Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Roxbury Discusses Walmart

Last Thursday, there was a discussion at the library in Dudley Square about Walmart coming to the neighborhood.  This Thursday, at the Haley House, 12 Dade St., in Dudley Square there will be movie screenings and more discussions of Walmart.

Neighbor Jen Rose-Wood wrote this report from last week's meeting:

"I wrote up the below report for those interested in following the question of whether or not we support a Wal-Mart store in our neighborhood.  The Forum was very well-attended and people participated in it with passion and heart.  In particular I felt compelled to give a report of the evening after reading the Globe's coverage of the event which I did not feel painted a fully accurate picture.

-Jen Rose-Wood

Report on the Roxbury Community Forum on Wal-Mart
Sponsored by the We Want Good Jobs Coalition
Dudley Library
About 100 people attended last Thursday’s forum.  Speeches were fiery and focused on justice.  Most of the panelists had a connection to Roxbury with the exception of Joe Grafton, who spoke for the Somerville Local First, a coalition fighting Wal-Mart in Somerville , and Kenny James, who worked as an associate at Wal-Mart in Seattle for 10 years.  See below for a listing of the presenters—they were fantastic.  After the panelists presented, audience members shared their views.  Most people who spoke agreed with the speakers that Wal-Mart’s dead-end jobs and small business-smashing impact is not what Roxbury needs.  One audience member felt the other side needed to be heard, and that local politicians needed to share more of their views and plans vis a vis a potential Wal-Mart store.  Another audience member felt that unemployment, education, illiteracy and other social ills needed to be addressed aside from focusing on Wal-Mart.   Despite the fact that the vast majority of comments made in the comment period were critical of Wal-Mart, the recent Globe article on the event devoted more than a third of its coverage to comments that were supportive of Wal-Mart, including two lengthy paragraphs quoting Steven Restivo, senior director of Wal-Mart community affairs—who wasn’t even present at the forum! (Wal-Mart was invited to send a representative to the forum; they did not attend).  Below are some “quotes of note” to give those unable to attend a flavor for the evening.  Many are paraphrases—if other attendees reading this feel they are not fully accurate, please feel free to write back and make edits!
Quotes of Note
Councilor Jackson said that we need to look at the “net job gain” when Wal-Mart enters a community.  When Wal-Mart adds new jobs to a community economy, almost as many jobs are lost due to small businesses folding in Wal-Mart’s shadow.  Jackson also shared that Wal-Mart has not come forward to his office or the offices of other Roxbury politicians.  “And I think that’s very problematic.”
Joyce Stanley of Dudley Main Streets said that 60% of the jobs in this country are from small businesses—and Wal-Mart and big box stores in general are bad news for small business.  She cited the example of Harrison Supply, which closed after 75 years due to not being able to compete with Home Depot.  Joyce said, “We want [businesses] who want to be here for the long term.”
Joe Grafton of Somerville Local First had some hard statistics to back up Councilor Jackson and Joyce Stanley’s points about small business.  He said for every 2 jobs Wal-Mart creates, 3 are eliminated from local business.  And the Wal-Mart jobs tend to be lower wage, lower skill, and more challenging due to poor working conditions.  Joe also shared the example of Chicago , which lost 80 businesses within the first 16 months of a Wal-Mart opening—this amounted to ¼ of the local businesses in the area.  Joe said this gives the lie to the idea that Wal-Mart promotes competition.  You can’t compete with companies that you’ve put out of business.
Jamarhl Crawford, a community organizer affiliated with the Blackstonian, spoke his truth from the beginning: “I’m gonna speak from a place of total distrust of rich corporations.”  Jamarhl said corporations like Wal-Mart make us “second guess ourselves” and lose track of our values.   He characterized them as having a “sense of entitlement” and lacking any sense of caring or investment in the community.  Building on the points of previous speakers, Jamarhl pointed out that small businesses cannot compete with Wal-Mart, because Wal-Mart buys in bulk.  “The little guy cannot compete.”
Kenny James, a former Wal-Mart associate is part of an organization that advocates for associates.  He lost his job as a manager at Wal-Mart after 10 years because he was told that he was “too nice” to the associates.  Kenny shared the story of a hard-working associate who was denied a full raise because she was not available for customer service in her department.  Her “department” was actually multiple departments of clothing lines, very difficult to cover all at the same time.  She also was constantly called up away from her department to the front of the store to cashier when the store got busy.  Kenny also said Wal-Mart has made promises of bonuses to associates that never appeared.  He said he seriously doubts most Wal-Mart employees are able to follow Wal-Mart’s slogan of “save money, live better”—the living better part in particular.
Several more speakers followed these presenters, including community activist Claire Allen and Jean-Claude Sanon of Jobs with Justice.   Horace Small, of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, played the part of MC with gusto and humor.  In this writer’s view, the evening was an undeniable example of a neighborhood coming together and speaking truth to power."

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