On Saturday, July 2, twelve to fifteen people gathered to protest the gentrifying condo development Greenbridge in Chapel Hill, NC. Several reporters and ten or so police swelled the numbers to twenty-five or thirty, enough to attract significant attention from passers-by and residents. Protesters held signs, marched on the sidewalk, and chanted for a half-hour before disbanding. No arrests were made.
The demonstration was called for by anarchists and advertised throughout affected neighborhoods. Local media were notified three days beforehand. Flyers were posted around town, but they were torn down the next morning by a middle-aged man in khakis. This demo came on the heels of a June 18 protest at the same location during which three people were arrested and charged with felony incitement. (A fourth person was arrested after a surveillance image of him was published by police. All four have been released on bail.) In the wake of the earlier protest, the town government and media rushed to portray “the masked anarchists” as violent and irrational. The managing partner of the development falsely accused protesters of breaking windows, and the mayor wrote a half-page editorial condemning the actions. Newspaper coverage was transparently biased.
Organizers had three goals for the second protest: to send a message that opponents of Greenbridge would not be intimidated, to attract enough media attention that we could provide a counter-narrative to the earlier hostile coverage, and to maintain our own momentum in the face of repression. All three were achieved.
The heavy police presence was anticipated and prepared for. We created a situation in which the state had to show its hand: either they would harass peaceful demonstrators, thus spoiling their attempt to counterpose legitimate protest against violent disruption, or they would leave us alone, tacitly validating our right to be there and our explicit support for the earlier protest. Either way, we would win. We were helped by basic precautions, like bringing our own video cameras and working hard to get media there. In the end, the police only contributed to the disruption of life-as-usual at Greenbridge.
Several protestors were interviewed by media and given the opportunity to comment on the events of the previous two weeks. We will have to wait and see what happens to their statements, but even if the unfavorable coverage continues, the fact that this story is staying in the public eye will give us more time to counter the initial hysteria.
For many participants, this protest took courage to attend. The police had made it clear that they were on a hunt for anarchists, and none of us was exactly sure what to expect. By mobilizing a support base outside our immediate circles, we improved the situation; but most importantly, we realized the need to act, and we took a gamble that we could do it safely. We were right.
This may be a lesson for others facing state repression in small towns. The most glamorous actions on anarchist news sites are often self-described riots. Although Greenbridge has been a frequent target of vandalism, none of the actions taken against it have actually resembled a riot — but the state and media have still followed the same pattern we see elsewhere after much more serious events. In other towns in this position, it was eventually necessary to rebuild capacity through low-key actions that were often at odds with participants’ personal inclinations. In our case, doing this immediately may have saved us a lot of wasted time.