Why Carrboro Commune is neither Carrboro nor Communal

The next few days will see the Carrboro, NC newspapers full of pictures of happy-clappy family folk merrily planting what appears to be a community garden, in peaceful protest of controlling corporatist America, and in the name of Carrboro Commune, whose stated ambition is ostensibly no more than to invite casual passers-by to partake of herbs and fragrance.

Please do not be fooled – as I was. It pains me to have to write this. Some of these people are folk I have friended over the past few months. But Carrboro Commune is not a benign communal organization, that believes in community-building through consensus-based decision-making, as it would have us believe. It is a driven group of people, with a very definite agenda, that owes nothing to community, and that is determined to achieve that agenda, by means that care not a whit for community consensus.

Leaving labels to one side, Carrboro Commune talks the language of anarchy – in its purist sense, as I understand it. And I know this from having debated with them, at meetings and at their community garden protest this past Saturday. They say they do not believe in arbitrary authority. They say they believe in the autonomy of the individual to make their own decisions. And where group decisions need to be made, they say they are made openly, consensually and in consort with the local community.

But, what I have seen of Carrboro Commune is quite the reverse. They appear to have taken a leaf out of the book of the very folks they claim to oppose – corporate America. They act with an authority which could not be more arbitrary, since it has been given to them by no-one. They rail against those who reach in and disrupt our community; yet all of their actions are disruptive of that same community. A community which has given them permission to do nothing but get out of the way. They do not welcome consensual discussion. If you disagree with them, they argue until you give up. Or they wait until you are not there, and ‘consense’ in your absence.

And the worst part of all. And you may see it if any care to respond to this Note. They never stand still long enough for you to be able to clarify who they are, what name they are using on any particular day, or what is their precise agenda. I have seen much the same folk merrily morph from the group with which I am associated (Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro) to Nomadic Occupy to Carrboro Commune to Occupy Everything to ‘I’m an autonomous individual today.’

So what, you might say? If all they are doing (as they were this past Saturday) is planting seeds, then who cares? It’s harmless. But it is not. Much preceded this apparent innocent display of gardening. Much that was destructive and disruptive and costly for the taxpayers of Carrboro. And there is no reason to believe more of the same will not be on the way – if we allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security.

I have been around the block a few times in my life. Seen some stuff. Done some stuff. And I know classic destabilization technique when I witness it. Stage One: remove or co-opt competing institutions (Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro – which, let’s be honest, has been almost completely emasculated since Carrboro Commune used OCH as a launching platform for its occupation of the CVS building in downtown Carrboro a few weeks ago). Stage Two: disrupt the community. Stage Three: bring a sense of order out of the chaos.

The constant oscillation between Two and Three is not unlike watching a practicing addict manipulate those around them with contrasting displays of disruptive anger and clingy love, in order to achieve their ambition of codependent enabling of their addiction.

You might think I overstate the design behind the action of Carrboro Commune. Yet I watched the protest on Saturday first-hand. This was no loose group of hippies, wandering about scattering seeds as the whim took them. I’ve seen groups based on consensus in action. It’s beautiful mayhem. That’s the point. It’s so difficult to make decisions, it’s almost impossible to be controlled. And control is the last thing true anarchists want. Either to exercise it, or to suffer it.

Yet, what I saw on Saturday, was a tight-knit, centrally-controlled process of organization. Materials had been prepared. They were made available on order. And I mean ‘order.’ I stood there listening to commands being given. There was no loose and equal consensus. There was a very clear line of command. These people knew what they wanted to do, they had prepared for it, they knew how to achieve it, and they were crisp about effecting it. If it had not been so scary, it would have been a marvel; an operation worthy of any military force.

But still. So what? All we saw were seeds. Who cares? Hmm. Two points:

First, look more closely. If all of the past few months have built to this moment when Carrboro Commune gets to plant a few seeds. And that is all they want to do. Then fine. I’m overstating the case.

But these same people have pretty much destroyed one Occupy organization. They broke into a building. They screamed at our Mayor. They disrupted a community meeting, when the real community were attempting to negotiate with the CVS developers.

All of their actions have been disruptive. Even the plant-seeding. Which cost the taxpayer dear, when some 20 police officers had to be on duty, because Carrboro Commune had already proven they could not be trusted not to break the law if left on their own.

