Anarchists: They play by different rules
by Jim Brunner Seattle Times staff reporter
These are the anarchists’ house rules: no graffiti, no drugs or alcohol, smoking allowed only on the roof. And no violence – at least not inside the Seattle building occupied by dozens of them since Sunday.
Outside is another matter. Authorities say the hooded youths who seized two floors of a building at Virginia Street and Ninth Avenue may be among those responsible for the spree of smashed windows and slashed tires that marred what many protesters hoped would be a week of peaceful demonstrations against the World Trade Organization.
But yesterday, the anarchists, often polite and well-spoken, displayed their new home to journalists and said seizing it was a political statement about homlessness and the lack of ow-income housing.
With the Seattle police West Precinct just one block away, entry to the so-called “Autonomous Zone” is strictly controlled. As reporters waited outside, the anarchists barked commands through two-way radios. “I need to speak to Sgt. Pepper Spray, over,” said one, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and bandana over his face and introducing himself as “Black.” “Front door, we are clear, open up now,” came the response. The reporters were hustled inside by hooded young men who quickly slammed the door and replaced the boards barricading it.
Inside, the anarchists go by code names: “Echo,” “Squash,” “Lincoln” and just plain “Ben.” As many as 150 sleep on blankets and sleeping bags on the wooden floors and eat donated soup, bread and potatoes. Atop the roof, they hoisted their flag, “The Jolly Worker” – a skull crossed with a hammer and saw.
They came from all over the country to protest the WTO. And now they want to stay in their new-found home long after this week.The building’s owner, Wah Lui, doesn’t think much of their political views – he just wants them out: “Their rationale is so juvenile, there’s no point in even discussing it with them. Life is so simple to them.”
The city cut off power and water to the building after it was occupied, so Lui gave the squatters battery-powered lights, fire extinguishers and a portable toilet. “But that doesn’t mean I’m a nice guy,” he said. “I don’t want them to stay as my guests.”
Lui said the building was not going to waste, as protesters claim. He said he had applied for city permits to install an elevator, renovate the building and rent it out as artist studios.
Police spokeswoman Christie-Lynne Bonner said police have more pressing concerns at the moment. But at least one person who had been staying in the building was arrested. Late Tuesday,a masked youth held by police yelled to friends, “Go to the squat and tell them 007′s been busted.”
The utility shutdown has hurt the building’s two paying tenants, small businesses that occupy the first floor and basement, directly under the anarchists’ abode. “I’m not too happy about a bunch of punks taking over and putting me out of business,” said John Citoli, who runs a software and book-packaging business in the building.
“Ben,” 20, a dreadlocked man from Minneapolis, said he feels no guilt about trespassing: “Owners get the money to buy property by employing workers and making money off the labor of others without working themselves.”
He added that he did not participate in the violence blamed on many of the anarchists. “I didn’t come here to break things. I came here to communicate a political message,” he said.
But others said it’s OK to smash the windows of corporate stores such as NikeTown to make a political statement. “What individuals do when they leave this household, that’s not up to us,” “Black”said<p>
Squatters vacate downtown building after ‘deal’
by Chris Solomon Seattle Times staff reporter
The group of young, self-styled anarchists, homeless advocates and others who took up residence for nearly one week in a building near Virginia Street and Ninth Avenue danced on its tar roof yesterday, cheered by a verbal agreement that housing for the homeless would replace them after their departure.
But not long after the two dozen squatters and their supporters slammed the door and melted away, warmed by the sun and their victory, the building’s still-furious owner hedged on any deal. “This is like someone putting a gun to your head and telling you to donate to the Salvation Army,” owner Wah Lui said, still fuming at the group’s tactics and the lack of any punishment.
Young people took over the building north of downtown last Sunday night. Since then, a variety of protesters – as many as 150 – have used “the squat” as a place to sleep, eat and congregate. Many called themselves anarchists, and at least one resident yesterday had been arrested last week for vandalism.
But most said violence and chaos were not their goal. The word anarchos is Greek for “without a leader,” and residents said that better explained their opposition to hierarchies that rob people of their voices and access to basic rights such as affordable – or even free – housing.
Though some of the squatters came from out of town, several were from Seattle. One of them, who went by the name “Black,” said he was homeless, despite being enrolled at Seattle Central Community College and having a 3-month-old baby.
The squatters said the building was derelict and should be used for housing. Lui, who recently bought the building, said he has plans to renovate it. The city cut off power and water after the building was occupied, chasing out Lui’s handful of tenants. Lui gave the trespassers a portable toilet, fire extinguishers and battery-powered lights. The police would not evict them last week.
Under a deal brokered by Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and Bob Santos, regional director of the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lui tentatively agreed to let two homeless-advocacy groups lease part of the building, provided the young people inside never returned. About 25 beds also would be made available for one week to people at the Julie Apartments across the street from the occupied building.
Lui was also infuriated by a mention in LIHI’s agreement yesterday that he would negotiate to sell a 50-unit apartment building on Seneca Street that he owns. The squatters and homeless advocates, meanwhile, didn’t seem concerned that they had nothing in writing from Lui.They pointed to the 1992 occupation of the 100-plus-unit Pacific Hotel and the Arion Court downtown – two instances of public pressure that forced building owners to donate or sell the buildings for use as low-income housing.