This past Friday walkouts and protests were planned at Walmarts around the nation, including here in Oregon. In nearby Albany, while there were no workers on site protesting low wages or poor working conditions, the local chapter of Occupy Corvallis was there with some 30 activists protesting in solidarity with other laborers around the nation.
University professors, students, families, and even some Raging Grannies chanted, waved signs, and distributed flyers. They stood out front of the main entrance for about forty minutes before Walmart management asked them to move to the property line.
The Occupiers complied, with little fuss, although a small contingent of bolder occupiers entered Walmart in a sort of guerilla marketing campaign, handing out flyers to shoppers in hopes of convincing them to shop at local retailers. Meanwhile, the larger group marched around the Walmart perimeter chanting familiar occupy slogans about peace, justice, and fairness in labor standards, handing flyers to cars as they drove into the parking lot.
What they lacked in size they made up for with gusto and passion. The group, mostly seniors and families, was clearly versed in the protest movement. They moved in and out of the street getting flyers to those who would take them, never impeding traffic or being argumentative—if one person didn’t want a flyer they moved on to the next.
Compared to other raucous and rowdy protests, the action this Black Friday at the Albany Walmart was symbolic of a return to local political action. Here were individuals, assembling peacefully, clearly articulating their grievances, and then returning home.
Vernon Huffman, a self-described veteran organizer, said that he was there because he believed strongly that our world is broken and that we all have a responsibility to try and make it better. Ruth Arent of the Corvallis Raging Grannies wanted to make sure people knew that if she, a 90 year-old woman, could be out in the rain and cold protesting for better wages, than they should be, too.
This kind of local political engagement is the kind that is sorely lacking in American towns today. The Occupiers might not have stopped many people from shopping at Walmart, but they did convince at least one. He took a flyer, slowed to read it, and then turned around, pausing to tell the Occupiers he was heading next door to the local shop to buy his planting pots.
The anti-Walmart actions taking place are part of a larger social movement slowly growing nationwide that goes well beyond just Occupy. The movement goes by many names, and has many philosophical tenets, from free trade activism and locavorism to a rhetorical emphasis on local community development. These ideals are not partisan, but they are populist, and they will persevere.
by William Tatum