At a recent communal BBQ in the Central District of Seattle, I ran into a young boy who had been coming around every week to get food and wander amongst the crowd of people. I started talking to him and he asked me if the people at the BBQ were the same ones who lived at the now evicted squat on 23rd and Alder. I told him that a few of us lived there. He told me he lived in the apartment building next door. This boy was eleven years old and had been in the neighborhood his whole life.
Those who lived at the squat experienced a reality that was never fully telegraphed to the world. This is partly because those who lived there largely did not come from activist backgrounds. Only a few anarchists took the initiative to make a few random public statements on the behalf of the collective or on their own. In short, there was never much information regarding the squatting offensive that took place during the winter of 2011-2012 in Seattle.
It started on November 19th. A group of around 150 people left the site of the Occupy Seattle camp and walked to the Juvenile Detention Center. After having a brief noise demo outside the jail walls and declaring that they would be back, the group proceeded to walk to a house on 23rd and Alder. The squat was born relatively spontaneously, a mixture of an open door and the sudden desire of a dozen people to hold the house through the night.
On the first night, someone paid the neighbors to use their electricity and a few heaters were donated to the fledgling house. Over the next week, a remarkable amount of resources were poured into the house from every direction. The communists might have said it was the proletariat self-organizing, the anarchists might have said it was autonomous self-organization, but on a very basic level numerous skilled people installed a stove, wired the house with electricity, and reinforced the doors. Beyond this, everyone living in the house routinely gathered food from a variety of sources. No one was ever hungry, but as the winter intensified, it began to grow exceptionally cold inside the house.
Within the grander context of the Occupy Seattle explosion, hundreds of people were preparing for the West Coast port shutdown on December 12th. An extensive amount of promotion and networking was underway when a flier suddenly started circulating for a march on December 2nd. It was widely rumored that a high profile squatting action would take place. Prior to the action, conversations started happening about creating a wider network of squats that would not be public.
Soon enough, two keys appeared that were handed to over a dozen people who needed a place to sleep. While the new living groups walked to their new homes, several people in the neighborhood either cheered or clapped for the squatters. After settling down, the new residents returned to 23rd and Alder in the following days to gather supplies and learn of any developments. Unfortunately, one of the houses was evicted after only three days. They were caught because they had walked into the house right in front of a police cruiser. The openness of the public squat had encouraged them to be sloppy in regards to the security of their own house. Around this time, another group that attempted to open a fourth squat in the Central District were also caught in the act of opening the house.
However, the squat on Spruce Street began to thrive. Housing mostly artists, the residents of the Water House went out into the neighborhood and began painting murals on various walls. Most of them are still in existence to this day.
On December 2nd, an empty warehouse in Capitol Hill was occupied by hundreds of people. They painted on the walls, listened to live music, and ate food until the police eventually encircled the building and arrested the small number of people who stayed inside. The occupation lasted just over six hours. During the first hours of December 25th, the Water House was raided and evicted. On January 11th, the Sheriffs raided the house at 23rd and Alder and evicted the occupants at gun point.
The house on 23rd and Alder was across the street from Garfield High School. Every day the kids would come to school and see the giant anarchist flag hanging above the front door of the squat. Two students at the school lived there off and on. Occasionally their parents would come get them, but they often returned. The garbage men who drove by in the morning would always honk and wave through their window at the people cooking breakfast inside. The house was intolerably cold and to make it bearable people would talk and laugh and yell for hours into the night, waiting until they were tired enough to pass out in their sleeping bags or on their beds.
A local radio host who actively collaborates with the city and police began telling young black men to get the white people out of the neighborhood. One night some kids threw a brick through one of the front windows and were chased off by machete wielding psychopaths from hell. The next time they came back and bricked in the window they also pulled out a gun. A resident of the house had her butt grazed by a bullet and a horrible darkness entered the house. People began to grow irritable with each other and the stress ate away at their patience. They suffered the wrath that was meant for the gentrifying community groups that continue to destroy the Central District. It was far easier for these black youth to attack the squat, where not everyone was white and where no one had any money. It was far more difficult to attack the actual racists colonizing the neighborhood.
Seven blocks away, the area around the Water House began to fill with murals. A local artist brought the poor artist-squatters food and a skilled friend turned on the electricity. The immediate neighbors met the residents and expressed their happiness that someone was finally living in the house. This house was less cold, having insulation and carpets.
Everyone at 23rd and Alder was too poor to spend 60 dollars each to buy wood to wall off their unfinished rooms. Insulation had been provided by friends but it sat in the work room for the entirety of the occupation. Only one room had been walled off by the resident with the most money. This resident earned around 400 dollars a month.
Many of those who lived in the squats or hung out in their large communal rooms were bright and luminous people, filled a desire to live freely. Some had been doing it for decades, others had been born into it at a young age. All were trying to survive within the current nightmare and all had been brought to the house by fighting against capitalism on the streets. Every single person inhabiting the squats had been involved in the numerous clashes with police that had occurred since the beginning of the Occupy Seattle phenomena in October. These were fighting people who were actively engaged in a struggle they believed in and they were the ones who took the most risks during that struggle.
Winter is nasty and brutal in the Puget Sound. The wetness and rain is the most miserable part of the endless cold. When there is wind on those dark days it is even more unbearable to be stuck outside. Most of those who participated in the squatting offensive continued to live in the cold after they were kicked out of their house by shotgun wielding paramilitaries.
All of these events took place in a neighborhood where a project called 'weed and seed' was implemented by the cops and specific gentrifiers. This project has attempted to sterilize certain section of the neighborhood and forcefully displaced dozens of people from either their homes or the street corners where they hang out. The old Autonomia social center was shut down in the fall of 2011 by these reactionary and fascistic residents. These people are a very active minority of the residents who have moved to the Central District in the last ten years. While other gentrifiers are not active snitches, those who have adopted the 'weed and seed' philosophy of aggressive expansion have developed an often fascistic racial paranoia towards their neighbors.
The Central District still bears the memories and the imprints of what went on with the squats, the police, the politicians, and the gentrifiers. Everyone knows whats going on in the neighborhood and has heard of the anarchist menace lurking about in the shadows. The mayor and the police talk to the public about eliminating gun culture while the SPD and the FBI break down people's doors and raid their apartments with assault rifles. Guns go off in the night, people smoke cigarettes in the shadows, and rebellion is heard whispered in the air. The rest of 2012 will undoubtedly bring more surprises.