It's been a bit since we've had a check-in. Let's get a quick temperature check.
Yes, like a real one. It's a pandemic out there! I'm feeling around 97 degrees. I hope you are, too.
Last time we checked in, we were still figuring out what life might look like at The Stranger after COVID-19's nearly fatal first blow. It's now been over three months since coronavirus hit Seattle, and over three months since Friday the 13, the terrible day when we had to lay off many Stranger staffers after coronavirus-related closures cut ninety percent of our revenue basically overnight. It’s been fucking hard, to say the least. But now, thanks to continued contributions from our readers, we've stabilized. Actually, more than stabilized. If you look back on our past month of coverage, I'd say we're thriving.
This summer, we’ve temporarily added our longtime freelancer Matt Baume to The Stranger staff. Matt is covering for Associate Editor Eli Sanders while Eli is away on leave. He's been writing about musicals and autonomous gardens and tamales on-the-move and we're so lucky to have him.
Stranger reader contributions have allowed us to bring back Stranger staff writer Jasmyne Keimig, who was furloughed in our original layoffs back in March. Jasmyne writes about arts and culture and has been a shrewd and necessary voice over this last month.
And. God. What a month.
The beginning of June looked a lot like this:
I couldn't have imagined how this city, and specifically Capitol Hill, was going to change when we went into that first Saturday protest at the end of May. That weekend, police cars were set on fire, crocodile tears were shed for broken windows, and we marched onto I-5 in memory of George Floyd. But if I'm being honest, I thought that first weekend was going to be the beginning and end of Seattle's George Floyd uprising.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Capitol Hill's “western barricade”—as CHOP's star journalist Omari Salisbury has called it—at 11th and Pine became one of the defining events of this year. Demonstrators faced off against the Seattle Police Department for a week, until the police withdrew from the precinct in an unprecedented move that laid the groundwork for CHAZ. The New York Times covered the stand-off in this excellent story over the weekend, but we were there covering it too, almost 24/7, from the office we've occupied in this neighborhood for 28 years.
Stranger staff held out at the western barricade as things became increasingly dangerous. Staff writer Nathalie Graham and Jasmyne streamed late into the evening. One early night in the stand-off, Nathalie was stuck inside as police officers ordered dispersals, releasing tear gas that invaded the neighborhood's streets and buildings. She was the only person inside the zone who was able to record Trumpet Guy as he was arrested. Her experiences that evening led her to join a lawsuit as a plaintiff alongside Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County against the City of Seattle.
Here's a bit of what she declared in that lawsuit, which has led to a judge issuing a temporary ban on SPD's use of chemical irritants and projectiles on demonstrators:
The ground below was so immersed in gas that I couldn’t see the road. Some of it began to seep into my office, despite the closed windows, and I began to cough.
When the gas cleared enough for me to at last observe the street, I saw that a woman in a wheelchair had been left behind by the crowd as it fled. Police continued to stream past her, but no one stopped to help her.
Witnessing the aggressive, indiscriminate deployment of chemical agents and flash-bang grenades by police at these protests has made me reconsider how I approach my assignments. There is a new element of trepidation, anxiety, and fear to my experience of being a journalist. I am determined to assert my rights and do my job, so I will continue reporting—but I would not be surprised if other journalists felt that their ability to report from the ground was significantly impaired by these law enforcement tactics. They are deeply disturbing.
We continued to report nightly on the conflict at the western barricade, sometimes until 3 or 4 in the morning, even after starting our days at 8 or 9 a.m. I'll never forget the night of June 8, watching Senior staff writer Rich Smith write a Slog long past midnight while our office filled with tear gas, and while Jasmyne livestreamed the night's events from our windows.
Law enforcement had deployed a shocking amount of tear gas, which quickly rose through the air and began to permeate our offices. The visiting photojournalists put on gas masks provided by their employers. My coworkers and I did not have that kind of protective equipment; our newspaper is small and community-based, and we can’t afford it.
Even all the way up on the third floor, my coworkers and I began coughing, struggling to breathe, and crying from the burning in our eyes. My boyfriend, who was in the office keeping me company, had to take shelter in a windowless bathroom because he felt like he was having an asthma attack. The pain and discomfort we experienced were incredible given our distance from the center of the action.
During this time, I felt like I was reporting on a war zone: there were constant deafening booms, flashes of bright light, screams, and a haze of choking tear gas drifting over it all. At one point, I witnessed a protester drop to the ground after being struck by a projectile. Other protesters rushed to give aid, but the police did not pause their assault.
