Last Friday I flew from Boston to Pittsburgh to v-blog a Wakeup Wal-Mart rally attended by John Edwards. I've recently started with the citizen journalist thing at OAC blog and I encourage anyone reading to consider doing the same for a cause they feel strongly about.
The tools available for free on the internet are too good to pass up these days. Bill Moyers once said that the most important thing a journalist can do is tell the little stories about ordinary people in the cacophony that is the news. Well, kossacks, you don't have to wait for Mr. Moyers to knock on your door anymore. Now you can do the door knocking and tell the story that you think is important yourself.
I call it Guerrilla Video Blogging because I'm just an ordinary person myself that blogs on the side. Follow me below the fold for the video and the interviews with the attendees that I did in Pittsburgh.
I didn't realize how important the 2006 Change Wal-Mart, Change America nationwide 35 city, 35 day bus tour was until I saw the power point presentation given at the rally before Edwards came on.
In case you missed it, Wakeup Wal-Mart got themselves a bus and loaded up a crew to cross the country this month in an effort to educate the Wal-Mart shopping public about what's going on in the largest company in this country. They started the tour in NYC during a blackout day and they'll be hitting 19 states before wrapping it up in Seattle on Labor Day next month.
If you saw the Wal-Mart movie like I did then one of these events is something you might want to make the effort to get out and see. They host local politicians at each event, show the "An Expensive Truth" presentation which is a take off on Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth", get out and canvass the neighborhood, do press and generally fire up the crowd. When they did the event last week in CT they got both Lamont and Lieberman to show up.
Here's the description of the tour from the website:
In town halls, public squares, and at state fairs, America's most exciting grassroots movement is standing up to rich, powerful corporations like Wal-Mart and spreading the word that it is time for Wal-Mart to do what is right instead of taking America in the wrong direction.
So for the next 840 hours, 6 over-caffeinated Americans on one really big bus nicknamed Smiley are going from New York City to Seattle to fight for good jobs, more affordable health care, and a better life for all hard-working families.
But, to truly change Wal-Mart and change America for the better we need you.
The presentation given at the rally has a few gasp moments in it just like the Al Gore movie. Here are a couple of them that I pulled together from memory and from web sources. I didn't tape the presentation since the lighting was impossible.
- Wal-Mart has approximately 1.4 million American workers.
- The average Wal-Mart worker costs tax-payers 2,100 per year. So we pad the bottom line of this company every day.
- The average Wal-Mart employee makes $2,000 below the national poverty line for a family of four.
- As of January 2006 Wal-Mart covers about 43% of it's employees with health care, the average for American companies with 200 or more employees is 68%. Despite press reports touting $11 per month plans, health care reform at Wal-Mart has reduced the number of employees with coverage.
- Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott acknowledged benefits could improve by claiming Wal-Mart employees can get better value from taxpayer funded health care than from Wal-Mart's own health plans, "In some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value - with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums." They even pass out the sign-up info in the stores to employees.
- Wal-Mart imports 18 billion in cheap products from China alone every year. According to a Frontline program I saw this year, Is Wal-Mart Good for America?, Wal-Mart frequently and as a matter of policy forces suppliers to off shore their manufacturing.
- Wakeup Wal-Mart started last year and now has over 250,000 members.
The most frightening thing I saw in the presentation that hot day in Pittsburgh? A map of America. It was a map showing every Wal-Mart in the country in 2026 with a little yellow dot for each location. The Wakeup Wal-Mart crew estimated the number stores to be in the 10,000 range and created the map based on the Arkansas model since the company has been in the state for the longest. Arkansas also has the highest concentration of Wal-Mart stores in the country. The entire map of the country was yellow dots, except for places like Montana, Nebraska and the like where the dots were distributed through the states.
Bentonville, the location of the company headquarters, wants to Arkansas-ize the whole country. And they'll do it, too - unless we figure out how to stop them.
I think education and awareness are the key. Wal-Mart is too big to stop them now. One thing the Wakeup Wal-Mart people kept emphasizing is the need to reform the company - not destroy it. Since there are no unions allowed anywhere in the company those reforms can't start from within, the company has to be reformed from outside. That means us.
The Edwards speech and intro:
Love him or hate him, this was definitely his crowd. He took the mic, they hit the klieg lights and it was right down to business.
