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05.19.10

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The People vs. Wal-Mart

Sometimes speaking from the heart is the strongest thing you can do

By Magick


I have been an activist most of my life, and I haven't burned out yet. What's my secret? I trust in life, answer calls to action and keep my sense of humor. I relish the messy process called democracy. It's never over and life is worth it, so I do what I can.

On April 22, I attended a meeting in Rohnert Park concerning a proposal by Wal-Mart to add a grocery outlet.

The city staff played its usual role of supporting corporate proposals. The consultant slipped, and to the dismay of the Wal-Mart people, said the local grocery store, Pacific Market, would be put out of business.

The environmental impact report (EIR) stated that this could snowball into some ugly urban decay. Oliver's Market might go down as well, causing serious unemployment and loss of support for community activities.

The halls were packed, and the hearing lasted from 7pm until after 11pm. There were basically two camps. Wal-Mart employees were there to sing the praises of Wal-Mart, and there was a smattering of shoppers expressing their love of cheap prices. Everyone else was there to protest.

Every activist knows that Wal-Mart probably ranks No. 1 in the world for environmental degradation, employee abuse and exploitation of foreign labor, including children.

I also knew that Wal-Mart was facing the biggest class action suit in U.S. history because of its systematic discrimination against women. Yet sitting behind me was a row of female Wal-Mart employees whose jobs were not on the line. I wondered how Wal-Mart propaganda had convinced them that somehow they were threatened if they didn't come.

One elderly gentleman related how towns in the South were completely devastated by Wal-Mart's predatory practices. A planner explained that Wal-Mart comes into small towns and undercuts prices until its competitors fail.

As I sat there scribbling notes, my stomach churned, my brain ached; it was painful to see a community so divided. I searched for the words that might move the four councilmen to act from integrity.

Minutes before it was my turn to speak, I closed my eyes and let go. The spirit of community in that moment had entered me, and I knew that many of my "reasons" for stopping this project would have to fall by the wayside.

"The next speaker is Magick," intoned the chairman with a grin. I walked to the podium. I dove in by stating that I knew from experience that there must be findings based on unmitigatable impacts that are too great to allow certification of the EIR. I elaborated a bit, but the clock was ticking on my three minutes, and I knew that I needed to strike a deeper chord.

"What has happened to us as a nation and as a community when we do not care that our neighbors will lose their jobs? What has happened to us when we turn away from the reality that cheap prices are the result of 10-year-old girls working for slave wages seven days a week in China?" I asked. "Do we only care about our own jobs, our own children? Have we become merely a nation of consumers?

"The rational reasons to refuse to certify this EIR and defeat this project are there, but I ask you when you speak, to please speak from the heart for this community."

The bell rang exactly as I uttered my last words and I sat down holding to the intention I had set in solidarity with all the articulate speakers opposing this plan.

The first commissioner's opening words were, "I am heartened by the outpouring of feelings coming from the crowd tonight."

My eyes widened and I knew, because he spoke of the heart, that the decision would go in favor of this little town. The slick tricks of corporate PR people had failed to run roughshod over the soul of this community.

One after another the commissioners voiced their concern about lost jobs and urban decay. Even the one commissioner who mistakenly stated, "We can't tell Wal-Mart what to do," voted with the others in a stunning 4–0 victory!

After, a few of us went to the local pub to raise our glasses in celebration.

It is not over, Wal-Mart is appealing. That's OK. There will be another community ritual of democracy to attend.

Magick is a local activist, poet and tarot counselor and teacher. She does readings at the Infusions Teahouse in Sebastopol. Her website is www.magicktarot.com.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.


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