Wal-Mart: rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic vs. every little bit helps

It’s very important to me to stay true to my rabble-rousing roots and not to get bogged down in mainstream thinking. Mainstream thinking is what most people are caught in all the time, and it is a super contagious virus against which one must always be vigilant.

Not to be elitist or anything, but most people are stupid fucking idiots whose heads are filled with such complete shite that even being near them gives me chills.

Basically, it’s important for me to keep track of the bottom line: complete and total rehauling of our current society. Not with guns, but with joyful rebellion of the everyday kind: by living as humans should live. Instant revolution. It’s a lot easier than you think. Affirming and celebrating the choices that lead to revolutionary and transformative living is a good part of why I decided to step into the murky blogging waters.

Of course, it only half works. People with hearts can’t go completely underground and become so consumed with perfecting their lives that they turn a blind eye to the structures that are busy undoing all their righteous recycled-paper toilet paper purchases. It’s important to still do insanely boring things like going to town board meetings and working for progressive candidates.

Because of that, most people I know are caught in a weird inbetween place where we are constantly weighing buying stuff from Wal-Mart and saving money vs. buying from small companies and feeling a little bit like suckers for paying more. Wouldn’t it be better to just buy from Wal-Mart and donate the money saved? No. For one thing, you are not going to donate the money, let’s just face it. For another: fuck Wal-Mart.

Let me expand/expound on that.

* * *

The other day the owner of a local pizzeria came into my kitchen with a nice pressed appearance (chinos, polo shirt, short hair) and a little name tag and chatted for a minute, all business owner-to-business ownery. He told me that he had a little side business drumming up business for Sam’s Club and started telling me all about the money I could save with a Sam’s Club membership. When I politely told him I would rather die (not in those exact terms), he said he completely understood the political reasons not to buy from Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, but the money you could save was ridiculous. And he said I could fill out some “business form” and all my purchases would magically be tax-free. This whole episode was mildly alarming – is there really such a tax loophole? Does Sam’s Club operate via pyramid scheme these days? Was the pizzeria really that slow?

* * *

Recently a Lowe’s Hardware moved in way too close to my little town. There was a lot of resistance to it, but it was located just on the border of New Paltz in the town next door, so really there is nothing we could do about it. It annoyed a lot of people in town because there is a Lowe’s twenty minutes away in three directions. Seriously. North, south, and east – go twenty minutes and you’ll hit a Lowe’s.

After it opened, some idiot wrote a letter to the paper saying that he had seen one of the town board members who had passionately argued against the Lowe’s in that very store buying some lumber or something.

WTF people. Let me break it down for you in handy bulleted points:

-Lowes is a big box store, and thus is actively fucking over the planet.

-In an ideal world we would have lovely independent warehouse-type stores who would source ethically and responsibly, pay their employees well, etc.

-In an ideal world, we would pay a whole lot more for things, but it would be OK because we would all get paid more too.

-In our current world, it is better to shop at our little mom-and-pop hardware store than Lowe’s, as it is just more fucking pleasant to shop there. Some progressives I know would argue that the mom-and-pop store would be Lowe’s if it could so what’s the difference, but these people are stupid.

-Said mom-and-pop store does not have all the inventory that Lowe’s has.

-Since the mythical ideal-world warehouse store doesn’t exist, one needs to go to Lowe’s now and then. While it is idiotic to have four Lowe’s in an hour radius, we now have such a situation, and must act accordingly.

-Where we used to save up Lowe’s purchases until we had a sufficient amount to justify the 20-minute drive, the stupid situation of having so many around means that when we are passing by the stupid store, we will pop in for 0 VOC paint or a new refrigerator. C’est la vie.

* * *

This philosophy (work for change but admit that sometimes you have to live in the world as it is) has its limits, and everyone has to decide for themselves where those lines are drawn. I will shop at Lowe’s because they donate to Democrats, whereas Home Despot donates to Republicans. I don’t personally care for Democrats, but what can you do. I will shop at Lowe’s, but I have only been in a Wal-Mart once and it made me so sick at heart I had to sit in the car and do some positive visualization before I felt safe enough to drive. (In fairness, I think it was an extra-horrible Wal-Mart [Newburgh, NY].)

