What if we refused to occupy Black Friday? Or, at least stopped shopping at Wal-Mart?

One might think that Black Friday mania might be scaled-back this year, given the economic crisis and the rising awareness of socio-economic injustices evidenced by the Occupy movement. But, no, consumer capitalism will not go gentle into that good night – instead, it will bang the shopping drum in a mad frenzy, exhorting people to buy, buy, buy as if their life and happiness depended on it. Unfortunately, like children running after the Pied Piper, we heed this call, heading out to Wal-Mart ON THANSKGIVING DAY. Yes, that’s right, Black Friday, is being “rolled back” to Thursday.

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart years ago, years before a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on Black Friday. But, I readily admit that I am somewhat of a shop-aholic. I grew up in a family that loved to shop, and I have not rid myself of the addictive pleasures of consumer consumption. I try to shop less though, to deny the siren call of the shoe sale or buy-one-get-one-free bonanza. And, I try to be more savvy about where I shop.

Of course, buying sweatshop free or supporting fair wages is nigh impossible in today’s world, but we can all take little steps – and giving up Wal-Mart is a great way to start. Why? Because the Waltons are the apex of the 1%, because Wal-Mart exploits is workers, relies on slave labor, and is sexist and racist in it’s hiring, promoting, and firing practices. It is also one of the most powerful and profitable mega-consumer-corporations of its kind. If we could force Wal-Mart to change, other chains would surely follow suit.

As someone who includes a directive to not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedyreveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disproportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderfulFrontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-MartWal-Mart Sucks, andWal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

 

What if Obama’s State of the Union speech ushers in an age of government sponsored reality TV: “Education Idol,” “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”and“The Amazing Race to Control the World”?

Before I read around the net for reactions to the state of the union, I thought I would formulate some of my own. So, here are thoughts on a few areas close to my heart: Education, Body Image, and Militarism.

On education, Obama referred to the “national competition to improve our schools.” Wow, will there be a reality TV show to go along with that? How about “Education Idol”?

I agree with Obama that “one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” Too bad he doesn’t back this belief with monetary support. Alas, there always seems to be enough money for war but not for education.

On body image, Obama gave a nod to Michelle Obama “who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.” Oooh, sounds like the makings for another reality show! How about “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”?

Instead of targeting body size, how about targeting high fructose corn syrup and ultra-processed Franken foods. Oh no, food corps wouldn’t like that, and now they hold the purse strings…

On militarism, Obama resorted to euphemism again, hiding war cries under the guise of “national security” and “terrorists.”

There seemed to be a big gap in the war portions of his speech – the military budget!!! Why no mention of how our war-happy stance has a lot to do with our current economic collapse? Why no talk of curtailing military spending or cutting back on our bases around the globe?

Seems all his war talk could have the makings of a reality show too – how about “The Amazing Race to Control the World,” “American’s Next Top War,” or “Country Swap”?

To sum up my reaction, I found most of the speech to be about as believable (and disheartening) as reality TV.

I heartily agree with Obama that “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity,” I just think Obama and the US government define freedom and human dignity a little differently than I do.

I don’t find that occupying the globe with our soldiers, bases, and prisons is the best way to bring about freedom. I don’t find that championing corporate capitalism promotes human dignity – to the contrary, it puts profit before people.

If he really wants to stand on the side of freedom and human dignity, Obama must think about de-militarizing the globe and decreasing the corporate stranglehold on our world. Oh yeah, and supporting education with more than just words would be nice too.

What if the preamble to the US Constitution read “We the corporations of America…”?

This week proved the disastrous effects of a Bush-appointed supreme court, or, to put it another way, welcome officially to the United States of Fascism.

As Rural Woman Zone argues, “The Supreme Court’s Decision this week to remove campaign finance restrictions for corporations means the end of participatory democracy.”

In another good post on this catastrophe, Rodrigue Tremblay of Dissident Voice argues we are now a plutocracy, or a “political system characterized by ‘the rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.’”