Meanwhile, with all of their showboating stunts, the very real and hard work of the many, who are dedicated actually to building community, and to focusing on the issues that are genuinely about social and economic injustice, rather than self-aggrandizement, that hard work is sidelined and consigned to the shadows.

I would suffer all the showboating in the world, if it was followed by the hard work of community-building, rather than continual disruption and destruction. I would accept seeds up the wazoo, if Carrboro Commune spent but one day on social and economic justice in the community they pretend to support. If they were to do something like sponsor a community luncheon at the local homeless shelter. And by the way, no. Building a ‘community garden’ on someone else’s property, without anyone’s permission but your own, does not count as community-building.

Secondly, from what I have read of Carrboro Commune, the language their number have used in the meetings I have attended of Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and what was discussed at the protest on Saturday, their agenda reaches beyond mere seeds. All the talk has been and continues to be of circumventing community processes because those processes have ‘failed.’ Of action to counter corporate interest and property interests.

All of this chatter leaves me cold. I joined Occupy because I cared about fighting economic and social injustice. For sure, I get the equation that says much of the malignant arbitrary authority in our society comes from out-of-control huge corporations. That they get that authority from their tight grip on the mass of our wealth and our property. That they use that wealth to buy our elected officials. And that this is what caused the Great Recession.

I get all of that. I even get that there are those who genuinely believe that the dominance of corporate authority and property interest is so great in our society that it is beyond rectification. The only answer is to crash the system and start again. I have no problem with those folks. Happy to converse with them.

My problem arises when they abrogate to themselves the same arbitrary authority they decry, to pursue an agenda of destruction and disruption they do not openly disclose, claiming it to be in support of a community that has given them no permission, and their whole purpose becomes anti-corporatism, rather than advocacy of social and economic justice.

What’s more, the community processes have not failed. What we find on closer examination is that the processes have worked; they have just come up with an answer the anarchists do not like – which is what happened to Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

It is no good telling me that the Carrboro Commune agenda is good. Good does not automatically mean right. And right does not automatically mean democratic. You have to ask to find out what is democratic. And you have to provide full information to get a meaningful answer. And then you have to pay attention to that answer.

The greatest sadness for me is that I see this pattern of behavior repeated in so-called progressive and consensual organizations throughout Carrboro. I saw it in my community radio station, WCOM, when for a while a small group of people thought that consensus meant, I listen, I absorb, then I ignore. I see it still in my co-operative grocery store, where one person has created an administrative edifice to shield him from democratic scrutiny, while he pursues his own hidden agenda.

I have fought arbitrary authority all of my life. Since I first demanded, at the age of 13, that my boarding school principal make a teacher apologize to me for hitting me in the face. But, I also have a life of my own. I can’t say that I will devote a huge amount of my time to tracking the actions and arbitrary authority of Carrboro Commune.

There are just under 20,000 people in our municipality. Any one of us can perform that duty. But I do sound this clarion call. And the worst that can happen if I am wrong? Then, I’m wrong. These are just words. And if there is nothing to hide, then words can only hurt for a very short time. And I’ll apologize.

Issues: 

Total votes: 120

Comments

Now can we go back to ignoring their private parties masquerading as activism?

... the 'Like' icon!

There is one at the top of the page if you want to share this post on Facebook (although I don't think that's what you meant).

Your analysis is spot on.  Whereever you stand on the subject of having CVS move to that corner from their current location across the street, few of us think that the community shouldn't have a drug store.  The idea that Carrboro doesn't need a pharmacy and can just use medicinal herbs growing on a street corner is pure theater.Given they've started to issue press releases and plaster the area with graffiti and flyers, the logical conclusion is what they primarily want is attention.    

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Contrary to the industry’s history and all common sense, DENR has concluded that fracking “can be done safely in NC,” … “as long as the right protections are in place.” We disagree! Every fracking operation around the country has shown the opposite to be true: spills, blow-outs, toxic chemicals in the aquifers and rivers, city water supplies contaminated, cattle deaths, drinking water wells contaminated, strange neurological diseases and cancers developing in affected communities… We are unwilling to accept these risks for a small economic boom that will bust in the following 40 years. That’s not even one lifetime, and the people and animals living in the Piedmont will the experiencing the consequences many years into the future. Natural Gas energy is an unacceptable trade-off. Links to the documents are below for your perusal. After this report, it’s important for every person who doesn’t want their land and water to be fracked to show up for these meetings and speak their mind. Join our demonstrations outside and go inside with a prepared speech. The land, water, animals, communities, and future generations in North Carolina are depending on you to speak out!

