Chapel Hill Hits the Streets for Ferguson

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The Rally and the March

On the night of Friday, August 22nd, a rally was held in front of the Chapel Hill post office to support the protesters and rioters in Ferguson. An anarchist student group, the UNControllables, initially called for the rally, and other groups like the Black Student Movement and the UNC Ebony Readers Poetry Group promoted and participated in the event. Handbills were also distributed door to door, on car windshields, and at apartment complexes throughout town. This was only one of several events that have occurred in the Triangle area with regards to Ferguson—the week before saw a large vigil in Durham, a nighttime attack upon the Chapel Hill Police HQ, and events at various churches.

The rally began with speeches about growing up Black in this white supremacist culture, about the fear and hatred of the police, about local struggles like the marches and attacks against the Durham Police last winter. One speaker brought some to tears with a poem that exclaimed, “I always wanted daughters, because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to teach my sons how to be black men.” Another speaker followed up, “That is why this march is happening in Chapel Hill. It’s not just Ferguson, but the United States.a

While demonstrators were listening, a few people walked through the crowd handing out texts written by anarchists who’ve participated in the streets of Ferguson. Soon after the brief speeches., the sound of drums erupted and beat to the rhythm of the crowd’s anger. Some onlookers joined in, and several faces from neighborhoods in which handbills were distributed showed up as well.

The drums just kept beating, louder and louder. A restless crowd wanted more than a rally, and at some point one protester, holding a huge ACAB banner, yelled out, “I sense the need for movement.” There were shouts of approval, and the diverse crowd of UNC students, townies, and homeless people moved into the streets. More bystanders joined in as the march passed by—one employee of a local restaurant left his workplace to participate, still wearing his uniform and nametag.

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The crowd, estimated at over 100 by the local student paper, marched a few blocks down the main drag of Franklin St., taking up two lanes of traffic with a large ACAB banner at the head of the march. Some people started to mask up as the crowd moved. The cops were noticeably hands-off throughout the evening, choosing to block traffic instead of attempting to force the march out of the street. There was a sense on all sides that any police aggression would not be tolerated. With the last two weeks of resistance in Ferguson fresh on everybody’s minds, the cops seemed reluctant to provoke the crowd on a busy weekend night.

After a while the march turned around and returned to the main intersection of downtown, blocking the thoroughfare for a good ten or fifteen minutes while screaming and taking “Hands up, Dont Shoot” selfies. Some of them shouted intermittently, “Fuck the Police!” Others encouraged bystanders to join in.

At this point a minor conflict occurred, when a Black student and columnist for the university paper (which we learned later) attempted to address the crowd. He shouted in exasperation, “This is not in the spirit of Ferguson! It is a time for healing! We should be mourning!”

After a tense moment, the crowd yelled back at him, critical and dismissive of what was perceived as an attempted pacification.

–“This is how Ferguson is mourning!” one protestor responded.

–“In Ferguson they mourned by burning down the QT!” another said.

–“This IS how I mourn!”

Soon a second student stepped up and urged the crowd to let the first speak. The first student returned to the same theme, this time exclaiming in frustration, “But this is chaos!”

With that word the crowd screamed in sarcastic approval, and the drums drowned the student out. As one of the speakers had said before the rally, “The authorities want there to be peace before there is justice, but we know it doesn’t work that way. No justice, no peace!”

On the way back to the post office the marchers echoed that sentiment, and the drums kept beating when they arrived. A cacophonous roar of drums, whistles, and voices signaled the end of the event.

Reflections

In the tactical arena, there were certainly missed opportunities. To some it seemed a dissapointment that the march didn’t coalesce in a more phsyical attack on the structures of control and alienation that surround us. The more recent precedent of masking up in Chapel Hill was only carried out by a dozen or so. The last-minute idea of occupying the main intersection was accomplished awkwardly, despite a total lack of police aggression and decent numbers. Anarchists have taken over entire buildings in this town with half the number of people present last Friday night, but the mostly inexperienced crowd of college students and strangers made for a different situation, one that we need to become more accustomed to.

It can sometimes be worthwhile to not carry out an unanticipated attack if such an act can mean the preemptive dispersal of a march that has not yet found itself. We wish to go on the offensive, but we wish that such attack function as an invitation whenever possible. At the same time, it is also important to hold onto the precedents of street confrontation we’ve fought so hard to set: masking up, painting on walls as the crowd moves through an area, attacking if the opportunity safely presents itself, making available to other participants the tools and materials to fight back against police. Whether due to the make up or size of the crowd, or to lack of preparation, we failed in this task.

Nonetheless, it has consistently been difficult if not impossible to take the streets in this town, and to do so with ease last Friday night felt like a victory. Most of the Ferguson solidarity events we know of around the country were attended but not called for by comrades; that anarchists in the Triangle can call for and promote such an event directly, without the mediation of Leftists or established community leaders, and attract a crowd of over 100 screaming “Fuck the Police!”, is itself worth appreciating.

The End of the Night

Afterwards, the student who had tried to call for calm seemed obviously upset. One of the marchers walked up to him and asked what was wrong. He explained his yearning for peace. It is a very human want, to want to simply be happy, to want all the bullshit to just end. But, the marcher explained, we aren’t going to get happiness by letting the cops be in control. A long conversation ensued between mostly Black protesters, that lasted well after most others had dispersed. They discussed what it means to survive and mourn for those lost to this racist, anti-Black culture, how to have space both for grieving and for fighting, how to intentionally highlight Black voices in these struggles. We would emphasize that those comrades who engaged in this conversation were doing something every bit as important and difficult as any street confrontation.

All around, people formed all kinds of relationships. A few old Occupy faces re-encountered each other, neighbors co-mingled, random passersby took selfies with the simpsons-themed ACAB banner, students talked to homeless people they’d usually just walk right by. And in that moment, a moment of slightly less alienated human connection, there was perhaps a kind of peace—without any cops at all.

Mainstream press coverage: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/08/ferguson-protests-come-to-chapel-hill

Letters to the Editor from a Frat Boy Who Wishes that Responses to the Murder of Unarmed Black People Didn’t Inconvenience His Friday Night: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/08/letter-protesters-must-respect-others-rights

To learn about future protests, send an email to fromfergusontochapelhill@riseup.net