Conflict, Consensus, and Corrections: A Response to the Independent’s Coverage

The following are some corrections to and comments on the recent article printed in the Independent on the recent building takeover, by one Carrboro Commune participant. Probably there are many other corrections and comments to be made – I’ve tried to focus on my own observations and some of the more sly implications of the article at hand. The original article can be found here.

First, in terms of numbers, at least 50 or so people participated in the march to and occupation of the building at 201 N. Greensboro St., not “20.” While a number of people were inside the building, cleaning up broken glass, building furniture, setting up a gas generator, setting up food and literature tables, and painting the walls, many more were outside engaging the public about the occupation itself. This included distributing hundreds of flyers and letters to neighbors, nearby workers, and businesses which advertised a general assembly the following day, at which people could discuss possible alternative uses for the building (other than the highly unpopular CVS).

Second, on a small, humorous note: no one ever asked for or “demanded” ice cream–this was a basically condescending attempt by the Mayor to get people out; it was more or less ignored.

Third, on the sentence “Yet neighbors doubt that the anarchists’ method is more effective…”  This is beyond inaccuracy – this is just bad, lazy journalism, with the agenda right on the table. A responsible journalist (and editor) would at least try to hide their bias and write, “Yet SOME neighbors….” Did the Independent go and talk to ALL the neighbors surrounding the CVS? I doubt it. Occupiers, however, DID go to door to door that day, and had lots of conversations that were supportive alongside those that expressed concern. Even a Daily Tar Heel reporter managed to find one such supporter for her article printed on Feb 8th, quoted as saying, ““I was walking by and I was intrigued,” he said. “To me, it opens up discussion points and that I think helps their cause.” Several of these supporters came in spite of rain and cold and eviction the following day to participate in an assembly that decided on the gardening action. Yet the Independent seems to have missed this, too. What they did manage to find was the one neighbor (Jeff Herrick) who has been outspoken against the action, primarily because occupiers bypassed a political process he feels beholden to.

Fourth, and probably most important, is that the basic narrative arc of this article is fundamentally flawed- that this action created divisions in an otherwise whole community of occupiers, anarchists, neighbors etc. is inaccurate at best. The article asserts that “…the tactics have factionalized the anarchist and Occupy movements.” This is completely ridiculous. This action has NOT created any noticeable conflict within those active anarchist or occupy milieus, at least that this active participant has seen. At the assembly which took place on the lawn of the building the day after the action, the overall mood was enthusiastic, the main complaint towards the action being that the building wasnt held long enough. (The media was even there to observe this – where was the Independent?) This was not officially an Occupy Chapel Hill meeting, its true, but many “occupiers” were there. Either way, not exactly the factionalism this article implies!

A few more points on this issue: Occupy Chapel Hill has been on the whole very supportive of both the building takeovers. This can be seen in multiple marches supporting those arrested and condemning the police eviction, the fact that some of those arrested at the Yates building were themselves outspoken participants in Occupy Chapel Hill, and by the fact that Nomadic Occupy set up a camp and helped support the occupation at 201 N. Greensboro St.

This article could just have easily pointed these things out, along with pointing out the the “Carrboro Commune” participant it quotes (Maria Rowan) was ALSO vocal with Occupy Chapel Hill. If these facts are pointed out, suddenly the entire narrative of this article shifts. But of course the Independent article omits them.

On the note about divisions with neighbors – there are many, many different people opposed to the CVS, for many different reasons. This action didn’t create these differences; if anything it exposed them. Some believe in the town government process to an almost obsessive degree, others believe this process is fundamentally rigged, or hopeless, or too slow, or illegitimate, and would prefer to see non-governmental, open assemblies make decisions about the space. Some would prefer something like a small business to be located there instead; while others would prefer some kind of social center (a free clinic, a radical library, a community garden, the possibilities are really endless) run by and for community members. Some believe in the private property rights of corporations and absentee landlords, some simply do not. All of these differences existed prior to last Saturday; one could argue that exposing such differences with actions like this, fighting them out, if you will, IS part of political and civil discourse. It is at least more honest than simply pushing them under rug, as Mayor Chilton would seem to prefer.

