On March 17th, 2022, a protest organized by the Sunrise Movement's Asheville Hub stopped Asheville City Council's annual "retreat" in its tracks moments after it began.
Following a brief introduction by Mayor Esther Manheimer, the retreat's facilitator — Rebekah Lowe — began to approach the podium.
"Before you start," one protester said, standing as they spoke. "We would just like you to know some unfinished business... we are asking that you take care of your city, that you take care of your people, stop criminalizing homelessness, stop pandering to developers that are going to pollute our air and our water."
Manheimer, visibly flustered, called for a break. The official video stream was cut, and most officials began to exit the room for the duration of the protest. The retreat would resume approximately thirty minutes later.
A Tense Exchange
While most Councilmembers avoided speaking directly to protesters, Sandra Kilgore did not. As seen in a live stream posted to the Sunrise Movement Asheville Instagram, Kilgore approached the protesters.
"Hold up," Kilgore said, interrupting chants of "Stop the sweeps, sanctuary camping now!"
"I just want to ask you a question — what is it that you really want? [...] Give us some suggestions and where we get the finances to do certain things, and we will be glad to do it."
A heated exchange followed, touching on topics of police abolition, the war in Ukraine, and the Pratt & Whitney (a Raytheon Subsidiary) plant currently under construction in Asheville.
Protesters insisted that if the City needed money to fund a sanctuary camp, it could pull those funds from the police budget. Kilgore insisted that defunding the police would hurt Black communities. This has been Kilgore's refrain despite both local and national calls for defunding the police by Black activists since the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Following the exchange with Councilmember Kilgore, protesters began packing up their materials and filing out of the conference room where the retreat was held. The Sunrise Movement live stream cuts off abruptly when a member of the media approaches the protester who was streaming.
Today is day two of the Council's retreat, where they are hearing a budget update from City Staff and planning their upcoming budget priorities.
Sunrise Movement held a second live stream this morning, where an organizer talks more in-depth about their demands.