I won’t set a foot in Wal-Mart, but I have to go to Target to buy cooler bags and containers for my business. The cooler bags are made in China and I have yet to find any that aren’t, and I have to buy them in Target because ordering them wholesale means almost twice as much to a company I care about just as little as I care about Target, so what can I do?

Also, and this cannot be discounted – Target is a more pleasant store to shop in than Wal-mart.

Obviously, I make concessions. But I’m constantly weighing the concessions, and it annoys the fuck out of me when other people refuse to think at all. So when my friend Dave, a super thoughtful and concerned farmer who thinks a lot about these same issues, sent me this little tidbit about Wal-Mart buying local produce, I resisted the urge to flippantly discount it as yet another example of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and actually thought it through. (Note to Dave: this intensely bilious post is not in any way directed at you! Thank you for the forward!)

Happily, the more I thought about it the more I came to think that my initial one-track mind liberal response – “Wal-Mart bad!” – was totally correct. Here are the facts (from Grist – check out the comments too) then some commentary:

“You thought you took home a haul at the farmers’ market last week, but you’ve got nothin’ on Wal-Mart. The big-box retailer has become the nation’s largest buyer of local produce, planning to purchase and
sell $400 million worth of locally grown fruits and veggies this year. Wal-Mart says it works with “hundreds” of individual farmers, and has 50 percent more partnerships with local growers than it did in 2006. During the summer months, says the company, one-fifth of available produce in Wal-Mart stores
is sourced locally. An emphasis on local produce — which Wal-Mart defines as grown and sold in the same state — keeps the company’s delivery trucks from burning about 100,000 gallons of diesel, slices its customers’ farm-to-plate distance by 672,000 miles, and saves it $1.4 million each year.”

Well hoo-fucking-ray for Wal-Mart. You get a fucking gold star. Seriously – our society is so incredibly backward that it’s news when a company does something it should have been doing all along. Wal-Mart is a very large reason that our sourcing systems are so incredibly wasteful and inefficient, and now they do one teeny tiny good thing -again, something they should have been doing all along! – and we’re all supposed to suck their dicks.

I’m sorry for the profanity, but seriously.

Maybe they can take one small step toward full personhood (because corporations are people, you know that, right? You have watched The Corporation, right? Right? I know I’m getting too hyped up about this, but my blood is boiling!!) and stop locking their employees in at night, or start selling emergency contraception, or allow HIV prevention events on their premises, or allow their workers to unionize (so well-known I won’t bother to link to it), or stop selling t-shirts making fun of stalking women, or do a bit more to stop their employees and customers from being assaulted, raped, and killed because of their parking lots are so unsafe, or or or or.

No, I will not be shopping at Wal-Mart anytime soon.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. It’s important to remember that there are neighborhoods in which Wal-Mart is the only food source. For this reason, of course it’s good that they are buying more local produce. But it only makes me one small percent less angry at them and the idiotic system they have helped built. I know there are some people – Michael Pollan comes to mind – who are probably creaming their pants over this. Good for them. I’ll let them be excited.

I am a revolutionary, I am a radical, I am a means-are-the-ends-er, and Wal-Mart has no place in my ideal world. Life is too short to not work for this ideal world, and to get bogged down into caring about tiny steps in the right direction that the enemy takes. You live in your world, and I’ll live in mine. Until yours comes (peacefully!) crumbling down because it is so useless, and then we will all see how great my world will be. Idiotic terrifying smiley faces will not be part of it.