On this subject of division: To some extent, it’s logical to expect some level of difference in perspective between some of the neighbors opposed to the CVS on NIMBY-ist, logistical (parking, lighting, etc.) grounds, vs. those opposed to it for reasons of class anger and political perspective (a critique of the power of corporations, the wealthy, and private property in community relations, etc…). In general the Occupy CH and anarchist camps (which are and have always been overlapping groups) fall in this latter category; probably many of the nearby neighbors fall in the former.

But it is also very easy to imagine how this occupation, as well as future actions like taking over the lawn of the building for a community garden, can benefit the less political, more “logistical” cause of the neighbors opposed to the CVS: certainly this has lit a fire under the seats of the aldermen, and it is already starting to cost CVS extra money (with talk of a fence, security, etc.) that they would rather not spend. The most obvious course for these neighbors, regardless of their political perspective on private property or corporate power, or even their feelings towards occupiers and anarchists, would be to use this added tension and attention to press their cause further. The MLK to the Malcolm X, if you will.

On the subject of the various groupings of neighbors, occupiers, and anarchists, it is amazing to me that the Independent did not take the time or flex the intellectual muscle to point out the obvious: That the opposition of many Carrboro residents to a CVS, and their preference for some kind of community-benefiting space, only begins to make sense in the broader national and international context that characterizes the politics of the Occupy movement (and its anarchist wing).

For how else can we really come to understand a small town mayor TWICE evicting a group of peaceful occupiers from an empty building with armed police, but by understanding the origins of an almost religious devotion to private property and capitalism in the US? How else can we understand opposition to the corporate control of public space, even if such opposition appears “apolitical” in character, but by having some kind of critique and understanding of how 21st century global capitalism has developed? It is the same forces that are attempting to bring a new corporate megastore to 201 N. Greensboro St. that birthed the various perspectives of the occupy and anarchist movements – to not draw these obvious connections and opt instead for a sensationalized story about largely non-existant in-fighting is intellectually lazy. Why not just have the Independent endorse Carrboro’s political class outright, and be done with it? (Oh wait, they do that…)

To further emphasize my original point: None of the “divisions” mentioned in the Indy’s article were “created” by Saturday’s occupation, as this article would seem to suggest. They already existed, just as vast divisions in class, race, and political access already exist in our town. The mayor, the police, CVS, and much of the wealthier, liberal political class in our town fall basically on one side of these preexisting divisions — regardless of their personal identities, we have now repeatedly witnessed that their roles are to preserve the status quo as it exists in our town. The question remains for those who do not fall on this side of these divisions, what we will do. Because, while the occupiers may have been evicted, it looks like they’ll be back.

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Posted on February 8, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. The group was “near-violent” and “screaming” according to your own account of the incident in a previous post. If these words don’t describe your group, why were they written in your blog’s only account of what happened? Why do fifty self-appointed people get to take from the community what the community has not sold to them or has not unanimously said they could have? Our society functions on the basis that either you own a piece of property through the purchase of it, or you may use a piece of property if our community votes to allow it or an official elected by the community allows it. To circumvent this rule, whether you believe all property should be all public or all private, means your organization does not respect the ability of the rest of the community to decide on these matters and that nothing really separates you from any other person who would steal from others. You are criminals in the rawest sense of the term in that you aren’t breaking a pointless rule or unjust law; you are going against the will of the community in a way that harms it. No matter what rhetoric you use to show you had “good intentions” in your actions, our current community and society say those actions are wrong. When Mayor comes to evict you, he is acting on behalf of the people of this town. You may say he does not represent all of the people, but if not anything else, he represents a majority of those who exercised their right to vote. If you have a problem with the rules, the Mayor, or the Aldermen, then feel free to exercise your rights in this society to vote or run for the office that you believe will help you accomplish your goals.

    • The group did not attempt to steal from or impose anything upon the “community” as a whole – thats ridiculous. It did attempt to take something that belongs to a private corporation. Im not sure why this is so scandalous. Corporations steal from us every day – their wealth is produced by profiting off our labor in the first place, and resources that should be held in common. They also completely run and control the entire political apparatus of this country. So lets shed no tears for them. The only way one can feel violated by this action is if you identify with the interests of CVS – in which case, sure, this action was abhorrent. But of course in that case, youre pretty much bound to be on the opposite sides of the barricades from a bunch of anti capitalists, so the conversation is really moot.