As Tremblay continues, “the Roberts Court has thus abolished the laws governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how much special money interests can spend to have the elected officials they want. The government they want will largely be ‘a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.’”

People have been warning that the US is moving further and further away from democracy, a move that Naomi Wolf warns will be “The End of America” (the same title as her 2007 book, which she discusses here.)

Listening to talk about the recent Supreme Court decision on the radio and around the blogosphere, the following notion rules the (right) airwaves “we can’t limit the first amendment rights of a corporation because that would be un-American.” This argument is based on the faulty notion, writ into law ages ago, that a corporation IS a person and deserves the same free speech rights as a person. Stephen Colbert mocks this idea, noting “corporations do everything people do – except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River.”

One of the best anti-corporate sources of information I can recommend to those worried about the increasing corporatization of our world is the Canadian documentary The Corporation.

The clip below is especially pertinent to the supposed personhood of corporations:

As Noam Chomsky notes in the above clip, corporations have no moral conscience (unlike most humans, Bush excluded). Would you want Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Wal-Mart, or Citi-Group making moral decisions on your behalf? Would you even want them as a Facebook friend? Hell no!

A corporation is not a person!!! Corporations are ruled by the “bottom line,” or how to make as much profit as possible. They could care less about the environment, social justice, or your Facebook status update. Due to their profit-motives, they tend to lean to the right or very far right and their political contributions will aim to make the US as anti-progressive as you can imagine.

As a dear friend joked recently,

“How do you spell fascism?”

“F-a-c-s-i-s-m” I replied.

“Nope,” he quipped. “U-S-A.”

If you’re worried about this ruling (and if you are not, you should be), go here for a petition and other activist links.

What if…? Short Takes 12/14/09

1. Watched last week’s Xmas episode of The Office and LOVED Phyllis as Santa. Michael, being his regular (cis)sexist self, mocked her as “Tranny Claus,” insisting HE be Santa yet again. Phyllis rocked as Santa! Yeah for female Santa (and gender-queer Santa)! As for Mrs. Claus, I am damn sure she does a lot more than make cookies.

2. Obama gave himself a B+ on Oprah? Hmmm, methinks there is a bit of grade inflation going on. I gave him an A when he entered, especially as he jumped on repealing the Global Gag Rule. But his top student status declined from there. For effort, maybe a C-. For war cry, an F. For being in bed with bio-pharm, big corps, and those who love empire, an F. Don’t think this all averages out to a B+. Better luck next semester, Obama!

3.While if I had my way, we would figure out a way to eradicate the necessity for the military rather than fighting for equality within the military, I understand the need to transform the existing system until we can obliterate it (much like with patriarchy). One area in dire need of transformation in the military is the hyper-masculine ethos that translates into a rabidly sexist war machine. Not only does this result in the sexual assault of 71% of women in the military, it means they are treated like crap when they return home from service. They don’t get the “you’re a hero” attitude nor the resounding welcome into the warrior-hero boys’ club. Nope, instead they are rendered invisible yet again, treated as if all they did in Iraq was brew the coffee, keeping the homefire at the base burning. (For an article discussing the treatment of female vets, go here.)

What if porn makes you gay?

As reported as Salon.com, the “Values Voter Summit” this past weekend (you know with a name like that this has got to be a scary meeting of ultra-right, ultra-white, hetero-loving nuts), a panel entitled “The New Masculinity” discussed how “feminism has wreaked havoc on marriage, women, children and men” in an attempt to get “the principles and ideals for a new ‘masculinism’ right.” Hmmm, sounds like this “new” masculinity is not all that new—rather, it’s the same old “blame women while keeping all our privileges” tactic. And, who deserves the most blame? Those nasty, evil, turning-your-kids-gay-and-away-from-god feminists of course!

But, there is a remedy—at least for sons. Tell them pornography will turn them gay!