10 Responses to “Wal-Mart: rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic vs. every little bit helps”

  1. Ande

    hi, i found your blog via vegansofcolor. i’ve really enjoyed reading your posts because you eloquently echo many of my sentiments.

    i very much apprec this post in particular because you are willing to acknowledge that there are neighborhoods where wal-mart is seriously IT. i’m sure you’ve seen HIGH COST OF LOW PRICES, but seriously i think most people just don’t *get* that a lot of places are run by wal-mart. i grew up in arkansas (home state of wal-mart and tyson).

    the state stands as a really prime example of the way our world is headed in terms of these hugeass corps ruling the masses. you would not believe the types of control they have, esp in the NW part of the state where they’re really based. towns of 500-1000 people have nothing but a wal mart (stocked with plenty of tyson’s murderings). and people are, sadly, f-ing blind to it. even if THEIR business was put outta business.

    anyway, enough ranting. but thanks for your revolutionary articulations… infuriating, invigorating, inspiring.

  2. lagusta

    Yeah, such a great point, thanks for making it, Ande! I know this is a giant issue in a lot of the south and even working-class neighborhoods in places like NYC – there are some crazy stats on “supermarket flight” from neighborhoods like Harlem (all the supermarkets go to the fancy neighborhoods where they can sell fancy foods at fancy prices), where people are forced to buy their food at bodegas because there are no supermarkets – no wonder childhood obesity is so prevalent, when there is no fresh produce anywhere!

  3. johanna

    Lagusta — yes to this post! Augh! And yeah, there’s no blaming folks for shopping at Wal-Mart when there’s no alternative. & then there are all the faux liberals who have the alternatives & the cash to pay more, & still shop there…

    I actually quit my job a few years ago in part b/c of Wal-Mart… I was working at a supposedly progressive non-profit — who had a program that dealt w/economics & workers & blah blah, even if in a minimal way — & they decided they were going to apply for a huge grant from Wal-Mart, after weeks & weeks of heated debates at staff meetings about why all the supposedly good stuff they do (like apparently they made some token gesture of friendliness towards queer employees) wasn’t enough to outweigh their evilness. & I mean, wow, why was Wal-Mart hustling to get “progressive” non-profits to compete for their money anyway? Subverting the movement, anyone? Bah.

  4. Veronica

    I love love love your philosophy of joyful rebellion of the everyday kind!
    Everyone should think about this and try to adopt it and maybe we’d be a happier society. Cause we don’t seem to be too happy right now (understandably, of course, but still).

    I knew about some of the walmart links above, but I actually had no idea the extent of it. Wow. Just wow.

    Also, Johanna wrote above, “& then there are all the faux liberals who have the alternatives & the cash to pay more, & still shop there…”

    What is up with this? There is a progressive (well, it used to be progressive, and they’d like to think they still are, but they have definitely sold-out) art and performance space by me, and they have had anti-China anti Wal-Mart art exhibits in the past. It turns out the owners actually shop at Wal-Mart (even in a town where there are alternatives) and they tell their employees not to tell anyone that this occurs!!! This is so ridiculous that I really am speechless!

  5. mommaskyla

    Why is Target more pleasant? Because you have some objection to buying your goods from ordinary people? Because you think that their stuff is not made in China? Wal-Mart buys their crap from the same factories as everyone else. Period. The only difference is that they pass that savings along to you. And these other overpriced, elitist stores – small businesses included- often will not hire a person that isn’t visually up to par. What? You had acne as a teenager? Sorry. You can’t work here. It would make a less pleasant shopping experience for my customers. I’m proud to shop in a store where anyone willing to work to feed their family is welcome to serve their community.

  6. lagusta

    Target doesn’t make me want to kill myself, for one thing. It’s not filthy and the lighting isn’t instantly madness-inducing. That said:

    Mommaskyla, I see your point, but I do believe both of these stores (Target and Wal-Mart) are unacceptable places for progressives to shop. But! Sometimes most people (especially small business owners like me, or, as stated above, when there are no other options) simply need things to function that are not available through ethical shops, so it is sometimes necessary to go to one of these stores. I choose to go to Target when I have to buy Sharpies and packing tape.

    I don’t see small businesses as overpriced and elitist, I see them as charging a real, fair price for goods most of us are used to paying far too little for—most of the time, at least. Goods produced in ethical ways with sustainable materials just cost more—that’s life. We need less stuff that costs more.


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