As I reflect on my experience of risking arrest and being arrested at the Paramount Wal-Mart on Black Friday, I find myself thinking of sacred space. What a sacred space to be in, to be surrounded by workers, activists, clergy, supporters and media as I, with eight others, sat in the street to speak up against the ways Wal-Mart treats its employees.
When I was asked the week before if I would be willing to risk arrest with a few others, including Wal-Mart workers, I responded with let me pray about it. And I did, I thought about when I first became aware of what kind of a corporation Wal-Mart is.
When I was in college a documentary on Wal-Mart came out, and I went to a screening on campus with a few progressive friends. My older sister worked for a little while at Wal-Mart, and the whole time I watched the documentary I thought about her, about the discrimination she faced and the poor wages she was given along with little opportunity for advancement. It was then I decided I would try to limit my purchases at Wal-Mart as much as I could.
Then this past summer there was an action in Chinatown, near my house, to try to stop a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market from opening. It was so powerful to march in the streets of Chinatown and see the shop owners standing outside to support us. A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market would destroy the local shops in Chinatown. Only later did I realize that this Neighborhood Market would actually be the closest grocery store to my house.
I am slightly sad to say the biggest hang-up on being arrested would be how would this affect my ordination process. Just last month I had a paper notarized saying I have no misdemeanors or felonies. After consulting some trusted mentors I decided it was worth the risk.
I have been wrestling a lot this past year with my privilege and the power that comes with that privilege.
I have been wrestling a lot this past year with my privilege and the power that comes with that privilege. I ultimately decided that this was a good way to use my privilege to help shed light to a company that has committed many grievous acts against its employees, the people who make Wal-Mart run.
I was willing to take part in this civil disobedience because it was not me as a white woman saying I know what’s best for you poor Wal-Mart employees, but a way to say yes, I will stand with you as a few of you also risk arrest, as you have decided this is what you want to do to tell Wal-Mart this must stop. What a sacred space to be invited to join with workers as they risk much more than a misdemeanor, but risk losing their jobs and livelihood.
A holding cell
What a sacred space to be in a holding cell with two Wal-Mart employees, as they shared their experiences. Both have looked for other jobs, but no one will hire them. Both of them had to spend Thanksgiving Day at Wal-Mart, as Wal-Mart has decided to stay open Thanksgiving Day now.
One woman is a cashier, and she shared how she had to turn angry customers away who tried to buy special sale items before they could be sold. Because Wal-Mart never closed on Thanksgiving Day and night, certain items went on special sales at special times.
She was clearly exhausted. She does not create the rules at Wal-Mart, but yet sometimes she must enforce them. She did not get the opportunity to spend the day with friends or family, or even eat good turkey. She got to spend Thanksgiving Day at Wal-Mart.
Both women shared that they work with people who remember what it was like to work at Wal-Mart just 15-20 years ago, when it was a place that valued its employees. All they want is for Wal-Mart to return back to a place where employees matter, earn fair wages, have opportunities to care for and support their families, can receive health benefits, can work full time and are again valued.
What a sacred space to be invited into, a space where workers can share experiences as they continue a movement to bring about real change to Wal-Mart.
Hurting wrists from handcuffs
I was only in jail for a few hours, and it was nothing like what my brothers and sisters who work at Wal-Mart in any way, shape or form go through every day.
I’ve become more aware of what warehouse workers experience who are contracted out to work for Wal-Mart. They work in horrible conditions, receiving little with regards to wages and threatened if they try to speak out.
My wrists still hurting from the handcuffs are worth it if very soon Wal-Mart decides to listen to its employees and finally begins treating them as human beings, people with rights.
I pray that Wal-Mart repents, and as the Hebrew word for repent implies turns back from its ways and is a place that cares about and for its employees, shares its vast wealth with the very people who have allowed it to become so wealthy, and becomes a place that fosters love instead of greed.