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In Seattle’s Capitol Hill autonomous protest zone, some Black leaders express doubt about white allies




SEATTLE — Tracy Stewart stands on a street corner in the newly claimed Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and shakes her head.

Young white people are wandering what’s become known as CHAZ, White Claw seltzers in hand as a tuba player lofts a jaunty tune into the evening air. A woman is drawing chalk art on the street as dozens of others wait patiently in line to buy hot dogs, ignoring the free food piled across the street at the “No Cop Co-Op” tent. A red-haired woman roller-skates in turquoise boots and couples wander the six-block area with $16 craft Negronis. A Pilates instructor poses for photos at the “Free Cap Hill” sign and a group of people sit on couches at the “Conversation Café” near a Post-It covered Dream Board.

“Somebody’s dead. Why do Black bodies have to be in the street for people to have to show up?” says Stewart, a Black mental health therapist. “These people, I’m not even sure they know why they’re here.”

In just a few short days, Seattle protesters who once violently clashed with riot police over the death of George Floyd have had their rough edges dulled by tens of thousands of tourists and sightseers. Once criticized by President Donald Trump and FOX News commentators as a haven for anarchists and the far-left Antifa movement, CHAZ has morphed into what looks and feels like a mini Burning Man festival, complete with its own corps of volunteer street cleaners and medics, as well as dreadlocked white girls blowing soap bubbles and taking selfies in front of paintings of men and women killed by Seattle police.

A young man stands atop a backstop in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle during protests following the death of George Floyd.

The autonomous zone’s evolution from a somber protest site to street festival highlights the problem Seattle’s Black residents say they face: The city’s overwhelmingly white population loves to protest but might not be taking the Black Lives Matter movement as seriously as they should.

King County, home to Seattle, has about 2.2 million residents, and is about 65% white. Only about 6% of residents are Black and the Seattle Police Department has a long history of using excessive force against the area’s minority population. In 2012, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department implemented strict oversight of Seattle police, leading to a 60% drop in the use of serious force against the community over the next eight years as taxpayers poured an extra $100 million into the department.

In early May, city officials asked a federal judge to remove the decree, arguing Seattle police were no longer the racist, violent department they once were.

Eighteen days later on Memorial Day, Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis, was pinned to the ground by officers after being accused of passing a fake $20 bill at a grocery store. In a video of the encounter, Floyd gasped for breath as officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers looked on.

Two man take a picture in front of the Free Cap Hill sign in Seattle during a temporary occupation of what has become known as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.

Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests internationally, and Seattle’s veteran protesters swung into action, with a massive demonstration on May 30. There were incidents of looting and violence, and a Seattle police officer was caught on video restraining a man by kneeling on his neck.

The protests grew more confrontational, with police using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the massive crowds protesting police brutality. And then on June 8, police withdrew from the East Precinct station, ceding control over what’s now known as CHAZ. Protesters ransacked the building, and with spray paint renamed it the “Seattle People Department.”

Most businesses in the area have since closed, although a liquor store, ramen restaurant and taco joint are still doing brisk business. Police officers have showed no sign of trying to reassert control in the area, and a steady flow of city officials, including the fire chief and mayor, have visited to discuss trash, sanitation and emergency response concerns.

In an interview with local TV station King5 on Friday, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who is Black, declined to give a timeframe for reasserting control, although she noted losing access to the precinct station has dramatically increased response times of officers responding to 911 calls in the area. 

A person walks past a mural honoring George Floyd in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle.

Friday afternoon, poet Roberto Carlos Ascalon visited CHAZ with his family and friends, towing children ages 3, 4 and 5 in a small wagon. He and his wife live in a nearby neighborhood and they wanted the children to witness history unfolding.

Ascalon, 46, saidthe national response to the coronavirus pandemic — which includes $600 payments to the unemployed, billions of dollars in business grants to restaurants and shops, and widespread mask-wearing and social distancing — demonstrates that society can transform itself when and if it decides to.

“If we have a chance to abolish systemic racism and white supremacy, shouldn’t we do everything we can to take that chance?” says Ascalon, a first-generation Filipino American. “We are changing the entire system of the world on a dime. We can actually do this.”

A woman climbs down from a building in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle during protests.

Stewart, however, shakes her head as she thinks about the problems and solutions. A big part of the problem, she says, is that white people who love to protest fail to follow through by holding city officials accountable for new police contracts or spending priorities. She wants to know: Where were these people when the chief pushed back against union contract changes? Where were these people when the city declared the police department “fixed” early last month? 

“White people need to stay in when it gets uncomfortable and stop treating this like it is a party,” she says. “The marching and the protesting, all of that is important. But the work is every day holding the mayor and the City Council and the Legislature and all the way up to the president accountable.”

A big feature of the Seattle protests is the lack of specific leadership and who gets to negotiate change with the political establishment.

There’s no equivalent, at least not yet, to a Martin Luther King Jr., Congressman John Lewis, Jesse Jackson or Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement who has organized protests after the death of Floyd and other Black men, women and children in recent years. Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney for Floyd’s family, hasn’t put in an appearance in Seattle. The local chapter of Black Lives Matter has helped organize protest marches, but the CHAZ doesn’t have anyone in charge.

People take pictures of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct building, which was renamed the Seattle People Department, during protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Participants have posted signs around calling for changes ranging from maintaining the police consent decree, to reducing police funding to put more counselors and nurses in schools, and even requiring police officers to ensure their badge numbers are readable.

