Images from CHOP: The Barricades as a Primal Scream
They were much more than boundary-defining structures to the occupied territory. To me the barricades at Seattle's autonomous zone -- aka, CHOP, or the Capitol Hill Organized Protest -- were the occupation's defining symbols.
By virtue of the city imposing the barricades on the protesters (in the name of public safety, according to the city), they came to represent the relationship between the occupiers and the city's power structure. And as they were the first impression many visitors and media had of the occupation, they also seemed to set the aesthetic and philosophical tone for CHOP.
For a variety of reasons, each time I visited CHOP I felt like a foreign tourist passing through an outdoor marketplace. Many great street journalists and media teams, such as the incredible folks at Converge Media, remained embedded throughout the occupation and beyond and have conveyed an intimate and personalized account. Their documentation will be definitive.
I on the other hand blew in and blew out with my cameras, not speaking with anyone, just hoping to capture a few good street images. So I don't pretend any great insights. I just have these few tourist shots and vague impressions to share.
What struck me during my first visit about a week after the initial occupation was the amount of art being created. If there was a surface, someone was covering it with paint, chalk, charcoal -- you name it.
And during that first visit -- it was a summer-like Saturday -- CHOP conveyed more of a street-fair atmosphere than a political occupation. Visitors seemed to view the barricades -- and I include myself in this categorization -- as a 100-ton art installation, not as tomes for a revolution.
But similar to how the dozens of murals that were created on shuddered businesses throughout Seattle contributed to our city's psyche, the barricades played a significant symbolic and political role in the occupation and beyond.
Whereas the murals that artists installed during the height of Seattle's struggle with the pandemic were conceived with designs and language of inclusion, compassion, and hope, the CHOP barricades evoked a stark and binary tone that fit the exigencies its subject matter: either you are in solidarity with us, or you're not.
In other words, which side of the barricades are you on? The side that kills black lives, or the side where black lives matter?
And where the murals were an invitation for us to share in a communal sense of struggle and hope, the barricades acted as an imperative that we choose between good and evil, and that we choose to be on the right side of justice and history -- NOW!
If you were not able to experience the physicality of CHOP firsthand, and wonder what it was like, imagine covering every surface you can see around you -- roads, sidewalks, fences, apartment houses, businesses, windows, doorways, port--a-potties, barricades, telephone poles, street lamps, trees, garbage cans, dumpsters, fire hydrants, parking meters, and parking signs -- with solid paints, bold-faced words, and billboard-loud graphics. There was no such thing as "white space" at CHOP.
It was because of that "take no prisoners" approach to art/messaging creation that I found that the best way to appreciate the barricades was to absorb them in their entirety, and not through a summation of their individual parts.
If I had experienced any single barrier on its own and out of the CHOP context, I would have dismissed it as someone's angry scrawl. Righteous and just, perhaps. But undoubtedly a scrawl.
Viewed collectively, as a herd, they became a group's primal scream, a pent-up demand and cry for justice and recompense.