I am conflicted about this issue! Although I did sign the petition against putting a Walmart in downtown Athens, I can’t deny that the presence of a Walmart does do some helping for some people sometimes. & not everyone “hates” Walmart.
I read an essay in a zine called MAKE (if I remember correctly) years ago, which really knocked me off my punk/privileged high horse. I did used to be the kind of smartass anti-capitalist who would agree with boycotting big box corporations as much as possible — JUST DON’T SHOP THERE, PEOPLE, DUH. But you wanna tell that to maybe the single mother of five who is actually able to feed and clothe her children on cheap Walmart products? I still often forget that as a punk/ex-punk/grownup-punk with radical ideals that I am living a type of poverty that is not the same as others’, and I’m living in a bubble where most people around me agree with my lofty ideals. I used to be able to avoid shopping at Walmart because I could dumpster-dive groceries, but this is still not a thing that many people are aware of or comfortable doing. So while we may see it as survival or just a fun scam for free shit, it’s still a privilege that we have the time to practice.
It’s also a privilege to even be able to support local businesses, at least in Athens. I would love it if I could get all my groceries locally from the Co-op and Farmers Market, get clothes from independent downtown boutiques or handmade/crafty fairs. But that shit is overpriced for me, and rightly so, because having worked for small businesses I know how much of a struggle it can be to stay afloat. I’m way below the poverty line, and I’m supporting another person as well. I can only afford the necessities at the cheapest possible price, which means groceries at Piggly-Wiggly and that rare “new” pair of jeans at the thriftstore.
A downtown Walmart, as “evil” as it may seem, is helpful to the working poor, especially those without cars. It may be overkill to have three Walmarts altogether, but when someone says, “there’s a Walmart 10 minutes away!” remember that this is car-speak timing. 10 minutes in a personal car does not equal walking time or public transit time. Additionally, Walmart does provide jobs to many individuals who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make an income easily (the elderly, the disabled, those with less-than-perfect employment histories etc.). While it could be sad to consider these folks having to be “relegated” to a crappy job at Walmart, for many people, A JOB IS A JOB. & it might be shitty and have discriminatory policies and poor working conditions but IT IS A JOB and many, many people don’t have the luxury of quitting a job because they “didn’t like it” or the boss was a jerk or the work wasn’t “fulfilling.” Many people will take whatever they can get if it means they can pay their rent and put food on the table.
This isn’t necessarily a pro-Walmart post, either. Like I said, I voted against it mainly because I think it would be ugly and unnecessary downtown, and I don’t want that beautiful old Jittery Joe’s building torn down. And I don’t want Walmart waste getting into the river nearby. And I’d rather see a decent grocery store downtown, if they’re going to put some big box in. And I’d rather see more funding going towards a better public transit system so that places outside the hip, downtown area are more accessible. And I’d rather see people (including myself) fighting this sort of thing in more concrete ways than signing a petition and feeling sad and angry and helpless.
This is meant as more of a privilege-check or at least recognition that protest can be a luxury activity, and having anti-capitalist or otherwise radical ideals can sometimes not really matter much at all if you don’t have a strong community that provides frequent, easily-accessible and affordable alternatives to having to financially support corporate America.
The real problem here isn’t whether or not to put a Walmart downtown, how good or bad that might be for the community overall. The problems lie deeper within this system which has conflated competitive wealth with virtue and hard poverty with vice; a system based in racism, ageism, and ableism; a system where most everyone feels like they are endlessly struggling one way or another and there’s no way out. I think it’s way more “revolutionary” for the community to provide for itself, especially utilizing alternatives to capital. We have to work with what we’re given to a certain extent — we have to respect that not everyone has access to the luxury of having a choice — but we can also work around it without having to be completely dependent on a toxic system. We can be the ones providing for ourselves in terms of organized carpools, bike shares, skill trades, free childcare, etc. And we do have things like Food Not Bombs and the Really Really Free Market, which are great, but we could make these things happen more often and more easily, too. There are so many ways we can help ourselves out as a community without having to wait around, pleading to politicians to direct this money to that thing instead of the other thing.
In any case, I’m getting sidetracked here. HELLO: I REALLY WANT TO BEGIN ORGANIZING A CHILDCARE COLLECTIVE. This seems huge and scary but totally important and necessary and I don’t know where to start. Please get in touch if you are interested?
this is a super-important discussion to have. if we can all recognize walmart is not the solution we want, we should also pose other solutions, i think.
i have some childcare-related information! i heard earlier about plans to open a branch of kelli’s childcare collective in athens. i missed the meeting/training because i had to work, and i haven’t heard anything about it since, but i would be interested in volunteering still! (i don’t know how facebook works but if you can’t see that event, fb message me and i’ll give you the details about it) like, i’m pretty sure this is still in conception stages (as far as i know) but maybe there could be more volunteer training time organized?