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Geoff, if you had put as much energy into any of the reform-oriented OCHC efforts like the Move To Amend working group, the Health and Wellness working group, the marriage amendment movement or anti-fracking protests as you put into creating one-man press statements then OCHC would probably be not only surviving but thriving.  I'm glad that Carrboro Commune excites you so much that you want to spend your Saturday standing around and watching it and I completely accept that its a form of direct action of which you don't approve (or I would suggest you join the OCHC Legal Observer Working Group as standing around and watching IS a specialized skill.) But your insistence that OCHC has been destroyed is an insult to the people who are working very hard through OCHC on legislative actions and partnering with the other Triangle and Triad Occupy movements. 

Did you notice the construction at the old performance bike shop in Carrboro? The Carrboro Commune should protest there next: it would be a great location for some sort of community arts organization.

Love the subject heading! Ah, the old line of 'if you didn't spend so much time protesting, you could actually be doing something useful'? Hang on. Wasn't that my line to Carrboro Commune ... ??But I am doing things. You know of them. I announced them when I first started attending OCHC GA's, and made the point it was because of them that I wouldn't be available to engage in all the wonderful things you mention - the very things I say don't receive enough attention because of all the showboating.I think you will find that I said 'emasculate,' not destroy. As in weaken. And I will continue to maintain that the specific activity of Carrboro Commune using OCHC as cover to occupy the CVS building dramatically weakened the good work of OCHC.But enough of this verbal sword-play, which is all clever distraction from the real point at hand. Namely, precisely which of my substantive points do you refute?

And so. We have an article this morning reporting on the concern of Carrboro Commune over police harassment this past Saturday. Oh, enough already with the overblown hyperbole.I am pretty much the last man standing and STILL calling for an independent review of the reaction of the Chapel Hill Police to the occupation of the Yates building last November.I am pretty much the only person who has ever seriously lobbied the Chapel Hill Community Policing Advisory Board to consider recommending real citizen oversight of policing going forward, to prevent future recurrences of police action that genuinely leave the community troubled.Not just to rebuild the trust of the public in their police force. But also to maintain the morale of those we charge to keep us safe in our neighborhoods.So, I need no-one lecturing me about the role of the police in our community.The danger of folks being allowed constantly to 'decry' the work of our local constabulary (all of whom have the same town as part of their address), without someone calling them out, is that the center of gravity of the conversation gets moved by default.And I do not believe that the policing policy of our Carrboro police department needs to be moved by one jot. Period.Let's debunk some of the nonsense in this article.First, the police were out in numbers on Saturday because the last time the supposedly benign Carrboro Commune were hanging out by the CVS building on a Saturday afternoon, they broke into it - in numbers.Frankly, I would like to decry the impact this is having on my taxes. Is there an address to which we can send Carrboro Commune the bill - other than the CVS building?Secondly, there was no harassment. I was there. Watching. Ten feet away.Folks, the last time you were there, you broke the law. Not a law written by a Wall Street banker, not a law supported by a corporate CEO, not a law enforced by stormtroopers of the earth-destroyers. No. A law that protects a community which gave you no permission to break it.Thirdly, a video camera can be menacing? Really? I would like all iPhones in future to be on a leash.Fourthly, Sammy and Dan, you are Aldermen; you should know better. The Board of Aldermen have ultimate control over the Carrboro Police Department.If you are truly concerned about a potentially harmful link with outside law enforcement agencies (which has been one of my concerns with the Chapel Hill Police), then, as Aldermen, raise that with them privately. Don't risk the morale of your and our police by showboating publicly. And I say that even though I have the deepest of respect for the two of you.I too believe in disobedience. When all other channels of community discussion and process have been exhausted (which, in the case of CVS, they have not). And when it is civil.I too believe that, in a progressive community like Carrboro, we can expect the policy of our police department to reflect a respect for civil disobedience.I saw no disrespect this past Saturday. What I saw was a police department properly and carefully exercising thoughtful concern with regards to a group which has a history of breaking the law in an uncivil fashion.That history may change over the course of the next year. But not for the moment.After my cup of tea with a Carrboro Commune supporter yesterday, I really got thinking about all of the various faces of Occupy in our community.I spend a lot of my time fighting for social and economic justice for my fellow community members. I became involved with Occupy because I thought that it would offer a companion vehicle to aid my efforts and the efforts of others in our struggles.I believe that still to be the case with Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro. But I see their magnificent efforts now being overshadowed by Carrboro Commune. Which is proving itself to have a very different agenda. And not one that I feel is in step with the concerns of ordinary folk for social and economic justice.I see gas station attendants, and grocery store workers, and single mothers with kids. And I'm thinking, do they really care about seed bombs and empty property - or even free speech on Peace and Justice Plaza?Or do they merely want a better deal from the existing system? Do they just want someone to spend time and energy, not on guerilla gardening, but on helping them to make ends meet?Do they just want journalists who find space in their newspapers to fight for safer streets for their children - not for folks who want those streets kept available for their latest protest?Guys, we are losing our focus. When an 8 year old is quoted in The Chapel Hill News as saying, "What I understand about it is some banks have a lot of money, and some people don't like that, and the police are trying to stop the people who don't like banks to be rich," then, with respect, I say we are losing our focus.We are losing our focus on the issues that should be central to the fight for social and economic justice. We are losing our focus on the role of our police. We are losing our focus on community. And we are losing our focus on people. Real people. Not fancy ideas. But people ...

