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.