      But saying that those who acted were going against the will of the community is stupid – there is no one singular “will of the community” with regards to CVS and that property, as evidenced by this whole controversy in the first place.

      In the future, i think it would be more honest to stop substituting the word “community” for “I” or “the state.” If you feel something is wrong, say so, but own it. Likewise, if something is illegal, you can say so, but dont pretend that because something is illegal, that suddenly means it is also immoral or against the unanimous “will of the community.”

      And im not really sure pointing out that something is illegal is gonna sway a bunch of people calling themselves anarchists. I mean, um….theyre anarchists…

      • I will agree to some extent that this conversation may be reaching the point of “agree to disagree” as we certainly have differing values, but I can’t give up insofar that capitalist or not, your group does adhere to some form of political structure, I still think that even within that structure, your group fails to be consistent in its actions and purpose.

        The Mayor represents the will of the community. He has since 2005. If he didn’t, a politically active town like Carrboro would have voted him out of office. I do speak for myself in this discussion, but when I say community, I am speaking in the sense that the community did not give your group the authority to act on its behalf in this way. What differentiates your group from any other corporation, according to your own justification? Your groups both seek to take land away from a community to be used for your own interests without receiving the consent of the people through election to follow through with your actions. I certainly see the difference in that a corporation seeks to profit from its use, while your group seeks to use this land for the enrichment of the community. Personally, I would prefer the town use this land for just about anything other than another 24-hour pharmacy. I have never disagreed with that point. However, I have from the beginning only really had a problem with your methods, not your goal. Fine, go ahead and protest the building. I think protest should be reserved for when all other legal avenues have been exhausted and have been exhausted in such a public way that no one can deny that your use of protest stands a last resort, not a first option, but you’re more than welcome to go this route. Make signs, hand out fliers, form a human chain to block out bulldozers, wear masks, chant “Shame” over and over again. Whatever. But, don’t go into that building and say “We are using this building for the purpose that our group has selected” without the consent of the community. Rather than assume authority by force, why not Either this land belongs to the entire community and the entire community, or its leadership, should decide on how to use it, or it belongs to the group that purchased it.

        Capitalism or anti-capitalism, democracy or anarchy, neither side of this argument would agree that action without the consensus of the overall community, whether it be your community of fifty members or the town of Carrboro, should be allowed. I mean your group does have internal voting, right? You all act as a decently cohesive unit and decide together how to approach situations, do you not? If someone were to act without getting the approval of the group, especially in a case where there is uncertainty about how to move forward, would you all not feel that person was not respecting the value of the group’s opinion? Along these lines, why don’t you extend the same courtesy to our town? I recognize you can’t get the entire town into one room as you all do, but the best we manage is to vote. Yes, dissimilar to your group, our community votes for leaders to act on our behalf instead of doing direct voting on all actions to be taken in our community, but it really becomes an issue of logistics. I’m not an expert on city planning or how sewers work; Hell, I literally know nothing about it, and I really don’t have time to learn everything about them. But someone does, and the Mayor surrounds himself with those people. If he didn’t, I would vote for someone else. So, he stays well-informed to make the decisions that best suit the community. Certainly mistakes are made and predictions turn out to be false. Greenbridge represents such a case. However, our community has given the Mayor and the Aldermen this authority through election. From where does your authority come?

    • On the other hand, James, I do applaud you for recognizing that these folks did something that violates one of the basic rules of our society. You re completely correct on this count; more of that, please!

    • James:

      Here’s a quote from above:

      Why do fifty self-appointed people get to take from the community what the
      community has not sold to them or has not unanimously said they could have?

      I grew up in Durham at a time when the “community” said black folks were criminals because they broke the law and insisted on being served at the same lunch counter as whites. I think they were right then and I think these actions are the right thing to do now.

      Another quote:

      Our society functions on the basis that either you own a piece of property through
      the purchase of it, or you may use a piece of property if our community votes to
      allow it or an official elected by the community allows it.