The protester I mentioned was Aubreanna Inda, a demonstrator who "died three times" on June 8 after a law enforcement officer threw a flash-bang grenade that hit her in the chest. Inda ended up surviving multiple incidents of cardiac arrest, including three later that morning after medics transported her to the hospital. Medics who treated Inda attest that SPD targeted them that evening while they were treating a critically wounded protester.
Finally, on a Monday I don't think any of us will forget, SPD retreated. The crowd of demonstrators pushed forward and through the streets. Immediately, the barricades began to reform. By the end of the night, we were witnessing the dawn of “Free Capitol Hill.”
Free Capitol Hill quickly turned into the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, which then evolved into the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or the Capitol Hill Organized Protest. Names, like leaders, were fluid in CHOP. But things were, in the beginning, strangely calm. We wrote about how Ava Duvernay’s film 13th was screened outside the precinct. Free food stands were created. Each day, these stands grew.
Then conservative media came. Trump tweeted about it. Durkan embraced it, superficially, and tourists flooded the zone. It was miraculous, confusing, and all during a pandemic.
Permeating all of this has been COVID-19. In June, we've covered the state's transitions from Phase 1 to Phase 1.5 to Phase 2. Our Resident Philosopher Charles Mudede has written about people flying in from other states with spiking infection rates, how COVID-19 reminds him of growing up in Zimbabwe during the AIDS crisis, and about the virus's impact on the markets, all written in a way that only Charles can write.
Our reporting in the last month hasn't been confined just to CHOP and COVID. We've also followed marches to South Seattle and North Seattle and City Hall. Rich followed up on Evan Hrera, the protester who filmed the kid a cop allegedly pepper-sprayed, as he was released from jail. We've also kept track of the many calls for Mayor Jenny Durkan to resign.
In between dodging tear gas and suing the city, Nathalie has continued to write about the Seattle City Council, and specifically the progressive revenue bills we’ll need to pass to confront our pandemic-sized budget hole.
This dogged coverage comes alongside our ongoing columns and parties. Slog's popular morning and evening news round-ups, Slog AM and PM, publish every weekday. Our Silent Reading Party, every Wednesday over Zoom, recently received visits from the New York Times and Garth Greenwell. And even though museums and galleries have been shut down, Jasmyne's regular Currently Hanging column is still running, but instead of covering oil paintings or ceramic figures she's out in the streets writing about pup murals and giant Black Power fists.
Jasmyne’s return has also meant her fun weekly Sticker Patrol column is back. I think about this sticker she found all the time:
Jasmyne and I have also continued our film column, Unstreamable, which highlights films and TV shows that you can't find on major streaming services. In June, we've focused on Mel Gibson in Ransom, Bruce LaBruce's The Raspberry Reich, and Tila Tequila in A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.
And, of course, there’s our Message to the City series, curated by Print Editor Christopher Frizzelle and featuring locals like Sara Porkalob, Aleksa Manila, and Elisheba Johnson offering messages of encouragement every weekday morning throughout this pandemic.
While this has been one of the wettest and grayest Pride Weeks in recent memory, we threw a wickedly colorful digital Pride lineup this year, organized by Stranger Digital Producer Kim Selling. The Pride package included Gay Misérables, a showtune-filled Pride party with hometown musical theater heroes like Justin Huertas and directed by Frizzelle. There was a disco and house tea dance and a Pride edition of Collide-O-Scope. But my favorite part of our lineup was the all-night, after-hours queer party produced by Cucci Binaca on The Stranger’s Zoom channel.
(By the way, are you putting on an event that you’d like to host on the Stranger’s streaming platform? Tell us all the details here.)
In between all of this, Rich and Nathalie have been leading another round of our Stranger Election Control Board, organizing meetings with people like Rep. Frank Chopp and Gov. Jay Inslee and also some dude running for Washington Superintendent who did not believe in COVID-19. (We regret inviting that guy.) We’re wading through the small shit and the big shit so you can have a helpful election guide by the time your primary ballots come and stuff your boxes in the middle of July.
By the time I write another one of these updates, we won't be near the western barricade. After 28 years, The Stranger is packing up and moving to the Chinatown-International District. Our lease begins next week, although you may still see us popping around our building on 11th and Pine until they take away our keys at the end of the month.
But, by the look of CHOP today, there might not be much going on.
This past June has been the most surreal and rewarding month I've ever had at the paper. We're aware, and we hope you are too, that our coverage couldn't have happened without contributions from our readers. Thank you for continuing to support us. Please consider contributing today so we can continue supporting you.
Oh, and I hope you have a good holiday weekend! The news never rests, but our small team needs to—occasionally. Slog will be back and slogging on Monday.