Greenbridge protesters doing more harm than good (updated)

This morning, the west end of downtown Chapel Hill was immobilized when someone called in a bomb threat against the rising Greenbridge development. I understand that some people have issues with tall buildings in Chapel Hill, although I don't especially.  But I do share the concerns that many have about the gentrification of Northside. However, the fact is that Greenbridge didn't create either of those problems, and stopping it isn't going to help solve them either.

More importantly, the tactics of Greenbridge opponents have ranged from ineffective (forums about Greenbridge years after it was approved) to immature (accusations of racism, defacing signs)Image by Sami Grover, to illegal (sending a letter impersonating the developers).  While UNC-NOW ("United with the Northside Community Now") may disclaim any formal connection to the latter activities, I would be shocked if the perps weren't also active with their group.  And unless I hear them say otherwise, I will assume that UNC-NOW is at least sympathetic to whoever made today's bomb threat.

I am actually very concerned with the issues of social and economic justice espoused by UNC-NOW. In fact, I have been working on those issues in Chapel Hill since most of their members were in kindergarten.  Which is not to say that their opinions and activism aren't valid - many of you readers know I was an outspoken activist and organizer when I was a UNC student - but it is to say that my (and others') opinion about Greenbridge is at least a valid as theirs. However, UNC-NOW seems entirely uninterested in dialogue that might move the conversation about gentrification forward. Instead they toss verbal bombs at those who might otherwise be their allies. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: See the comments below for more information about the role of UNC-NOW.]

I know a lot of people share UNC-NOW's concerns about what the impact of Greenbridge might be.  But I hope respectable groups like EmPOWERment, Inc and the Northside Neighborhood Association will distance themselves from these childish tactics, if not from the group at large.  If they don't, I think they risk losing credibility which is one thing they currently have in surplus.  And I sure do wish that members of UNC-NOW would take a deep breath and consider the world around them. They might be surprised to find that they would get a lot of support - and would make more social change - with strategic action instead of venting at the most obvious targets.


I would like to emphasize that I am currently aware of no information that links UNC-NOW with today's bomb threat. However, hearing this news reminded me how annoyed I have been about the poor state of debate around Greenbridge, and that feeling prompted this blog entry.  In addition, I hope that today's news will be an opportunity for UNC-NOW to clarify their position with respect to the use of violence.

I commend you for writing this Ruby. I think it took some courage to do so.I had similar thoughts yesterday.  In Chapel Hill, we tend spend too much time and energy discussing the wrong manifestations of very important and complex issues.  It's time to let Greenbridge stand and move our discussions about gentrification and affordable housing forward.As for Greenbridge, can we talk about how the yellow brick facade makes it look very 70's?

I think the phenomenon of "discussing the wrong manifestations of very important and complex issues" occurs frequently in Chapel Hill and throughout the county. I'd be interested to know if others feel the same way. Maybe we can generate a list of debated topics that would benefit from a better-focused critical analysis and debate. I nominate the pro-environment vs. pro-business schism as one such example. Allan Rosen

There are plenty of legitimate ways to encourage debate, air opposing opinions, and engender change that don't require subterfuge or threats.  Not only do those tactics fly in the face of open and transparent public decision-making, but they are ineffective and damage the credibility of any movement even tangentially connected.  Impulsive, counter-productive action without thought will not get these folks what they're looking for.

Movements that actually bring about positive change for all races and classes of people are nonviolent. Threatening to bomb a building where scores of people could be injured is not. This may be super obvious to some. But I feel its important for us to restate our commitment to love in the face of violence.

This is all under the assumption that the bomb threat was political and not based on some other motive. Hopefully the CHPD will shed some light on this soon.

Although there do arise situations in which avoiding violence is the the most dangerous strategy. Rape is one example. Ward Churchill wrote a very thought-provoking book on the issue of violence & non-violence in social movements called  Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America.

I have had some dealings with members of UNC NOW through my work on social justice issues with Orange County Justice United and while I certainly don't condone calling in bomb threats (which we can't attribute to anyone in particular at this point as far as I know), members of that group are doing some good work and do have good intentions in terms of helping the community.Justice United does not have a formal relationship with UNC NOW, but we have some similar interests in seeing longtime homeowners in the Northside neighborhood honored and their land protected. Graig - I hear you about the 70's look that Greenbridge appears to be taking on! 

Molly, I know UNC-NOW has great goals.  That's why I'm so frustrated to see them undercutting their own work with such stupid tactics.  I know I probably sound like an old fart telling the kids they're too radical, but my critique is actually coming from a history as an organizer and activist who wants to see them succeed.

and you don't sound too much like an old fart!