A number of folks have asked why I don’t just leave Carrboro Commune alone? Well, I would, but not when they continue to criticize our local police force, with no good reason. And not when Carrboro Aldermen and local newspapers pander to their agenda and to those criticisms.It’s a variation on the old Edmund Burke point: All that is necessary for the triumph of disruption is that the community does nothing. Along with: All that is required for the center of gravity of the conversation to shift is for Aldermen and newspapers to play along.The Carrboro Citizen and The Chapel Hill News have this past week both featured prominently on their front pages allegations of harassment by the Carrboro Police against Carrboro Commune. Allegations which are frivolous and inaccurate – I know; I was there.Carrboro Alderman, Dan Coleman, is quoted in the Citizen as calling the Guerilla Gardening activity of Carrboro Commune a “prominent Carrboro event.” Dan, I respect you. But no, it wasn’t.There are truly prominent Carrboro events happening every week. Events which support the homeless, new immigrants, workers in our co-op, and those struggling to make ends meet. Events which fall within the Points of Unity of Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Events which genuinely reflect the struggle of the 99% against the top 1%. Events which deserve coverage in our local newspapers, way more than the actions of Carrboro Commune.I am a proud supporter of Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro. We advocate openly against the imposition by a 1% on the 99% of our society. The Carrboro event which you, Dan, find so prominent attracted 50 people (not all of them residents of the Carrboro community), out of a municipality of about 20,000 folks.That is about 0.25%. When 0.25% of our community seek arbitrarily to impose their minority views on the remaining 99.75% of our community, then I see little difference between the impact and motives of that 0.25% and those of the top 1%. And I unashamedly refer to that impact as ‘social fracking’ of our community.Carrboro Alderman, Sammy Slade, is quoted in the CHN as saying that Carrboro Commune’s actions thus far don’t warrant a heavy police presence or surveillance. Sammy, I like you. But, with respect, you are wrong.Two incidents of illegal break-in, and one where trespass was talked about in the publicity flyer, certainly warrant a police presence that ended up being less than half of the total number of protesters.Gentlemen, you are sworn to uphold, on behalf of the majority of Carrboro, the laws and the police force supported by the majority of that community. If you have a problem doing that, then the honorable thing to do is to resign. With respect, you can’t both be the established authority and seek exemption to protest against it.But, it is not just the community of Carrboro that is not well served by Carrboro Commune and its panderers. Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro has been left severely damaged by Carrboro Commune.Lt. Westbrook has it right in the CHN when he says, “One of the techniques … is they find other groups with a similar agenda and they partner with them to promote their own agenda.” That is exactly what supporters of Carrboro Commune did to Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro.When Carrboro Commune is honest about what it wants, and how it intends to do it. When it is honest that it does not care a fig about what the community thinks. When it owns responsibility for the consequences of what it does and what it says. And when it leaves Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro alone. Then, I will likewise leave Carrboro Commune alone.

 

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