- JRE at WakeUp Wal-Mart Rally - Intros
- JRE at WakeUp Wal-Mart Rally - Part 1
- JRE at WakeUp Wal-Mart Rally - Part 2
- JRE at WakeUp Wal-Mart Rally - Part 3
Once he really gets going Edwards says this about this about the tour and Wal-Mart in general:
We need, all of us together, to make sure that companies like Wal-Mart step to the plate and are held responsible. That they can't fly below the radar screen... We want every single consumer in America to know that if they walk into a Wal-Mart that their tax dollars are subsidizing Wal-Mart employees... What is wrong with this picture?
It's not right and we all know it's not right. This is about responsibility and it's about basic human morality.
All the interviews are presented in the order that I taped them.
Many thanks to everyone who took a few minutes to speak to me at the rally: David; Seth; Mary Beth; Kattie from ACORN; George; Paul Blank; John; Gabe Morgan from Change to Win; Chelsa Wagner and Rob Frank. It was hot, noisy and I know it couldn't have been easy since it was in the middle of the day and everyone so busy.
So what do we do?
First, start shopping at Costco. They don't do this kind of stuff to their employees. Their workers aren't going to be millionaires, but they cover upwards of 90% of their employees as far as health insurance. They even started to automatically enroll their workers in a company matched 401K plan, voluntarily. Their participation rates soared from the teens to almost 80% since they started doing it. That's the kind of corporate good citizenship that needs to be rewarded. Edwards and Jack Kemp did an appearance in VA at a Costco to commend the company, the video from that event can be seen at the Retirement Security Project's website. They went there to announce their proposal called "a saver society", but Costco is the star of that story.
Costco's corporate policy begs the question, "if Costco can do it, then why can't all the others?" Especially Wal-Mart.
Rent the movie, link above, by Robert Greenwald. He did it last year in conjunction with Wal-Mart watch, a union sponsored advocacy group, trying to raise awareness. Rent it and pass it around. It speaks for itself, but I suggest you view it before handing it around. It's pretty bad towards the end, really bad. So you should be aware of what you're asking your friends and neighbors to watch.
Check out the new book The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman, I ordered my copy last week at my local bookstore and haven't gotten it yet. The WUWM crew rec'd it in the presentation. Here's the synopsis from Amazon:
Fishman shops at Wal-Mart and has obvious affection for its price-cutting, hard-nosed ethos. He also understands that the story of Wal-Mart is really the story of the transformation of the American economy over the past 20 years. He's careful to present the consumer benefits of Wal-Mart's staggering growth and to place Wal-Mart in the larger context of globalization and the rise of mega-corporations. But he also presents the case against Wal-Mart in arresting detail, and his carefully balanced approach only makes the downside of Wal-Mart's market dominance more vivid. Through interviews with former Wal-Mart insiders and current suppliers, Fishman puts readers inside the company's penny-pinching mindset and shows how Wal-Mart's mania to reduce prices has driven suppliers into bankruptcy and sent factory jobs overseas. He surveys the research on Wal-Mart's effects on local retailers, details the environmental impact of its farm-raised salmon and exposes the abuse of workers in a supplier's Bangladesh factory.
You can also listen to an npr interview with Fishman here: 'The Wal-Mart Effect' from Charles Fishman.
Please don't feed the trolls. DailyKos and many other websites have a Bentonville troll problem. They've become more and more sophisticated in the last few months as far as I can tell. I wrote a diary the day after I saw the movie this spring and I frequently participate in Wal-Mart threads here at kos and elsewhere, they always show up. Never fails.
Wal-Mart Enlists Bloggers in P.R. Campaign
Brian Pickrell, a blogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking state legislation that would force Wal-Mart Stores to spend more on employee health insurance. "All across the country, newspaper editorial boards -- no great friends of business -- are ripping the bills," he wrote." Under assault as never before" and not a moment too soon.
It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.
Under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.
And you can sign up at the website. You might get some serious spam, but it's worth it.
1.4 million Americans and their families and we pay for the profits that go to the shareholders. It's got to end.
Special thanks to Chelsa Wagner, Democratic candidate for State Rep. from PA-22 against Michael Diven. I threw you off in the interview and I promised to clean it up. I used it all, sorry, but you come off great anyway.
The campaign is doing something this weekend called the Brookline Breeze a 5k run or walk, so if you're in the Pittsburgh South Hills area check it out.
Where's your next assignment, kossacks? Get out there and get Guerrilla or gorilla or whatever.