tofu ‘pastrami’ reuben wraps and gochujang beef fried rice.” Families picnicked, social influencers livestreamed, and general assemblies and teach-ins were held regularly.

The miniature society that sprang up was a legacy of a raft of occupation protests over the past years, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sandy, and Occupy ICE, in particular. These movements espoused principles of self-organization and mutual aid, where activists learned how to rapidly set up housing, health care, kitchens, education, child care, free stores, and tech support.

“CHOP had a very positive energy and people were taking care of each other. It was like Occupy on steroids,” said Michael, a member of the now-disbanded security team known as Sentinels, who asked that his last name not be used.

Yet the Occupy movements foundered on a broken society and the individuals it produced. One veteran organizer involved in New York’s Occupy movements, who asked not to be named, said, “Occupy is outside the authority of existing institutions. It’s a magnet for people who are needy and even pushy, abusive, and exploitive.”
Similar problems dogged the CHOP. Slate, another Sentinel who did not give a last name, said one self-appointed security person “pulled handguns on and maced people.”

“Tourists” drew considerable ire. “We had people flying in from all over because they thought it was a lawless place, a festival, anything goes,” said Anthony, the CHOP activist. “We made the DJs stop at midnight. We are separating the people here to protest from the people who came to party.”

A party was one draw; others came simply in search of a place. Homeless Seattleites, whose population has grown in recent years, poured into the CHOP. “Of course they are going to come to CHOP,” said Michael. “They got food, a free store, a safe place to sleep and hang out, and there is hope.” On top of that, he said, “Free thinkers do drugs, so there’s going to be people doing drugs. There’s going to be a market, so people will fight over it.” He speculated the drug trade attracted local gangs.

By the end of June, with families and tourists having disappeared because of the violence, the park looked like the end stage of many Occupy camps, with scores of people living in tents. “It’s not a protest,” said Hunt, the CHOP activist. “It’s a damn homeless encampment.”

While CHOP bears similarities to Occupy Wall Street, there are differences: The Seattle movement was less focused on maintaining the occupation itself or providing broad-based social services as essential political work.

Those are the functions of the state, said Anthony, adding, “I’m tired of babysitting. We are not against social workers, counselors, the fire department. We are against racist, crooked cops.” He said they escorted out sexual assaulters and spent hours finding support for those having mental health crises. Volunteers had to talk down a man threatening to jump from a rooftop.

The CHOP also encountered problems Occupy Wall Street never imagined, namely President Donald Trump. One day after the protest began, he rage-tweeted, “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle,” threatening to take the city back by force from “ugly anarchists.” The incitement trickled down to Fox News fabricating images of violence in Seattle and racist right-wing media calling a Black activist a “warlord.” Others may have taken Trump’s words as a call for violence, as has happened before. The far-right group Proud Boys were caught on video assaulting a man near the CHOP. One assailant was a notorious brawler, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who was later arrested for violating his probation.

Despite differences with Occupy, the CHOP faltered for similar reasons. Movements that start online may capture the imagination with slogans like “We Are the 99%” or “Follow Black Leadership,” but they are too flimsy to bridge deep historical divisions. The all-are-welcome, open organizing form, meanwhile, is too shallow to allow for politics and too prone to manipulation. One observer described the general assemblies as more meandering speak-outs than disciplined strategy sessions.

“CHOP is like if Twitter were an actual place. It’s full of different ideologies, perspectives, and pains, and everyone thinks they are right and no one wants to be a follower,” said Slate. “I would hear the term ‘Black leadership’ 15 times a day, and no one knew who they were. There wasn’t a group with shared ideas and leadership.”
Hunt, for his part, is angry. “Greed drowned out the protests,” he said. “Everyone is fighting to be a leader because they want to be in the meeting with the mayor and say, ‘Defund the police and fund my organization.’ We didn’t come out here because nonprofits aren’t being funded. We came out here because cops are killing Black people.”

Those divisions play out in the CHOP. Both Anthony and Hunt complained that other activists told them that only Black women should speak, not Black men. On Juneteenth, when activists set aside a section of the park for Black healing, guarded by white people whose job was to keep other white people out, Anthony said, “I started tearing down the signs saying ‘this is a Black-only space.’” He said he felt it was important that many voices be heard. Another participant said the incident was an example of “the perils of extreme identity politics.” Yet others said CHOP often served as a “performative space for white guilt.”

Durkan and the police, meanwhile, blame the CHOP for gang violence that is a product of Seattle’s dystopia. Home to technology behemoths, Amazon and Microsoft, the region has a GDP of $392 billion, nearly the size of Nigeria with its 196 million people. Racial income inequality is extreme. For every dollar white households in Seattle make, Black households make 40 cents, a spread 25 cents greater than the national average. Public schools are unequal and segregated. Soaring rentshomelessness, mental health crises, and incarceration fall heaviest on Black and Indigenous communities.

For the CHOP, it was a Sisyphean task to negotiate complex political issues among activists who barely knew each under the glare of national media, pressured by the city and cops, and plagued by violent actors on the fringes.

Yet the activists were able to find some agreement. They united around three demands: Cut Seattle’s $409 million police budget by 50 percent, shift funding to historically Black communities, and amnesty for all those arrested in the protests. The CHOP may not have survived, but its agenda and example did.