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Protest ends peacefully but divides sentiment about tactics

Carrboro Commune occupies CVS building 

Tonight, neighborhood meeting with CVS project engineers

The CVS building at Greensboro and Weaver streets

Photo by Joe Schwartz

The CVS building at Greensboro and Weaver streets

For four hours Saturday, 20 people calling themselves Carrboro Commune occupied a downtown building that CVS hopes to demolish and replace with office space and a 24-hour drugstore.

The anarchist demonstrators wore black bandanas obscuring their mouths and noses, flew black flags and hung banners reading "Whose Building? Your Building," "Capitalism Values Suffering" and "Community Move In, CVS Move Out."

They distributed flyers stating that the protest was a "permanent occupation intended to establish a social center in the heart of Carrboro."

Unlike its counterpart in Chapel Hill last fall, this demonstration ended peacefully, but the tactics have factionalized the anarchist and Occupy movements.

The scene occurred across the street from the Carrboro Century Center, which offers community space for rent and a free cybrary, and two blocks away from the Town Commons, the public space where the Really, Really Free Market is held each month.

Mayor Mark Chilton sat inside the building and implored the group to leave. Most of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the town's police chief and interim manager observed across the street as a crowd of about 50 people gathered.

Alderwoman Jacquelyn Gist even brought the vegan ice cream the anarchists requested as a condition to exit.

The measured response from Carrboro police and politicians seemed to unfaze the Carrboro Commune members, who also participated in the Yates Motor Co. demonstration in Chapel Hill last November. That event ended infamously with Chapel Hill's Special Emergency Response Team, armed with rifles, raiding the building and arresting eight people.

Chilton wanted the Carrboro demonstration to end peacefully, which it did. Protesters eventually accepted the offer by town police to leave without being arrested.

"I went in that building to talk to the people who were occupying it because my perception was that in the Yates Motor building situation that the critique was that the town government didn't engage, didn't give adequate warning," Chilton said, encircled by the demonstrators after the occupation ended.

"The critique was that we were evicted," a demonstrator responded. Other protesters said they saw no difference in the handling of the two events because in both they were forced to leave.

When a police captain gave the anarchists a chance to leave the building, one Carrboro Commune supporter who was outside the building asked, "Many officers commit suicide, why won't you?" Another later said that police are "one order away from being Nazis" as protesters began chanting the phrase "Fuck the pigs, we don't need them. All we is want is freedom, freedom."

Carrboro Commune's tactics, hostile even amid a measured police response, have alienated some neighbors who have been fighting the proposed CVS for two years. They have done so at public charrettes and meetings and have posted yard signs expressing their opposition to the project.

The CVS incident has also soured some people affiliated with the Occupy movement.

"There are those of us for whom Occupy is a serious transformational movement, aimed at bringing new energy to the fight for social and economic justice globally, in our nation and in our local communities," Geoff Gilson, an Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro supporter, said in a statement.

"Then there are those for whom Occupy is a game of musical chairs—see who can Occupy the last empty building standing. Just to be absolutely clear, I am not aligned with the latter grouping."

Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade, who has stood with Occupy at its general assemblies, says his decision on the CVS proposal will be based on input from the entire community, not just those who took over the building.

"I see the two as different," he said. "I do think it will be a part of the conversation in the general Carrboro community discussion on the CVS and what that means, but I think that we as a board will probably be reactive to the larger community as that process unfolds in the traditional means of town government."

According to county tax records, in 2010 CVS purchased the property from Carrboro Community, LLC, which is owned by Ruffin Slater, founder of Weaver Street Market. CVS plans to build a two-story, 24,000-square-foot building with 64 parking spaces. The Carrboro Planning Department is expected to review a rezoning request in March.

Anti-CVS signs have sprouted in nearby yards since the company announced its plans.

Depending on the final blueprints, two houses would be torn down to make room for a parking lot, and a dentist's office also could be affected. Neighbors also say they don't want to contend with additional traffic or round-the-clock lighting.

In a statement, Carrboro Commune said the public process is inadequate to address the CVS proposal. "The channels at Town Hall offer no meaningful way for affected community members to determine what should be here," the statement reads.

Carrboro Commune is planning a "guerrilla gardening" of edible and medicinal plants on the property March 17. "It's my personal hope that the community reclaims our vision for this land and makes it clear that multinational corporations and their money are not more important than people," wrote spokeswoman Maria Rowan in a prepared statement.

Yet neighbors doubt that the anarchists' method is more effective than the town's. When told by Carrboro Commune members that the town process can't be trusted, resident Jeff Herrick—husband of alderwoman Michelle Johnson, but he was speaking only for himself—said, "I can't trust your process because you all are wearing masks."

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I'm a Chapel Hill resident and am in favor of the right to protect myself and my family.

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Great article, Billy! Much appreciated!

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