The History Of Temporary Autonomous Zones On ‘Worst Year Ever’

On this episode of Worst Year Ever, Robert Evans, Katy Stoll, and Cody Johnston discuss the history of temporary autonomous zones, or TAZs. This concept has been in the news lately because Black Lives Matter protestors have taken over a section of Seattle, Washington, occupied the police precinct, and established an autonomous zone. Robert recently visited the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) there, so he tells Katy and Cody about his experience there and debunks a few Fox News headlines about the situation as well. The term “temporary autonomous zone” was coined by a controversial author named Hakim Bey. He wrote in 1990 that America is a police state, so in order to experience true freedom, it’s necessary to seize territory and establish communities outside of government authority.

While Bey may have named TAZs, he didn’t invent them; there have been examples throughout history and all over the world, like anarchist neighborhoods in Slovenia and Sweden, the Ukrainian Revolution occupying Kyiv against Russia, the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Pipeline, and even giant parties like Burning Man or Woodstock. The idea is to try out a different kind of society; no policing or formal authority is arranged, people operate on barters or gift exchanges and ban regular currency, and sometimes they even forego government-controlled utilities like electricity as well. And it’s true that oftentimes, inhabitants of a TAZ will inevitably get into a confrontation with the police at some point, sometimes violent. However, at the Seattle CHAZ, the picture is closer to a “block party” than anything else, Robert says. 

Fox News reported that there were armed protestors terrorizing businesses in the area to provide goods and services to people, but Robert found that the businesses had voluntarily opened their doors to protestors, allowing them to use their bathrooms or to provide a place to set up supplies to hand out. At the CHAZ, currency is not banned, so many of the restaurants and shops are actually making more money than they otherwise would as people flock to the area. People are giving speeches, doing free film screenings, providing free food and basic medical services, and playing music. Robert recalls getting “a lovely bibimbap and watching some people paint a mural. It was a really nice afternoon!” Ironically, he points out, the same people who are afraid of the CHAZ would probably support it if it were being undertaken for different reasons. Learn more about the theory behind TAZs, and the reality of the Seattle CHAZ, on this episode of Worst Year Ever.

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