Wednesday, December 12, 2012

To the Window! To the Wal...mart!

11 December, 2012

4.30 PM

58 68th Street + Park Avenue

- It is getting dark and it is cold but gathered here are the Occupiers, animal activists, and the union men and women -

One man stands with a pink sign on either side of his hat. It states, "Duke + Walmart = Fire Hazard!" This is a reference to the 100 Bangladeshi garment workers (who produce for Walmart AND Sears) who were burnt to death due to a factory fire hazard on November 24th. Here's a portion from that explains the situation:

"In a meeting last year, Walmart officials decided against agreeing to pay suppliers more so that they could upgrade their manufacturing facilities and pay for the costs of safety improvements. “Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories,” Walmart officials said in documents obtained by Bloomberg News. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

More than 300 Bangladeshi garment factory workers have died since 2006. Walmart reported a 9 percent increase in third-quarter net income, earning $3.63 billion.

Back to what I was saying...

The Occupy/Union/Activist men stand around discussing issues of today, yesterday, and tomorrow as the live streamers and videographers circle them like vultures. Entering the building are handsomely suited men politely laughing and speaking of trivial topics. I wonder what their intentions are for being at this conference...  do they believe they can learn from Mike Duke:  fourth chief executive officer of Walmart? Do they simply want to hear his side of the story? Are they going to throw a shoe at him?

Another hot topic of this picket is mainly expressed across the street. It is also one I typically support (I will have to research this group, 'Mercy for Animals' further first, however). That is, animal activism. The animal activist war against Walmart started when a horrific video, taken by an investigator hired by Mercy for Animals, was said to be the farm Walmart purchases it's pork from. The video includes "ripping off piglets' testicles and tails, allegedly without painkillers and the repeated slamming of sick piglets against the ground until they are near death; then they are tossed aside. Piglets are also shown suffering from unattended, open bleeding wounds, and a mother is depicted inflamed and bleeding from constant birthing" (Huffington Post). Costco on the other hand has chosen to persuade it's supplier to rid of the old and cruel methods. If you're a Bob Barker fan (and, really, who isn't?) or a pig cruelty fan, check out the video (

As soon as I heard rattles and chant-talk around the corner, I knew things would be heating up any moment. The police must have heard this as well, as  I was asked to move from my spot on the building's ledge to make room for one cop moving the large barriers in order to herd the picketers to the very edge of the street. The cop clearly wanted to keep things friendly by the way he joked with me about the broken barrier. While I am certainly not a threat to anyone, his attitude towards others and myself made the whole event much more pleasant.

Then it all began,  as the chant, "Bad for the workers, bad for the town... Walmart pushes wages down!" burst through the air like a firework. Not the most clever chant but it expressed the idea they were trying to convey. There's a shaker, whistles... ah, now it is complete; a cowbell!

I must say, there is a surprising number of live streamers, videographers, and photographers for such a contained group of protestors. Myself included, of course, the lone writer scribbling away in my notebook.

The chants continue... "What's outrageous?" "Walmart wages!" "What's disgusting?" "Union bashing!" Again, not too catchy, but it gets the point across and it was easy to remember. A mic check ensues. Then more people arrive. New signs.

What kind of numbers are we talking here? I would say 40-50 picketers, 25-30 animal activists, and hovering above the police barrier is one police tape line, "Walmart Free Zone". Hark! Who has just arrived? It's a group of women carrying signs with images of Walmart employees, along with statements regarding their rights. As shown below:

I am assuming the girl on the left was an organizer of some sort, as the woman on the right had to ask her permission for me to take this photo and then she made sure she was in it. Thus why I didn't give her too much face space. This wasn't the best poster to photograph, I guess, as no one was stopping them from speaking out but I guess it is about the bigger picture. These workers want, nay, need better pay in order to live. Herein lies the reason union men and women were present. There were RWSDU signs (Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union)  "Stronger Together", specifically, Local 338 and UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers).

More people. More new signs. *Mike Duke: Let Pigs Live Better* ... *Walmart Supports Animal Abuse* ... "Walmart Free NYC* ... *Every City and Every Town, Walmart we will Shut you Down!*

An elderly woman comes up to me and asks what is going on. All I get to say is, "Well, Walmart-" She interrupts, "Oh, Walmart, got it!" We laugh.

"From Wall Street to Walmart: Occupy Black Friday"

Before I headed off to class after observing the events for a little over an hour, the last conversation I heard was between the doorman and a cop. The doorman asked the cop, with a smirk on his face, if he could place more barriers across the street. The cop told him he couldn't and that he wouldn't.

Uptown cops are good people.

No comments:

Post a Comment