It wasn’t too long ago that I displayed an anarchist flag in my office, oblivious to the contradiction between the flag and my commitment, as a lawyer, to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. It took representation of a group of folks walking on the wild side of the law to teach me a deeper respect for the rule of law.
I’m reminded of this as I watch, with dread, events in Seattle.
Things won’t end well in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or “CHAZ.”
Recall Occupy New Haven in 2011/2012. They were the group who set up a tent city on the New Haven Green, the public space in the center of the city. I was the lead lawyer representing them in federal court, trying to prevent the City of New Haven from dismantling their tents. Another lawyer attended the group's more quotidian affairs.
It all started well enough. Protestors announced that they were the 99 percent, the people, a group in opposition to the one percent who control the nation’s wealth. The protest began as a complaint about income inequality and the lack of opportunity for the vast majority of Americans. Occupying the green, setting up a tent city, would demonstrate to the world that marginal people would no longer be ignored. They’d camp out on the green until the world, and, presumably, social policy, took note of them.
Justice, they cried. Now! It is the cry of radicals everywhere.
The tent city remained in place four roughly six months. Protestors set up camp in October and remained until forcibly removed in the late Spring of 2012, just in time for the green to be tidied up for Yale’s graduation ceremonies. (Follow the money when justice is done; Lady Justice may wear a blindfold, but her robes are expensive.)
When New Haven tried to force the protestors off the green, we went to federal court. The people assembled were engaged in protest speech. When the District Court disagreed, we took our fight to the federal appellate court in New York. The tent city was dismantled when the appeals court ruled it was time for the protestors to leave.
We counted it a victory to remain on the green for as long as we did. The city made it easy, providing portable toilets and policing. But we weren't so bold as to declare independence. That would have been specious nonsense.
Working with the group wasn’t an idyllic experience. As the weeks turned to months and the number of tents dwindled from 100 or so to a score or more, the gritty of reality of people living together became more and more obvious. There were reports of theft; there was a claimed sexual assault; cliques emerged. I worried, from time to time, about violence erupting. We wondered whether to ask for police help, but that seemed somehow hypocritical – you can’t very well proclaim utopia in plain view of the world and then come crawling to the police for help.
It turns out these happy anarchists quickly became the same sort of grouchy territorial creatures they thought they had escaped from. New Haven’s police and administration did a good job of giving the protestors the space they needed to speak out, to act out, without abandoning their responsibility to protect the public.
Not so the feckless mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, of Washington State’s moronic Gov. Jay Inslee. These two woke politicos have basically walked away from their responsibilities as activists not only took to the streets, but, effectively, declared themselves to be an independent republic. There is no police presence in CHAZ. Armed civilians patrol the perimeter of the neighbor, demanding tribute from residents, and checking the papers of those who seek to enter the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I listened this morning as one social justice warrior threatened to “blow the head off” of a person questioning this secessionist playpen’s attempt to rule.
Occupy New Haven was child’s play by contrast to CHAZ.
Someone is going to get hurt, and badly, in Seattle.
What happens when one of the leaders of this brave new mini-republic attempts to force a resident to do something – let’s say pay tribute, or remain home, or kneel at just the right time and in the right way? Normally, a city resident can call the police when molested in their home or in public. But Seattle’s mayor has called off the police; Gov. Inslee pretends not to know what’s going on. Public authorities have abandoned the folks in this neighborhood.
Suppose a resident unhappy with this motley coup decides to resist, and does so by show of force? Is that use of force justified? When the law refuses to respond, folks have a right to take matters into their own hands. That’s a given in every version of social contract theory.
So a woke mob wants to secede from the union. It wasn’t so simple when the South tried to do so. Much blood was shed in the name of the sacred bonds of union. Abandoning any portion of the good people of Seattle to the dictatorship of the woke violates the social compact. There are no autonomous zones in a republic.
The law sets the minimum conditions of life in a community. When the law abandons people it returns them to the state of nature, where, as Thomas Hobbes once put, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” What happens when someone gets killed in CHAZ?
We’re in the thrall of a legitimation crisis. Anarchy is one response. So, too, is reclaiming public spaces by means of force. CHAZ doesn’t end well if it doesn’t end soon. Let’s face it, Seattle isn’t Woodstock, and all the woke-gibberish in the world won’t transform this unruly mob into a republic.