With references to homosexuality as a “malady” that is “inflicted on people” Michael Schwartz, the chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (of Oklahoma), shared that “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” Whoa, now there is some brilliance of the magnitude that if you touch yourself, your hands will fall off and you’ll be headed straight to the devil. Brilliance such as this harks from the Victorian age, that era of sexual repression that brought us circumcision as a “cure” for masturbation. It is also the era, of course, of thriving not-so-subculture porn and erotica. Surprisingly enough, with all that “smut” circulating in society, not all boys were “turned gay.”

That these conversations took place is not surprising given the right-wing homophobic bent of our nation, but it is still incredibly disturbing that leaders frame homosexuality as a disease, using tired ideas that you can be “infected” with gayness. Ah, if only the world could be “infected” with the idea that policing sexuality is not the answer to any of our problems. Rather, such rigid constructions of sexuality create a multitude of harmful practices and beliefs.

More generally, if we could “infect” the world with feminism, perhaps homophobic, misogynist leaders such as Schwartz would have to hide in the closet, masturbating to images of Dr. Laura or Rush Limbaugh.

Hmmm, how best to infect the world with feminism? We need some summits longer than a weekend to figure out our plan for transmission… Maybe we could sneak a dose of feminism into the swine flu vaccination?

What if Obama and crew have their eyes and ears attuned to the feminist blogosphere?

Well, after Blog for Choice Day 2009 and the many, many posts around the feminist blogosphere decrying the Global Gag Rule, the day is FINALLY here – NO MORE GGR! Hurray, hurray, hurray. Perhaps right now, at the White House, Obama is reading feminist bloggers as he formulates what is most pressing on his political agenda. Maybe he is even wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt as he does so. One can dream!

What if our supposedly feminist president repealed the Global Gag Rule as promised?

On the one hand, this post is in honor of Blog for Choice Day 2009 . On the other, it is an angry response to the fact that President Obama is already failing to live up to his image as portrayed on the infamous Ms. cover:

obama

While I will not get into a lengthy debate as to whether one must be pro-choice to be a feminist, I will share that FAILING to repeal the Global Gag Rule or at the very least address the 36th anniversary of Roe V Wade publicly (and to address what this means in terms of reproductive justice) does seem to put one’s feminist cred into question.

Now, onto the question for this year’s Blog for Choice Day: What is your top pro-choice hope for President Obama and/or the new Congress?

Well, to start, let me get all professor-of- rhetoric on the question: ‘FOR’ seems to be a very poor word choice. As written, the question asks me to consider a pro-choice hope FOR Obama and/or the Congress RATHER than to consider a pro-choice hope for the world’s people let alone a pro-choice goal or agenda for the new administration.

To answer the question as written, I would say my hope FOR Obama would be that his daughters are given full reproductive freedom and the chance to grow up in a world where they can fully own and control their own reproductive capacity rather than having it be controlled for them. (A secondary hope FOR Obama would be that he could live up to the claim made on the Ms. cover.)

As for a hope FOR the new Congress, I would hope they collectively make (pro)choices that will give not only their children, but all the world’s children, the capacity to control their own reproduction.

Now, if the question was written as I think it should have been, as “What is the top pro-choice change that you hope President Obama and/or the new Congress will bring about,” well, my answer would be “Reverse the global gag rule!!!!”

GW’s first executive order was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule. Obama has already issued three executive orders – one to close Gitmo, one to ban torture, and one to create a task force to review detention policies. These are indeed important – but, a fourth order is in order!

Given that today is the 36th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, why is Obama NOT making good on his promise to repeal the GGR? Is the Ms. cover all photo-shop and no substance? IF he did repeal the GGR as promised, well, we could begin to redress some of the DOWNRIGHT DISASTROUS effects of the GGR (as documented here: “How the Global Gag Rule Undermines U.S. Foreign Policy and Harms Women’s Health.“) And, on a more personal note, he MIGHT begin to restore my faith that the claim made on the Ms. cover is true rather than mere wishful thinking…