Less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, Anthony Hardwick's supervisor at his Target store in Omaha, Nebraska approached him about working on Thanksgiving Day.
"Weâre opening earlier this year. We need people here by 11pm on Thanksgiving Day. Can you work the overnight shift?" she asked.
Anthony reluctantly agreed to work, as did thousands of other Target employees. They would each need to go to sleep by 2pm or 3pm on Thanksgiving Day if they wanted to be fully rested for the overnight shift. And it wasn't just Target. For the past few years, major retailers everywhere - Walmart, Kmart, Gap, Old Navy, ToysRUs - have been gradually transforming Thanksgiving Day from a family holiday into a shopping holiday.
Frustrated, Anthony turned to the web. He searched on Google for how to start a petition, and came upon the site Change.org. He quickly wrote up his petition and published it on the site. Within hours, the petition had gained more than one thousand signatures.
The following day, the New York Times contacted Anthony about his petition. They were doing a story on the earlier retail hours and wanted to tell his story. After the New York Times article, the campaign took on a life of its own. ABC World Newsinterviewed Anthony in front of his Target store. A local CBS affiliate reporter brought a camera crew unannounced to Anthony's second job, hoping to score an interview.
Rick Melaragni, a Best Buy employee in Florida, learned of Anthony's Change.org petition from a local news broadcast and decided to launch his own. Rick's petition quickly received a thousand signatures. Now the local news stations wanted to interview Rick, too. Even Neil Cavuto of Fox Business News covered the story, telling Rick, "I admire your guts for speaking up." Soon, more than 150 copycat petitions were started on Change.org - many from retail workers or the family members of retail workers.
The week before Thanksgiving, media interest surged. Anthony used his break times at work to answer calls from reporters and give radio show interviews. His phone rang constantly and his inbox piled up with requests. But he knew that media attention wasn't enough.
A few days before Thanksgiving, Anthony launched a social media campaign on Facebook. He invited signers of his petition to join him in posting comments on Target's Facebook wall about turning Thanksgiving into "Black Thursday." Hundreds of comments poured in, forcing Target to respond with scripted answers alleging that these shifts were voluntary (read: anyone who works in retail knows that these shifts are mostly mandatory).
Then something incredible happened. Anthony connected with Seth Coleman, a petition signer in Northfield, Minnesota who had left a comment on the petition indicating that he, too, worked for Target. Seth lived a short distance from Target's headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. Working together and with the support of Change.org organizers, Seth and Anthony planned a petition delivery with local faith leaders and community members who had also signed the petition.
On Monday, November 21, six people delivered nearly 200,000 signatures to Target executives in Minneapolis. Seth Coleman, a dock loader for Target, was nervous to speak. For fifteen minutes, Seth answered questions from reporters, including CBS News. He spoke from the heart, and when asked if he was worried about losing his job, he said, "If we don't stand up and speak out, nothing will ever change." A Target employee dressed in a red wool jacket accepted Anthony's petition signatures and provided a flat statement explaining that the holiday hours were voluntary. Again, not true, but a small victory nonetheless.
Ultimately, Target opened at midnight on Thanksgiving Day as planned. Anthony did not succeed in convincing his employer to "Save Thanksgiving," but what he did accomplish was changing the debate.
For the past two years, retailers have been opening earlier than the year before. Many stores, including the Gap and Old Navy, have been open all day on Thanksgiving. If you look at news coverage from prior years, there is hardly any mention of how this might impact the hundreds of thousands of retail workers and their families. This year was different. Here's another example of the coverage:
Anthony's campaign proves that people in America still give a damn about workers' rights. It also proves that one person can inspire hundreds of others to take the similar step of putting their job on the line to fight for what they believe is right. This is how we win. This is how we begin to shift the debate, and begin rebuilding the American dream.
Please note: I work as a Director of Organizing for Change.org and I believe that digital tools will enable more people than ever before to fight for social and economic justice in their communities and workplaces.