Other protesters are demanding financial reform to prohibit the super-wealthy, like Seattle-based Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, from getting richer without also investing in their communities, and to call for more financial and community assistance for the city’s large population of people experiencing homelessness.

“We are not here to become a bunch of armed mercenaries. We just want equal rights,” said Matthew “Bootleg Bill” Born, 40, who is white. “This is so into the unknown. We can only ask for so much and try to leverage that. We’re trying to leverage space at the table. We’re tired of being victimized by police officers in riot gear. We’re not at war.”

But if the CHAZ lacks a leader, it most definitely has two visible faces: community journalists and activists TraeAnna Holiday, 38, and Omari Salisbury, 44, who have been conducting live Facebook and YouTube broadcasts daily from next door to the abandoned police station, based out of a loft borrowed from a Microsoft techie. Holiday and Salisbury, who are both Black, work for a marketing firm, Converge, using its resources to raise questions and highlight issues they’ve been pushing for years.

Walking around CHAZ, Salisbury is greeted like a celebrity: people stop him for selfies, they boast how often they watch his videos, or ask for advice on how to get started in citizen journalism. They offer free coffee, doughnuts, handshakes and hugs, which he sometimes forgets to decline amid the pandemic.

He’s has been on the front lines of the protests for days, capturing videos that he says shows police lied about who has been starting confrontations, in particular when an officer grabbed a umbrella protesters were using to shield themselves and pepper-sprayed the crowd. 

Like many Black residents in Seattle, Salisbury has a deep-seated fear that these new white allies will once again quickly lose interest.

“This is a time for tough questions,” he says. “A lot of the things the community has been saying, especially the Black community, they’ve been saying for a long time. There’s hardly anything out there that’s new. These aren’t new things.”

Friday evening, Salisbury interviewed Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, asking her what assurances she could give the Black community that things will actually change this time. Three members of the nine-member Seattle City Council have called on Durkan to resign over how the city has mismanaged the protest response. None of the council members are Black.

“We have let people down. And we quit too early. We got comfortable with the changes we made and we thought it was done,” Durkan told Salisbury. “And it’s not done. Words, in many ways don’t matter. It’s going to be action. So peoplegotta see what I’m going to do and how I’m willing to listen and then do what the community needs and wants.”

What the community wants is change, say many Black protesters. Change from the status quo. Change from institutional racism and biased policing and violence that targets minority faces. Change so that white allies will do more to support people of color.

A crowd of people visits the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle, Washington, during protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Some Black protesters expressed gratitude that white allies were showing up. 

“We’ve gotta have hope that it’s going to change. Otherwise we’re going to die,” says Lawanna Wright, 44, as she watched some of the estimated 60,000 people march through Seattle Friday afternoon in a silent protest organized by Black Lives Matter. “It’s great to see the variety of people. There’s not a lot of Black faces out here. And that gives me hope we’re not out here fighting this battle alone.”

But many are worried they will soon be left alone to take on the city’s racist structures. 

Like many of the city’s Black residents, Wright, a substance abuse counselor, notes that Seattle’s white residents are really good at protesting but not so good at bringing about systemic change. There were the 1999 World Bank protests opposing globalization and the 2011 Occupy Seattle protests, both of which did little to halt the increasing corporate control over daily life in the city. And while the city has a reputation as a liberal bastion, Durkan is a former federal prosecutor criticized for overzealous “sweeps”of homeless encampments. Meanwhile, during the 2017 mayoral election, only 42% of registered voters participated.

Wright’s colleague Candis Dover, 55, says the true test will be time, calling this moment “the Kumbaya phase.” Her father, born in 1918 in Georgia, quit school in the third grade to pick cotton as a sharecropper because that was his only option.

“They freed the slaves but didn’t give them a pot to piss in,” she says. “We have to keep this momentum and keep moving. We can’t let up. We just can’t do this by ourselves. We have police in the schools but no nurses. We have police in the schools, but no mental health counselors.”

Watching the silent protest flood into Jefferson Park, protester Mackenzie Thornquist, 28, a flight attendant, says she’s confident her generation is ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Black community.

“My parents and their parents, some stood up for what was right but not enough of them,” says Thornquist, who is white. “The younger generation is ready to stand up. A lot of people have been too neutral.”

Back at the CHAZ, Holiday, the community activist and citizen journalist, lets a note of frustration creep into her voice as she thinks about the way the media has covered the protests, riots and takeover of the area. Conservative media has focused on the presence of armed men in the area, none of whom were breaking the law, or simply concocted fake images like FOX News, which was forced to apologize after publishing a doctored photo that appeared to show an armed man in front of a looted store.

Trump in a statement on Twitter Friday demanded that city officials end the takeover: “The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful, even the death.”

Holiday says all she sees around her is love, kindness and community, from the free food to the colorful artwork and the volunteer medics helping everyone stay safe. What’s been startling to politicians, she says, is that Americans truly want to see change, and they’re increasingly demanding it.

“The apathy in this nation has been so real. Seeing people stand up and say ‘we can’t see this happen anymore’ has literally shocked the world. It’s making every leader think about their position,” she says. “I have two sons. Two Black boys. What I want is real change. Not minor. Not incremental. But something that makes the world shift.”

A group of people wave from atop a building in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle during protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Source:


Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020




Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.


Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel



Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

[email protected]



Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum


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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more




Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

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RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.


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Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery




Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.


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