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Parallels to Berkeley 1969

by Jim Hartman

The self-declared “autonomous zone” takeover in Seattle by a far-left disorderly crowd remarkably parallels the seizure of “People’s Park” by Berkeley radicals in 1969.

The issue in Berkeley related to a single block of vacant university-owned land four blocks from campus. In Seattle, the issue is six blocks of the Capitol Hill neighborhood –both residential and commercial — including the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct.

In both cases radical activists used the tactic of seizing property “to develop a territorial imperative”.

People’s Park was launched in a bulletin from “PEOPLE’S PARC (Political and Rap Center)” appearing in the “underground” Berkeley Barb newspaper in April, 1969. It read:

“A park will be built this Sunday (April 20) between Dwight and Haste. The land is now owned by the University…. On Sunday we will stop this s—…. We want the park to be a cultural, political, freak-out and rap center for the Western World. This summer we will not be f—– over by the pigs ‘move-on’ fascism, we will police our own park and not allow its occupation by imperial power….Nobody supervises and the trip belongs to whoever dreams.”

As a result of the “PEOPLE’S PARC” bulletin, people showed up on April 20 at the vacant lot.

A 13-point “Berkeley Liberation Program” was announced , including making the South Campus area a “strategic free territory for revolution”. The “manifesto” called for rent strikes, direct seizure of property, expansion of “our drug culture”, taking up arms, teaching street fighting and making Berkeley a sanctuary for “revolutionary fugitives”.

In Seattle, the spark igniting the “autonomous zone” takeover was the killing of George Floyd on May 25. Rioters sacked Nordstrom’s downtown Seattle flagship store and more than 100 other businesses—without any police response. Then, they attacked the police precinct in the gentrified Capitol Hill neighborhood east of downtown.

The siege of East Precinct lasted 11 days. Officers in riot gear were subjected to projectiles being hurled at them- including rocks, bricks, frozen water bottles and even improvised explosives . On June 8, the police withdrew and within hours the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”, CHAZ (now CHOP) , was established.

A list of the occupiers’ demands was posted online. They include the abolition of the Seattle Police Department and local court system ; the end of jails and prisons; having people “self-police” for crime; and reparations for “victims of police brutality, in a form to be determined.”

The utopian wish list of demands extends to everything—a far-left “kitchen sink” . Free public housing. Free health care. Free college. Rent control and funding for the arts.

The most stunning difference between Berkeley in 1969 and Seattle in 2020 is the response by public officials to provocations and lawlessness.

In 1969, after fruitless negotiations, UC Berkeley officials erected a fence to reclaim their real estate. A riot ensued. Berkeley’s police chief immediately enlisted “mutual aid” from neighboring jurisdictions and counseled sending in the national guard.

Berkeley Mayor Wallace Johnson concurred. At Johnson’s request, California Governor Ronald Reagan declared a “state of extreme emergency” and swiftly deployed the California National Guard. Within eighteen days, order was restored and Reagan withdrew all the guard troops.

In stark contrast are reactions of Seattle public officials. Police Chief Carmen Best said abandoning the East Precinct was “not my decision”. She reports 911 response times now tripling.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan ordered the officers out. She called the “autonomous zone” seizure “patriotic” and compared the takeover to a block party– forecasting “a summer of love”.

After four shootings (one fatal) in three days beginning June 20, Durkan called for a “voluntary” end of the “police-free” zone. No timeline for ending the occupation was set—and mayhem continues.

Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, Socialist Alternative party member, proposed leaving the “autonomous zone” under “community control” permanently, with members of the left-wing John Brown Gun Club roaming the streets brandishing weapons.

Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was widely mocked for pleading ignorance of the takeover days after it happened.

Public officials appear “Clueless in Seattle”.

Jim Hartman is an attorney residing in Genoa. A Berkeley native, his first client was Mayor Wallace Johnson.