all pictures borrowed from Alex Garland
In the afternoon of Black Friday, roughly 100 people gathered in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to disrupt capitalist tradition and call for an end to the ongoing genocide in Palestine. An autonomous call to mobilize to “Block Black Friday” began circulating in anarchist and radical circles the week of so-called “Thanksgiving,” calling for “No business as usual,” to “Shut it down for Palestine” and to meet at the Starbucks Roastery in Capitol Hill.
As people began to gather at the Starbucks, there was a line forming around the block of 30+ customers waiting to get inside. Within 20 minutes, the line had disappeared and Starbucks had stopped letting customers in. Within an hour of the posted start time, the front door to the Starbucks Roastery had been locked from the inside and customers were being turned away. The targeting of Starbucks was deliberate. Starbucks is a main funder for the Seattle Police Department’s labor union, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. SPD has long participated in what activists call “the Deadly Exchange Program,” where SPD and Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) cooperate in trainings in counterinsurgency. As well, Starbucks has engaged in blatant union busting in response to the national-scale labor-organizing efforts taken up by in recent years underpaid and overworked Starbucks employees. Starbucks also recently sued the Starbucks workers’ union after they posted a tweet declaring solidarity with Palestine. While people rallied, chanted, and sang songs on the sidewalks, the facade of the Starbucks was defaced with graffiti reading “Free Gaza,” “No Jewish Hate, No Jewish State,” a Palestinian flag, and wheatpasted posters that read “Disrupt the Death Machine.” One of the windows of the roastery was also smashed, the security cameras on the roof were sprayed with paint and someone scratched “free Palestine” into the large wooden front door. During all of this, the atmosphere was upbeat but chill, with people eating tamales and drinking coffee that were being distributed from a truck parked next to the demo.
At about 4pm, the roughly 100 people who had gathered on the sidewalk in front of Starbucks began to reorient themselves in the street to prepare to march. Banners moved to the front, bikes lined the sides of the march and cars held the back in an attempt to dissuade would-be road-ragers from driving through the march. Someone was overheard saying on the megaphone “We will be marching in the street. If you are worried for your safety, we understand that sidewalks may be safer than streets, yet we must understand that safety is never guaranteed.” Banners led the march reading “From Turtle Island To Gaza: Land Back”, “From Seattle To Palestine”, “Demilitarize Everywhere!”, “Free Them All”, “Free Palestine, Fuck The Police” and a banner was hung on the I-5 overpass reading “While you’re shopping, bombs are dropping.” The march proceeded down Pine Street from Capitol Hill all the way to Westlake Plaza, where a scheduled Christmas tree-lighting ceremony was about to take place.
Once the group descended upon Westlake Plaza, they spread out within the hundreds of christmas capitalists gathered for the absurd celebration of excessive consumption. The street was blocked off by police barricades to allow for the crowd to gather and perceive the spectacle. On the right side of the street was a giant Christmas tree. On the left side of the street was a stage prepared for a performance and programming to accompany the tree lighting. People took over the stage soon after arriving and started throwing Christmas decorations to the ground and trashing the scenery. About 5 people stayed on the stage with a banner reading “From Turtle Island to Gaza: Land Back” and held it for the following hour.
The demo had effectively shut down the programming for the christmas tree lighting ceremony, but did not stop the lighting of the tree itself. As someone read out names of young Palestinians killed by bullets or bombs in Gaza, the crowd of spectators chanted “light the tree” and soon after the lights on the tree came alive and fireworks began booming overhead. It was surreal to hear hundreds of people cheer on the “spirit of Christmas” while someone else on a megaphone shouted commemorations of children killed by U.S.-funded Israeli bombs. Regardless of failing to stop the lighting of the tree, which had been performed remotely as the tree was literally surrounded by police officers, the demo had successfully shut down the Starbucks Roastery, disrupted the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, and elevated the call to end the genocide in Palestine.
There are several characteristic components of this demonstration that are worth highlighting. Of most importance is that this demo was organized autonomously – not in relation to or coordination with any of the big organizations of various political stripes that have been organizing under the slogan “Shut It Down.” Despite ANSWER & PSL’s attempts to co-opt and swoop this demonstration on social media, this demonstration had nothing to do with them or any other national/international organizing body but instead was coordinated by several crews with varying levels of experience in organizing radical street demonstrations in Seattle over the years. This is a strong example of decentralized organizing, where there was no “leadership” but rather a convergence of radicals with a shared interest in materially disrupting capitalism the ways they knew how.
While people held space with megaphones in front of the Starbucks, they made it abundantly clear that a diversity of tactics would be utilized and accepted. This foregrounding of this rhetoric created a space where small crews could feel comfortable knowing this was a space where they were free to sabotage, attack, spray paint, blast sound systems, wheatpaste, serve hot food, without the expected pressure of someone telling them to stick to the organizers’ plan. It’s also noteworthy that those with megaphones were able to keep the energy up throughout the demonstration through speeches and chants without controlling the demonstration, or creating a “WE talk, YOU listen” atmosphere.
Hot food and coffee were served out the back of a pick-up truck while people forced the Starbucks Roastery to close, creating a more inviting and participatory vibe as well as helping to connect strangers to each other. These elements of radical struggle, mutual aid and sabotage, are not separate from each other, but in fact are strengthened when harnessed together.
The decentralized nature of the demonstration allowed room and space for individuals to take advantage of unforeseen openings to act quickly to sabotage and disrupt the Christmas tree ceremony. The absence of a definitive plan allowed for more flexibility, rather than constraining participants to a rigid set of approved and agreed-upon action. This also allowed different crews to find each other in the streets and act alongside others they may not have previously known, creating space for building of relationships through building affinity, a type of trust that cannot be mimicked no matter how many days one spends in discourse on group chats.
We know this is a small gesture of solidarity, but we hope that the autonomous spirit of this demonstration will take root in this current moment of rebellion in solidarity with Palestinian liberation. We look forward to our friendships in struggle blossoming through spontaneous yet coordinated sabotage of capitalist society in furtherance of liberation, from Turtle Island to Gaza.