A democratic transition is likely to bring significant changes to the character of contentious politics. Scholars argue protest is likely to become normalized and more frequent because of new opportunities, but less radical because it is channelled by political actors into a more responsive political system. However, less attention has been paid to explaining those protest episodes, which remain transgressive. This article uses an original event catalogue and informant interviews to examine the microlevel interactions within one such episode, the Kamour protest in Tunisia in 2017, in which hundreds of young unemployed protesters staged a four-month long sit-in and shut off an oil pipeline to demand jobs and increased state spending in their region. Findings show that in conditions of low political trust, protesters relied on three mechanisms: they escalated but self-limited their actions; organized autonomously but used fraternization to seek the protection of the military; and resisted institutionalization as a political party even as they transformed their claims to appeal to the ‘absent state’ to demand deeper democratic reforms. Evidence from Tunisia contributes to explaining how political mistrust shapes transgressive protests after a democratic transition.