Hey Orange Politics,

      I was forwarded this thread from a friend, and wanted to take a quick moment to respond.  My name is Rob Stephens, an active member of UNC-NOW. I really appreciate the opportunity to participate on this blog.  Unfortunately, there are quite a few misrepresentations above here, and I don't have time now to respond to all as I'm traveling out of town, but I wanted to point out a few quickly.  The idea that members of UNC-NOW had anything to do with a bomb threat is simply absurd.  It goes against everything that the network of partnerships that is UNC-NOW believes.  Mrs. Marian Jackson is a member of the Steering Committee of UNC-NOW (at age 85 as of last week, I doubt she was in kindergarten when Ms. Sinreich began activism) an employee at Knotts Funeral Home next door to Greenbridge.  She is a mentor and dear friend, and I am enraged that anyone would threaten her safety, or simply cause her more stress with a bomb threat.  The idea that UNC-NOW members are involved is simply unthinkable. And that goes for all the posters and signs around Town as well.

    There are a lot of people angry about Greenbridge (not just people involved in UNC-NOW) and the lack of community engagement or investment in social equity by the development has not helped.  As social activists, I'm sure all of you know that the real world and the real work of community does not always show up in blogs or newspapers, but often in the mundane daily grind. 

   I look forward to engaging you all in the many activities and work that UNC-NOW has continued to be a part of over the past year.  Thanks for the opportunity to re-open this discussion, have to run,




 I was one of the co-founders of UNC-NOW and have remained active in Northside work for several years now.   I am really offended by your speculations about UNC-NOW.   I do wish you had talked to people involved in UNC-NOW before dispelling these complete untruths-- or at least learned more about what has happened.   Back last spring and summer there were several editorial articles that tried to tie UNC-NOW to the hoax and these other tactics you mentioned.   UNC-NOW, whose steering committee is made up of folks who range from current UNC students and professors to several clergy, community members, and leaders of organizations like EmPOWERment-- not, as you said, of people in kindergarden when you became an activist---  long ago responded to all of the claims by Greenbridge partners and media, making it known that we had NO involvement and would never support violent or petty tactics.   I have no idea who has been committing these acts, but UNC-NOW has never and never will support them.  But after these claims were made and UNC-NOW responded that the speculations were absurd, people kept tying these events to the group, and it became obvious to us that we could spend all of our time and effort trying to respond to outrageous speculations that were attempts to discredit our work, OR we could just continue to do the work we believed in-- working to build partnerships, to do listening based community development, to focus on social equity and community justice.  So, we stopped responding in the media and decided to let actions show themselves.  What have these actions involved:-Supporting St. Joseph's food ministry, which serves over 400 families a week-Starting health initiatives that work on nutrition, community gardening, information sessions, and preventative health measures-Opening dialogue with the small businesses effected by the economic changes in Chapel Hill, and trying to collectivize support for these businesses to have a say in how future development takes place.-Researching area development and trying to do more comprehensive work around the residential changes of Northside and how to continue to support-Hosting events like May-Day, which brought together hundreds of people to celebrate the vibrancy of community through art, music, yoga, spoken word, and more-Continuing oral histories of long-time community membersThis is a sampling of what's been going on.  If you had been in conversation with leaders of UNC-NOW, you would have known that the focus has been on community building and proactive engagement-- and that the dialogue around gentrification and change has been much deeper than one building. Hudson Vaughan

I'm really glad to hear all of this, and I especially appreciate that you took the time to respond and connect with us, Hudson. I'm happy to be corrected about UNC-NOW. I've been a fan of other work you've done including the reenactment of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation's stop in Chapel Hill. I still stand by my statement that some opponents of Greenbridge do more harm to the issues they claim to care about with these obnoxious antics. I'm glad to hear that UNC-NOW is not involved and has disavowed such tactics.  I'm wondering if there's anything else that could be done to distance UNC-NOW or clarify the situation. It's been less than 4 years since I was a Northside homeowner myself and I never heard of UNC-NOW in the decade I lived there. How would one find out who is on the steering committee, or what your programs and accomplishments are, for example? Is there a UNC-NOW web site where a volunteer might learn such things? I did do a lot of searching for information online in the process of writing the above rant, but I don't get paid to blog so I can't always go hunting down details. (Which I why I try to just speak from my own first-person experience.)

May I suggest that if one of your community members becomes aware of those who are calling in these threats that you share this info with the police. That will assist your creditability with the community and town hall.

Thanks for responding Hudson.  It's important that UNC-NOW learn how to play the public relations game. I know and like the community work you're doing.  But when the bomb threats were made, I thought people would assume UNC-NOW was related just because you've become the face of opposition to Northside.  It's so important that you quickly and publicly disavow involvement.  This is important both so the public knows your stance and as a way to discourage anyone who also opposes the project from using such tactics. 

While I think Greenbridge dominates the landscape a tad too much and, uh, yeah, that white brick, um, yeah...well, it's here to stay.  I think the best action for now would be to assure that the businesses on its first floor remain locally-owned, and cater to both residents of the property and of Northside in general.  I know nothing about this, and I know money is short for most everyone these days, but are there grants around to help locals start these business?  Just curious.  A neighborhood non-chain grocery store would be fantastic, for example. 

...of the above post.  I thought I was logged in when I wrote it, but alas, I was not.  Just wanted to clarify.

WOW, that was a very unsubstantiated claim yoiu made about UNC-NOW Ruby.I would hope next time you will wait until you had some evidence before you accused a group of a criminal act.


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