Black Friday Redux

Another Black Friday has came and passed. No one died this time around, so I’m not as inspired to compose a rant as I was last year. Of course, the media already planned to devote a lot of time and attention to the event, so they followed through with the stories regardless. Perhaps the most reported story from the day was a riot at the Wal-Mart in Upland, California. Even though the store had been open all night to prevent any trampling deaths, that didn’t stop costumers from fighting, tearing open off-limits merchandise, and being unruly/trying to break back in when everyone was kicked out of the store. Nice.

What I find most crazy about this incident is that that was my local Wal-Mart – under five minutes from my home – for the previous six years of my life. It’s one thing to read these stories and be like, “Oh, people can be crazy,” but it’s another when these shoppers turn out to be your neighbors.

Despite my proximity, I never shopped at that store. By that point in my life, I was pretty anti-Wal-Mart. The corporation deserves every negative criticism thrown its way; in addition to demolishing local economies, it treats its employees like crap and finds shifty ways to underpay them. Although I never shopped there, I did enter the store once, but under some pretty unusual circumstances.

I participated in what is known as a Whirl-Mart demonstration. About twenty-five of us college students and as many adult anarchists who were in town for a conference gathered in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. We entered the store in small numbers, each pushing a shopping cart. For several minutes, we walked around with blank expressions, paying no attention to the merchandise. After time had passed, however, we began to clump together. When you saw another person participating, you got in line behind them until, after a while, all fifty of us had formed one continuous single-file line of empty shopping carts maneuvering around the store, zigging and zagging through the aisles. Alone, no one paid attention to us, but it was impossible to ignore so many people moving in unison yet buying nothing.

It was a silent protest, so we didn’t really say much. When employees and shoppers would ask what we were up to, someone would slip them a piece of paper that had startling facts about Wal-Mart’s employee mistreatment and data showing the impressive profit margins of the corporation and how the basic-level employees were among the most poorly compensated in the country, with all of the money going straight to the top. In one biweekly paycheck, the CEO of Wal-Mart earns what its average worker makes in an entire lifetime. And when they’re screwed in terms of insurance and made to work only 39 hours (or worse, only write down 39 hours) to avoid having to pay them full-time wages, this lifetime income is one of struggle.

Some of the store’s managers starting getting flustered, but didn’t know how to handle the situation. We didn’t stop anyone from shopping, we merely educated the people who were curious about our cause. After enough time had passed, we broke up from our line and one-by-one exited the store with our empty carts to end the protest. I’m not sure how successful the event was or whether we changed anyone’s views on the corporation, but it was nice to at least give it a try.

It’s a little sad to see that our minor disruption doesn’t even compare to this past Friday’s events. Evidently, it’s easier for over-eager consumerists to shut down a store for all the wrong reasons than a bunch of well-meaning protesters for the right ones. Sigh. Maybe people get what they deserve.

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