August 15, 2005

Wal-Mart No Way

Wal-Mart No Way bills itself as a group of mostly Brooklyn locals who are concerned with the social impact Wal-Mart will have on their neighborhoods:

We're a group of friends and neighbors, mostly from Brooklyn, who are appalled by Wal-Mart's push to locate stores all over New York City. Everybody involved with our campaign is a volunteer � we're really stretching to make campaign activities happen.
Sounds like your normal anti-Wal-Mart group, and as far as I can tell, it is, although I cannot tell how large the group is.

But in addition to being sincere about their concerns, they were co-founded by Peter Sikora, who looks to me like a professional activist (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Mr. Sikora, who registered WMNW's domain name as is the organization's "Executive Director", is a Brooklyn local, but according to the New York Daily News used to work as public health advocate (and alternatively, as coordinator of Campaign to End Sweatshops, and many other positions) for the New York Public Interest Research Group. (If you don't like Wal-Mart's business practices, you can at least compare them to their critics' revenue generating processes; Wal-Mart doesn't tack on fees to college tuition bills, unlike many state PIRGs do -- " On about 1/3 of the state college campuses in New York State, a student's PIRG contribution is mandatory and nonrefundable. ").

Let me stress that there's nothing wrong with activism. It's perfectly fine as it goes. Everybody believes in something, but activists believe in things a lot more strongly than non-activists do.

That Wal-Mart No Way opposes Wal-Mart says little or nothing about whether "New York City" or "Brooklyn" or "the community" is fighting back, regardless of what they, Wake-Up Wal-Mart, or The Brooklyn Papers would like you to believe.

The group is new, but now brand new, as it was already in place protesting in February, and it seems have an inactive Google Group.

Let's set Wal-Mart No Way aside for a minute, and focus on local organizations that purport to support Wal-Mart's entry into a region. These can be either truly grass-roots, or somehow aided and abetted by Wal-Mart. When Wal-Mart places its people and resources are at the center of such an organization, we can rightly question the integrity and representativeness of the organization. Wal-Mart's professional lobbying team in DC and their PR folk around the country are directly serving particular interests, and Wal-Mart opponents would argue that the essential character of any pro-Wal-Mart group approved by Wal-Mart is almost corrupted and fraudulent.

I'd say that the same holds true for any group that opposes Wal-Mart. People are the same everywhere, and the social organizations they form, regardless of social aim, form the same type of networks and patterns. Genuine spontaneous, atomistic, individual concern about Wal-Mart's impact on a mass scale would be real, grassroots activism. But it appears to me that this "ideal" is not what we have with Wake-Up-Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. (I don't know enough about Wal-Mart no Way to make any solid judgment about them). Let's assume the latter truly is grassroots and local: what happens to the integrity of the organization when anti-Wal-Mart forces infuse their people, knowledge, and financial resources into it?

My general question is, can a corps of experienced activists actually lead or manage a grassroots campaign, or are their efforts necessarily corrupted by their experience?

Posted by Kevin on August, 15 2005 at 04:33 PM