UPDATE: OLB made the New York Times. (h/t to marigold for letting us know!)
Things were happening pretty fast at the Kenosha, Wisconsin, SuperCenter last night. The massive parking lot was filling up faster than seagulls on a shrimp boat, and we didn't really know where to go to meet our other Overpass Light Brigade volunteers who dedicated their Thanksgiving evening to this labor action at Walmart. We had planned to join some UCFW workers and activists and other Walmart workers but couldn't locate them. We were lost in a sea of shoppers. It took a while to get our bearings.
It was a loose plan, but when we finally got it all together we marched the words RESPECT THE WORKERS across the monumental parking lot, over to where the UCFW crew was projection-bombing the side of the building. They have a cool van set up just for guerrilla projection, complete with high-powered audio speakers and high-lumen projector. We marched towards the noise, and joined the chaos.
Lining up on the street, we fielded questions from various news agencies. They were out in force, trolling for stories. "Why are you doing this?" "What do you hope to accomplish?" "Why Walmart?" Shoppers zoomed by, eager to get the low, low prices synonymous with rapacious retailing. As shoppers rushed by, they either seemed perplexed by our presence, or directly supportive of us. There were a few mumbles of "I hate unions," but it was generally positive or neutral. We added a holiday protest festive touch to their evening - our chants, noise of song from the blaring speakers, short speeches, news crews running around with cameras and crew, our own phalanx of street photographers, and a growing cluster of security and management off at stage right, emitting the dark light of questioned authority.
We moved out, and marched towards the main entrance. Making every effort to be respectful of the shoppers as they were entering and exiting through the front doors, we chanted Respect the Workers, Respect the Shoppers! We paused in front of a parked police car, and lined up to take pictures. Security was on us like whipped cream on pie. "You can't stop here!" the first guy said to me, while I slowly took my pictures. "This is private property, and you aren't allowed here!" I told him we would move on after a few more pictures. He and the other five men weren't pleased, but we did move on down the line, stopped again in front of the Garden entrance, got more pictures, were threatened again with the specter of private property rights and police wagon inconveniences, and marched back to our beginning location, which seemed to be an allowable place to stand.
It was crazy and chaotic. People cheered or decried union thugs, cars looked for parking, passersby wanted to be in pictures, security tailed us, and we just did our thing, isolated from it all by our sense of purpose and simple presence.
A friend from the Ironworker's union, Randy, was live-streaming the event onto our Facebook page. He later posted on Facebook:
That was FUN! We walked with the letters spelling out "Respect The Workers" right past the entrances. Managers came out and told us that we needed to leave. I asked how many people they had inside the store. "A lot" was the answer. I asked what the capacity was. …..Silence.Randy knows how to talk with the authorities. Working hundreds of feet above the ground in extreme conditions tends to put these things in perspective. He's always funny, and always has an answer. Today, he accompanies a bus full of Walmart workers who will go from store to store in the Milwaukee region for a rolling protest. It is cold out now (a huge front just blew through) but then, this is Wisconsin.
One guy came up to me and told me that we needed to leave. After telling him that I was concerned about overcrowding, he got frustrated with me, pulled out a badge hanging around his neck, and, identified himself as a captain for the Kenosha police. He told me that if we didn't move, he'd call uniformed police in to arrest us. We were just getting ready to move, but, we wanted to get a few good shots for the camera first.
As we were walking, I asked him if he was on duty. He said that he's salaried, and always on duty. I asked if he was getting any compensation from Walmart for his actions. The cat got his tongue - he just kind of smiled and told me to keep moving. "Our Walmart" had a projector and PA system cranking while showing video on the side of the building. Shoppers beeped support, and, waved as they walked by.
Also ran across some crazy lady who wanted to dance with noise of rain. She told me the schools in Wisconsin suck, so, she sends her kids to school in Florida. I told her that's a pretty long bus ride.
Back at it tomorrow a.m!
When I got home, I found that our live posts on Facebook were being shared like crazy. Our Facebook site was on fire. I started getting messages from our other OLB chapters which lasted late into the night. Portland, Oregon, was met by riot cops. OLB-Austin took out new signs and were finally not harassed by police. OLB-Mass went out on their first action, and it was a big success. Kona, Hawaii, was quickly run off with their Buy Local message, but still got some good street shots in. A new group in Florida went out with great success, and OLB-SD (San Diego) is planning actions all day and into the evening. Wow, this is all pretty amazing!
Some union basher on Facebook asked the questions: "How successful are you? did the shoppers stay away? Unemployed union workers with nothing better to do…"
So, what is success? How is resistance measured? We had a big turnout in Kenosha, and created an intense, festive and (depending on how you look at it), fun event. We are nodes of a massive national organized action involving labor groups, unions, social justice groups and independent activists that would have been inconceivable a year ago. Our own tactics and tools, the lighted letters, have spread throughout the country and we now directly coordinate synchronous protests.
Did we stop people from shopping, or even dent Walmart's hefty chunk of post-community consumer business? Of course not! But, on the other hand, we brought spectacle to the massive apparatus known as The Big Box, that strange virus that reconfigures farm and field to the ruins of the future. Spectacle turns on spectacle, it is the only way in and around. The SuperCenter looms, and its happy smiley iconography and gimcrack cheery marketing hides its totalizing message of bigness and power. And we're just little people, dancing on the asphalt at the end of the world.
Learn the steps. Make up some of your own. Join us when and where you can.
OLB-PDX (Portland, Oregon):
OLB-Mass (Framingham, Mass):
OLB-Hilo (Kona, Hawaii):
OLB-Tampa (Tampa, Florida):
OLB-Austin (Austin, Texas):