Weaver St. Market Lawn: The Story So Far….

Now that the initial uproar over Carr Mill Mall’s management’s rather strained decision to implement new restrictions on public access to Weaver Street Market Lawn [MAP] has quieted down a bit, I thought I’d put together a quick recap covering the last couple weeks of letters, posts and comments.

The Wiki Roots wiki has a timeline and suggested next steps under the Moving with Footloose Bruce category. Issues of WSM strategy, customer safety, “community spaces” and potential racism are covered. Local activists Michal and Brian also posted a five point open letter in response to Weaver Street Market manager Ruffin Slater’s and Carr Mill Mall’s Nathan Milian’s joint proposal, the “Live on the Lawn” performance program :

First, while we are not interested in accusing individuals like Nathan Milian of racism, to the best of our knowledge, to this day the only people who have been banned, and asked not to dance are African American. Regardless of the intention of individuals involved, this is defacto discrimination.

Second, beyond racial discrimination, we believe that Carr Mill Mall is treading on dangerous ground when they begin to differentially allow people who look and act a certain way to dance….

Third, we support Carr Mill Mall’s efforts to ensure public safety and a convivial atmosphere for its tenants and customers…

Fourth, the fact that the WSM lawn happens to be private property does not negate our constitutional rights….

Finally, while we understand that private property is something Americans hold very dear, we also recognize that it is the community that ensures the right to private property and that sustains whatever economic value such property might hold. We feel it is no small matter that the banning of these individuals is one among a number of steps Carr Mill has taken to rid the lawn of its role as the functional commons of Carrboro. Thus, we want to pose the question about how far we are willing to allow the rights of single and corporate property owners to override the collective good of the community from which they benefit.

The Chapel Hill News asked their readers what they thought and got a range of responses:

  • A call to Get the crazies off the lawn from Lucinda Poole

    I think it’s an eyesore all those hippies and children running around dancing and loitering in Carrboro. I never feel comfortable walking anywhere close to the lawn at Weaver Street. Maybe what the manager at Weaver Street realizes is he possibly could change his clientele. Hooray, the normal people take over Carrboro. Start a commune somewhere out in the country and dance under the stars and moon until your heart’s content. Just don’t make me have to witness it.

  • An observation that Impromptu act is not performing from Lyle Lansdell

    The “dancing man” should not have to apply to perform. He wasn’t performing. He wasn’t playing to an audience. He was simply expressing himself. Children burst into dance. Would you tell them to apply for a slot?

  • A tempered appreciation by Donna Kaye of the role Weaver Street Market has played

    Personally, I would lean towards allowing creative and self-expression on the lawn. However, there are legitimate concerns on the other side as well. I do wish Carr Mill management had engaged the community first with a question like, “How can we maintain the ability for people to express themselves creatively in this space, while at the same time, promoting safety and access to parking for all the businesses in Carr Mill Mall?” This way a policy could have been developed with community buy-in that would have forgone the current public wrath of what appears to be a unilateral decree.

  • Ken Brooks felt we’re giving away our freedoms bit by bit

    This is just another example of something that is terribly wrong with our nation lately. While fighting for freedom abroad, we are losing it by inches at home. And we are doing it to ourselves.

    Every complaint, every accident becomes a cause for action; every action takes away a little more freedom. Nobody has the courage to say to the complainers, “Peace!”

Folks commenting on the local bulletin board SqueezeThePulp [STP] tended to lean towards supporting Carr Mill manager Nathan Milian posting under topics like:

  • Spot the Looney: Private Property and Carrboro Cheerleaders celebrating Art “bought me an election” Pope’s noise machine, the John Locke Foundation’s, commendation of some STP posters’ wit.
  • Paul Newton’s prohibition covering Lunatics on the lawn: No dancing allowed in my front yard which temporarily pushed discussions of burning mulch piles aside and spawned a short voyage to South Park.
  • Followed by a movie-oriented theme of “Footloose ED” or “Dancing with Bricks” which had Carrboro dogfood baron Frank Papa warning

    if people continue to “protest”, and continue to ignore Mr. Slater’s pleas for sanity, then Carr Mill Management will simply forbid any and all use of the “lawn”.

    Noting that

    It’s been threatened before several times with the most recent that I’m aware of is when Mark Chilton was talking about closing that block of Weaver St. to car traffic. That is truly a *terrible* idea, and it would hurt business to such an extent that from what I understood (purely rumor), Nathan told Mark that if Mark proceeded with trying to close down Weaver St. to car traffic even one day a week, that everybody would be forbidden to use the “lawn”, making closing Weaver St. a moot point.

    This thread also yielded a bit of “rope-a-dope” between columnist Brian D. Voyce and OWASA board member TerriB.

