The recent debacle over Wal-Mart and the Big Box Ordinance had quite a bit of e-mail hitting my computer. Out of all the pro and con literature that was popping up on my computer, several stood out. One showed what appeared to be a “homeless” person lying in a huge box, their feet sticking out and the caption was “Don’t Box Me Out.”
The other showed what appeared to be the South Side wards and in place of the wards, they had pictures of black people looking like an ad for “Feed the Children.” Somehow the story about the lack of grocery stores on the South and West sides was now being equated with the Big Box Ordinance.
Both of those ads were sponsored by the 37th Ward Pastoral Alliance with support from Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. What bothers me was the level to which those who were paid by Wal-Mart to advocate for them would go. And let me tell you. That level was just a foot deeper than where the coffin goes!
Many people don’t remember that back in the summer of 2002, Wal-Mart made headline news by saying it wanted to come into Chicago. No, no, no, not to the West Side, but to the area around Canal and Roosevelt. In 2002, that area was just beginning to attract businesses and Wal-Mart said it would take the risk. But the risk came with Wal-Mart asking for $18 million in taxpayer subsidies. Yes, folks, Wal-Mart wanted the minimum wage citizens of this city to contribute to its development to the tune of $18 million. Our mayor, who is only at a loss for words when it matters, quipped, “Am I buying the company?” The deal was dead and Wal-Mart left to retool its strategy.
By 2003, Wal-Mart retooled its strategy and came back as the corporate giant coming to the “poor, impoverished West Side.” I put that in qoutes since so many used those words to label us all, when in truth, we have segments of poverty but are not impoverished overall. So in looking at what folks will do and say who have been paid (or is it better to say “bought?”) by Wal-Mart is amazing. Can even one of the members of the 37th Ward Pastoral Alliance write and tell me what a homeless person lying in a box has to do with Austin and whether or not Wal-Mart pays a “living wage?” The ad was advocating against the Big Box Ordinance, and I can’t understand the ad. Did the person end up in the box because they weren’t making a “living wage?”
The other ad had what looked like the entire South Side ward map. In place of several ward numbers were black faces lamenting about the “food deserts.” That ad confused me as well. Since our Wal-Mart store won’t sell fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy meats, but will have lots of cookies, candies, snack foods and flavored water “juices,” what does paying a living wage have to do with the lack of fresh produce? When a person doesn’t make a living wage, who of you is shocked when the person lives on ramen noodle soup over higher priced lettuce and tomatoes? Who is shocked that a person will buy from a fast food $1 menu when they only have $3?
I also got to hear a debate over Wal-Mart and the Big Box Ordinance on WVON 1450AM (and soon to be 1690AM). I need to know why our leadership can get so passionate over Wal-Mart having to pay a living wage, but that same passion is missing about the John Burge police brutality report? Where is the outrage over 14 black men, wrongfully convicted, being released from death row? Where is that outrage when black people get less than 10 percent of city contracts? Where is the outrage about the billions being made on the O’Hare expansion projects while black folks make little to nothing? Where is the outrage over a woman being left to die in the 25th District lockup because they choose not to get her help? Where is the outrage over the closing of schools in black neighborhoods while new schools are quietly built for others (North-Grand High School, for example, at 1600 N. Kostner)?
This community needs to learn outrage. Outrage that a city sticker will still cost you $75 whether you make $10 a hour or $7.30 a hour. Outrage that a multi-billion-dollar company can initially ask the poorest of residents of this city to help subsidize it, then promise it will pay you $10 an hour if the zoning change goes through, and then when the city council says, “OK, we’ll put through an ordinance making you pay what you said,” fights like crazy to avoid doing it. Outrage at our politicians who call us “impoverished” but don’t want us to get out of that impoverishment by earning money to pay for things like that $75 city sticker. At $10 an hour, the city sticker will cost you less than a day’s pay. At $7.30 an hour, you’ll have to begin working a second day to earn the money (Perhaps we ought to have a minimum-wage earner’s price for the city sticker, seeing as how our elected officials don’t want folks to make a living wage). Outrage at leadership that seems to always lead us off a steep cliff and expects that we will always take the fall. Outrage at pastors who, when it comes to Wal-Mart, makes one questions which master they serve.
While writing this column, it was announced that Lt. Gov Pat Quinn is proposing a Big Box Ordiance for the entire state. So the stakes will now be higher. Let’s see if Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and others threaten to leave Illinois-or if surburan pastors will put out ads against the Big Box Ordinance as insulting to their people as the ones that were put out about inner-city black folks?
This Sunday we can talk Big Box or whatever you want, beginning at 9 p.m. Call 605/772-3200 (this is long distance, so use your cell) and enter this Access code: 806598#. For cellphone users, this is just like a local call, just using your nighttime minutes.