I am Heart fully Sorry about this potential death nail in the Future of Chocolate City.
As a native born Washingtonian and proud citizen of Chocolate City, I feel personally that I did not do enough to persuade those whose job it was to educate the public on why Walmart’s operating philosophy and history is the chief reason why they don’t belong in our town. On the other hand, I know the chief organizing group(s) had the Power and resources to do so. In analysis and opinion precious time and resources were wasted on pursuing avenues of outreach that speak nothing to the legacy of virulent wage discrimination against descendants of enslaved Africans and Indigenous People (Latinos) of this land. Washington DC’s majority population is more than 50% made up of these groups.
The low and moderate income, economically disenfranchised among us, will now have no choice but to accept employment from the world’s most notorious corporate plantation: forced to work 40hr/wk jobs for less than 40 hour/wk pay: forced to be denied health care coverage because of the cap on full time hours which would entitle them to it; forced to accept non-union jobs that would provide basic protections and representation against greedy employers. Women will be forced to deal with discrepancies in pay as they go to work for the recipient of the largest class action lawsuit filing in the world.
How did this happen? In this 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, I have to ask: how much of a Civil Rights platform was part of the outreach strategy of the organizers? In this age of unabashed co-opting of the African American anchored and lead Civil Rights movement, it’s easy to assume, with many taking it for granted, that the spirit of the Civil Rights movement was present in DC’s Walmart campaign. For those of us who work on advocacy issues here in DC, and are staunch about doing so appealing the culture of its majority classically disenfranchised residents, honestly, the outreach methods and activities appeared devoid of the substance of the Civil Rights movement.
Two years ago, when Walmart announced they were coming to DC to build a new style of Urban (Black) Walmart, people with an understanding of corporate psychology and history knew what the play was. Walmart was coming to milk the Nation’s Capitol of its wealth by implementing its formula of offering foreign slave wage manufactured goods, paying sharecropping wages in our town, and reaping profits that will be in the high millions as a result. Amongst leaders in DC’s progressive community, meetings were held and conversations had about how to strategize and approach dealing with this threat. In full disclosure, I had the privilege of sitting in on a few of them. I will not name names because some of these meetings were organized and lead by people who I consider friends, and though I am disappointed in them, I have no desire to bring pressure on them personally. That said, I do want readers to understand the dynamics that, I at least, experienced.
In these meetings, the usual took place. Personal resistance to Walmart being here in Chocolate City was pretty much unanimous amongst attendees. Everyone knew the fact sheet on Walmart, being students of their wage discrimination practices by the corporation in other towns and cities across America. There are thousands of print, online, and video publishing’s by organizations, groups, and individuals nationwide on the antics of Walmart.
But when it came down to make a work decision on what to do, by those with the resources to organize and make a difference, a soft approach was implemented. I call it soft because to Walmart’s favor, their lobbyists were aggressively working over not just city politicians, but also community leaders indebted to the policies and funding sources city politicians make decisions on. Walmart made million dollar donations within our local government (and those associated with it), in an effort to show its philanthropic side as a way to win the votes needed to set up shop in DC. In short, Walmart simply used money to buy off everyone in a real position to stop them from setting up their plantation harvest off the backs of Chocolate City residents.
Knowing this tactic used by Walmart, and having no way to counter it similarly, whatever strategy used by organizers would have to be brilliant. More so than that even, the strategy to reach the most affected primary DC residents, who are the voting constituency that can change the shape of leadership in this town, would have to be efficiently effective. To do that, a strategy that would speak directly to the population base with the actual POWER to let city officials know that their jobs were on the line with their decision on Walmart, would make the most sense. It always does. The question is, or was, what is the best way to accomplish that? Actually that answer is very apparent and easy.