  • Rounding out the STP threads “Seize the Lawn” aka “The Party’s Over” had a much higher signal-to-noise ratio (even with Brian Voyce’s and Melanie See’s back-n-forth palaver over drinking on the lawn). Several posters echoed my warning that using the government’s power of eminent domain was a non-starter and would only serve to harden Carr Mill Mall’s heart.
  • 2005 Carrboro Board of Alderman candidate (and 4th place finisher) Katrina Ryan opined

    I just think that it is important to know what we are really discussing. We are not talking about defending the right to free speech. There is no right to free speech on someone else’s private property.

    and further imagined

    that the ” influential visitor” who saw Bruce dancing with bricks was one of the owners, in from Maryland. Let’s imagine that he was also a strict Baptist or a Mormon, who have religious prohibitions from drinking or dancing. Whose first amendment rights do we defend in this case, Bruce’s right to free speech, or the owners freedom of religion? Or, maybe he is just a liability attorney, whose immediate reaction to “dancing with bricks” would be “Get that guy outta here….what if he hits somebody’s kid ?”

    For the most part, the owners of Carr Mill have been the gracious hosts of Carrboro’s social scene for a decade, and the behavior of the dancing dissidents seems a bit ungracious and ungrateful, IMHO.

  • Gracious? Kind of debatable. She did suggest, as others have, a mediated settlement starting with a conversation with Carr Mill Mall’s owner. If that didn’t work, she propsed

    a ballot referendum that provided for a prepared meals tax and a downtown business district tax to fund the purchase of the lawn, provided the owners were amenable. ( I specify these to funding sources since restaurants and downtown businesses benefit disproportionally from the presence of lawn patrons) Let the voters decide.

    Interesting idea, though it introduces another set of potential restrictions, regulations and concomitant demands of public investment.

  • The referendum proposal didn’t seem short term enough for AndrewN who said a ”
    consumer boycott is a more reasonable first step”.

    That left Melanie See with a

    thought rolling around in my head for days…is it possible that the boycotters/protesters are really angry about something ELSE…and taking it out on CMM? The response seems…disproportionate. I mean, there are people starving, dying, and several wars going on…not to mention the erosion of TRUE civil liberties…

    Seriously, what the HECK? I know of NO constitutional right to dance on someone else’s lawn. In fact, if a group of people showed up (uninvited)to dance on AndrewN’s lawn, or Randee Haven-O’donnell’s lawn, ar Jacquie Gist’s lawn…I bet they’d be less than pleased.

Yes, Melanie, there’s more going on here than an “influential visitor” initiating a cascade of poor business decisions by Carr Mill Mall’s management.

A much more heavily traversed local ‘blog, OrangePolitics [OP], served as a clearinghouse for both information and calls-to-action.

I found it odd that among all the posts and comments no one made a connection between RubyJi’s privately-owned de facto ‘net-based Town Commons, the criticism she’s received over the years for her seemingly restrictive policies on OP access and the Weaver Street Market Lawn debacle. There is a kind of resonance I hope to explore further.

Rather than trying to recap OrangePolitic’s seven threads, with their nearly 400 comments made from July 28th to September 4th, I’ve listed the posts titles.

Here’s a few representative comments from just one thread documenting the initial reaction of the OP community.

  • Starting July 27th, Graig Meyer questioned the logic

    Did Milian seem to think that Bruce and the hoopers actually hurt Carr Mill Mall [CMM] business somehow? I can’t believe that would be true. It seems to me that they are a part of the aesthetic that makes WSM and CMM the hub of Carrboro social and economic activity. I’m willing to let the guy see the error of his ways, but I just want to know what his logic was in the first place.

    July 30th 2005 Carrboro BOA candidate Catherine Devine reflects on Milian’s track record citing his opposition “to the open air market slated to benefit WCOM starting in September, fearing that its patrons will sully his pavement every Saturday.”

    Tenant and local businesswoman Casey Schlatter commented August 1st on how the “Bruce issue” blind-sided her:

    As an owner of The Original Ornament in Carr Mill Mall, I can say that what you read in the paper was exactly the first of what we, as merchants, heard about Bruce and his “dancing problem” on the Weaver Street Lawn. There has been mention to some of the mall businesses that there could be a boycott of the shops for this action taken by Nathan. Please know that we do not want people to take that out on us; it would hurt the small group of businesses in a way that would have nothing to do with Nathan. We pay rent to Nathan but, unfortunately, have never had much say in other matters related to the mall.

    elizabeth liptzin, was “appalled by the entire situation with Carr Mill Management’s recent decisions” but agreed

    “that anger & frustration shouldn’t be taken out on the mall tenants. Meanwhile everyone, tenants and all, should be allowed to constructively contribute their opinions to the management–AND BE HEARD..”

    A longtime North Carolinian she

    grew up locally, watched this town evolve, and appreciate the variety of elements that converge to make it what people love so much–yet, we can love something to death. If the management has some true gripes, they should be responded to as such, but the management has to be clear about problems per se instead of singling out individuals (especially on the basis of appearance) that aren’t doing anything wrong.