      Now you’re getting the point. For someone to “purchase” something means that it has become a commodity to be bought and sold. It seems clear that these folks are challenging that system. I know you probably think it is silly but some folks really do think that the whole capitalist market based way of life could be replaced by something better.

      Another quote:

      When Mayor comes to evict you, he is acting on behalf of the people of this town.
      You may say he does not represent all of the people, but if not anything else, he
      represents a majority of those who exercised their right to vote. If you have a
      problem with the rules, the Mayor, or the Aldermen, then feel free to exercise your
      rights in this society to vote or run for the office that you believe will help you
      accomplish your goals.

      First of all our so-called “right to vote” is being attacked on all sides. In 1965 a law was passed outlawing poll taxes (particularly against black folks) and such but they’re back in a new form. Besides, those with the most most money can “buy” an election through advertising. The “Carrboro Commune” is taking a stand against this rigged system and trying to offer an alternative. I haven’t interviewed each and every one of these folks but I’ll bet you anything that they and their parents and their grandparents all voted and voted and voted until they were blue in the face and now they realized that the system is rigged against them and for the very rich (like the CVS company).

      As far as the Mayor is concerned his whole bit about offering them ice cream to come out of the building was more than a little condescending, don’t you think? That’s how one speaks to a child who climbed a tree and won’t come down. So, who’s being childish here?

      Basically, what you are saying in your peace here is that they should use the channels of the “democracy” that we supposedly have to make some change. What the Carrboro Commune people are saying (I believe) is that that system is built to redirect any attempts to affect real change that will help poor folks.

      One last quote from your piece:

      The group was “near-violent” and “screaming” according to your own account of
      the incident in a previous post.

      When the police arrest people, use excessive force, keep the media from covering an event, and lie about what they’ve done – that is seen as “business as usual”. Police can riot and nobody seems to care but let a few protesters occupy a building and use their voices to express their anger and suddenly they are some kind of big time criminals. They were TRESPASSING for heaven’s sake. In an unused building that was a scar on the landscape and that the company wants to build into something that doesn’t fit that part of town. These folks, and others like them, have tried to stop this but to no avail. Property rights always seem to trump community rights and the cops always seem to protect the rich folks.

      The Carrboro Commune is a work in progress but I like the way things are going.

  2. Plus, if even the Indy Week, a paper that I would have expected to put your group in a positive light, doesn’t think highly of your group, I don’t know what other source for journalism you think will give a positive perspective on your actions.

    Anyway, I hope to read about your take on the engineer’s meeting tonight since I know you all would attend to hear their points and then express your own in a civil manner so as to possibly get attendees on your side.

    • Why would one expect the indy to support actions like this? The indy has consistently sided with wealthy developers (remember its coverage of greenbridge, and about how great it would be for the town? It sure did blow that one…) and endorsed most of the town aldermen currently serving, including the mayor who participated in both evictions.

  3. Carrborocommune, thank you for your actions in defense of local communities against the onslaught of global capitalism. I’m sure it was a learning and bonding experience for you all, and one of many more to come.

    James, I appreciate your constructive criticism, as I have learned from your dialogue. It is interesting to me to note that, despite the media’s silence on the topic, it seems most people opposed to the action were opposed on methodological grounds, and not opposed to the sentiment of not wanting a CVS sucking money out of the local community. This is a crucial difference that again I feel wasn’t voiced in the coverage of the event.

    Let me then ask you this: do you feel that the occupation, which you disagree with on tactical grounds, has garnered more attention to CVS? In anarchist and activist circles, there is an agreement called the St. Paul principles which states that while people united for a common cause may disagree on methods used, diversity of tactics are accepting so long as they are separated by time and space. Thus, this action, which you feel did not garner support from the community through proper channels, did in fact aid your cause of resisting the CVS, through raising much more awareness.

    But I digress, and I don’t mean to preach at you. I understand where you are coming from, and I understand cc’s position. The debate almost boils down to the basic division of reformists versus revolutionaries, of people who want to solve the problem within the system vs. people who feel that it’s too rotten already, and any attempt at propping it up would in the end be counterproductive. And the more current events head in the trajectory that they are, the more I feel people will be identifying with the latter.

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