Remember former Mayor Adrian Fenty? One Term Mayor Adrian Fenty? Yes, the same Mayor of Washington, DC who used corporate style city governance practices to pulverize already disenfranchised and underserved neighborhoods here in Chocolate City. As Chief Executive of the Nation’s Capitol, he drove home the hammer of a nationwide gentrification agenda by promoting every machination of invented policy to create wealth for opportunistic economic investors and developers. On the drug of Charter School reform, he closed a dozens of DC Public Schools in neighborhoods and communities that needed them. He sold our public property (schools, libraries, and open spaces) to developers for pennies on the dollar. Adrian Fenty took the advice and served the greed of corporations over the needs of the majority of residents living in Washington, DC.
The result? Adrian Fenty lost his reelection bid – at the Democratic primary level. DC is a democrat town where a huge voting block of democrats are, get this, actually the low and moderate income residents he slighted with his policy decisions. Adding to the power of this group of voters are those who do make ends meet well enough to be able to still afford living in Washington, DC. The latter group too were disappointed and angry with the now former Mayor. In the election season of 2012, these two groups combined to deliver their final verdict on the job Adrian Fenty; championed by mainstream corporate backed analysts and policy makers as a visionary and savior of public government executive leadership had done over the prior four years. That verdict was a stunning defeat of in incumbent Mayor who habitually (and smugly) ignored the input, hopes, and dreams of the majority of people who pull the levers in Chocolate City to decide who our leaders will be. The fact that Adrian Fenty’s dismissal from political city leadership at the primary level, to me, only proves that DC residents could not wait to get him out office for what he had done with our trust in his leadership to create conditions that would allow all to succeed in the Nation’s Capitol.
Adrian Fenty lost his bid for reelection because he treaded upon the American Dream of disenfranchised Black and Brown residents in the Nation’s Capitol, who are the majority electorate. It was an outcome easy to predict for those with a respect for this town’s majority residents, our culture, and our history. In post racial America, it is heavily propagandized that race no longer matters and everyone doing business, public or private sector, is doing so fairly. That take on where we are as a nation is a well funded and fabricated falsehood to benefit the wealthiest 1% of the nation. Race does matter, and in the case of Walmart here in Chocolate City, it especially matters. Walmart’s track record of preying on the workers in poor and desperate situations by offering low paying jobs with little to no benefits affects people of all backgrounds nationwide of course, but in the Nation’s Capitol, Chocolate City, USA, how they operate and the symbolism is almost terrifying.
Washington, DC, a former slave holding district, is where the American hero Frederick Douglass desegregated Union Town, now known as Anacostia. Where battles against prejudice against the descendant of enslaved African citizens have been waged and won by directly challenging racism and discrimination in plain terms. Even though DC citizens still plead for full Statehood status within the United States, there is a certain pride here amongst its majority Black and Brown residents in the pursuit of that goal. We have untold community leaders who have lead lives that lead this movement, and I have to wonder to what extent these veterans of community organizing and action were involved in the now failed campaign to block Walmart’s presence in Chocolate City by the paid organizers whose job is was to protect DC residents and workers.
The White Elephant in the room is who are these people with the jobs to organize us, and what real connection do they have to plight of historically disenfranchised DC Residents? How much do they really understand the culture value and significance of appealing to citizens based on the knowledge of their experiences fighting for justice in America? How much reminding DC residents about the legacy of Wage Theft against Black and Brown citizens in this country was communicated via outreach? How many ideas and suggestions to do outreach based on history and culture were decided against and/or ignored? And Why? Where are these organizers working in our town from? Are they actually from Washington, DC? Where did they go to school to learn about how to organize Black and Brown people? What are their philosophies on doing so, and who amongst those leaders already long entrenched in the struggle for socio/economic justice do they actually listen to and consider?
Those are the questions burning on my mind. We, the progressive and social justice community in Washington, DC are losing, and I know we aren’t losing because our cause isn’t righteous. I do suspect that we are losing because the right people are not in the appropriate jobs working in our communities to have the maximum effectiveness and desired outcomes.
Like I said, some of us progressive and social justice advocates, organizers, and activists opposed Walmart’s presence in Chocolate City from the jump!
Watch “Keep DC Walmart Free!” by Head-Roc