    Elizabeth became quite a prolific commenter on OP.

Other new media outlets, such as The Carrboro News, have covered the lawn issue from a community-based perspective.

Speaking of media outlets, I’ve been invited to publicly ruminate on events to-date on local community radio WCOM tomorrow:

Our guests will be: Mark Chilton, Will Raymond and Bruce Thomas, himself.

We will be examining the issues and the personalities. Is this a storm in a teacup, or the perfect storm for Carrboro? Is everything what it seems to be? And is everyone whom they seem to be? You know, the usual ESP stuff…

Tune into WCOM 103.5 FM, next Thursday, between 9am and 10am. Listen online at: www.communityradio.coop Call in with a question to: (919) 929-9601. Or leave a question here, or send it to us at: theespteam@yahoo.com

Happy listening and happy blogging!

Geoff Gilson “The ESP Show” Thursdays, 9am-10am WCOM 103.5 FM

Finally PLEASE NOTE that member/owners of the Weaver St. Market Co-op are eligible to run for the WSM board of directors this October. If you want to alter the boards’ stance on the lawn, consider submitting an application NO LATER THAN SEPTEMBER 19th AT 9PM.

Funny thing, while that application isn’t available online, the ridiculous Licensed for the Lawn application is….


7 responses to “Weaver St. Market Lawn: The Story So Far….”

  1. Geoff Gilson - "The ESP Show"/WCOM Avatar

    Excellent overview! And thank you for your balanced input on our Show today. Would have been nice also to get the chance to chat with Nathan and Bruce, but hey, you can’t win ’em all! Keep up the good work – we can’t have too many open blogs in Orange County (yes, we made the correlation last week between Ruby and Champions of Free Speech, who do not allow free speech on their own private property…)

    Geoff Gilson

    “The ESP Show”
    Thursdays, 9am-10am
    WCOM 103.5 FM

  2. Ruby Sinreich Avatar

    Last time I checked, no-one’s asking to be allowed to use the lawn to do *anything* they want without respect to whether it injures someone or actively works against WSM’s goals of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

    Also last time I checked, the only comments that have ever been removed from OrangePolitics were those that were mean-spirited personal attacks, not locally-related, or outright lies. Unlike STP, we don’t allow people to be slandered with impunity. We do have standards and I think a lot of folks like OP that way.

  3. Ruby Sinreich Avatar

    Oh also, I mostly don’t argue that I have some “right” to dance on Carr Mill’s lawn, but that it’s stupid to make rules regulating how I move my body while I am being a law-abiding consumer of their services.

  4. Brian R. Avatar

    The difference between Orange Politics, which you call a ‘net-based Town Commons’, and a real Town Commons is cost. Its cheap to create Orange Politics but large public commons spaces in Carrboro cost Millions of dollars.

    So there is little barrier to creating your own virtual space online to do all kinds of stuff. The real Town Commons is the whole Internet itself. Not one popular website. Everyone should create their own personal space with public space qualities. The more the better.

    When did you start drinking the Squeeze the Pulp Kool Aid (TM) Will? 🙂

  5. Administrator Avatar

    While there’s a low cost of entry to creating your own little piece of the Town Commons, I’ll continue to argue that OP occupies a special place (like the WSM lawn) within our community.


    Because OP is not just a web site – it’s a focus of attention (collection of eyeballs to use a nasty monetizing turn of phrase). Ruby deliberately set out to create that locus of attention. Between the community piling on and the steady accumulation of quality content, that locus of attention has steadily mounted. OP’s strength (heck, even STP’s strength) comes from that locus of attention.

    If all the posters and commenter’s on these sites worked “distributively” than that attention would dissipate into the ether – you would lose the organically, incrementally developed value of the site.

    Maybe one day the “distributed” Town Commons will work because of tools like co.Comment but, right now, we should preserve the carefully cultivated, hard-to-replace spirit of OP, just as we want to preserve that same ineffable quality on the WSM lawn.

    As far as the Koolaid, why don’t you let me buy you a drink at tonight’s blogger meetup at OpenEye?

  6. Administrator Avatar

    Thanks Geoff. I guess the honeymoon is over and I’ll be savaged STP style next time ;-)? I look forward to hearing the PODcast so I can review what I actually blathered on about…

    Thanks again. Good luck on the knee surgery (I almost asked if the injury was caused by a “knee jerk” but that seemed a “bridge to far”).

    See you soon…

  7. Brian R. Avatar

    I’d agree that OrangePolitics.org is a special place. It does have a unique focus put upon it by all kinds of readers. This is due in part to the quality of the content.

    The phenomenon that is OP couldn’t have happened if Ruby exercised some sort of restrictive policy. OP’s success came about from good writing, good editing, a focused area to discuss (geographic and political), good comments, a bit of money, and LOTS of hard work. It required a community to make it happen. That process is the very antithesis of a “restrictive policy”. The results prove this.

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the bloggers meetup.

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