Standing on the Side of Love with Walmart Workers
I am on the board of the Warehouse Workers for Justice Interfaith Action Commitee. My church is also deeply involved in supporting Walmart workers under the banner of Standing on the Side of Love. We plan to show Walmart workers some love by participating in a witness on ‘Black Friday’, the day after Thanksgiving, following our huge action earlier this month.
On October 1, we participated in a rally and act of civil disobedience to support the striking workers at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois. We carried our banner and wore our now famous t-shirts. It was estimated that nearly 1,000 people were in attendance.
Along with more than a dozen others, I was arrested, wearing my clerical collar, for civil disobedience. Even though this was a planned peaceful protest, a Mobile Field Force Team in riot gear marched down the Walmart entrance towards us.
The police officer was a friend-of-a-friend and I joked with him that I felt like I was in a wedding, marching down the road with him. He chuckled and we just kept walking to the paddy-wagon (old Chicago term) without missing a beat. I felt like we were on a movie set. We were all charged with trespassing and given a $120 ticket in the parking lot of the Elwood Police Department.
The most exciting part of the whole demonstration was knowing that Walmart shut down the entire warehouse for the day. This intermodal facility in Will County is the third largest in the world after those in Hong Kong and Singapore. For our little band of warriors to shut them down for twenty-four hours and almost immediately have Walmart rehire and pay the workers their back wages was pretty close to a miracle.
As Jeannie Owen, another member of Committee on Lay Ministry, reported in our church newsletter:
“We marched for miles (or so it seems) for the Walmart warehouse workers today. The workers are paid $10 an hour for lifting backbreaking boxes in temperatures that can range from 0 to 120 degrees, there are no benefits, they never know how many hours they will work, and often get ripped off for overtime if paid at all. … The largest, richest company in the world that earns billions and gives millions to the Walton inheritors cannot be bothered with the wellbeing of its own workers.
“A number of people who recognized the Standing on the Side of Love banner as UU came over and spoke to us. Many unions and activist causes participated. It was estimated there were between 600 and 1,000 people there marching, walking, standing up for justice. Beware of little old lady activists…”
We plan to continue our campaign in Joliet with ‘un’-shopping days and a Black Friday witness in November. Learn more at our website. Wherever you are, please join us by participating in Black Friday Actions–you can deliver a letter to manager, hold a prayer vigil, organize or join a flash mob. Check here for registered events close to you or register your own event for a Walmart in your area!