CLUE-LA joined Walmart workers and organizers on Black Friday as they went out on strike in Paramount. Clergy came together to bless the strikers. Some joined neighbors and workers in performing civil disobedience. 9 people were arrested performing civil disobedience at the Paramount Walmart. Two of them, CLUE-LA’s Nicole Brown and United Methodist Church missionary Stephanie Kimec, were first-time arrestees. Stephanie, who is blogging about her work, has graciously allowed us to post this piece about her arrest on Black Friday.
As I reflect on my experience of risking arrest and being arrested at the Paramount Walmart 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 8 others, sat in the street to speak up against the ways Walmart treats its employees. When I was asked the week before if I would be willing to risk arrest with a few others, including Walmart workers, I responded, “Let me pray about it. So I did.
I thought about when I first became aware of what kind of a corporation Walmart is. When I was in college a documentary on Walmart came out, and I went to a screening on campus with a few friends. My older sister worked there for a while, and as 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 Walmart as much as I could. This past summer, after I came to serve in Los Angeles, I found that Chinatown residents and workers were fighting Walmart as well. A Walmart Neighborhood Market would destroy the local shops in Chinatown. I realized that this new Walmart would actually be the closest grocery store to my house, and one that might invite many of my neighbors to support mistreatment of people like my sister. I joined them at a rally. It was so powerful to march in the streets of Chinatown and see the shop owners standing outside to support us. The families standing up for their neighborhood sanctified Chinatown that day – the streets became sacred space for people to come together. I’d find sacred space again with Walmart, as I struggled with the decision.
I unhappily admit the biggest hangup on being arrested was my ordination process. Last month, I had a paper notarized saying I have no misdemeanors or felonies on my record. After consulting some trusted mentors I decided facing arrest was worth the risk. When I struggled with my ordination, other struggled with their livelihoods. I decided that civil disobedience was a good way to use my privilege to help shed light to a company who has committed many grievances against its employees, the people who make Walmart run. I was willing to take part in this civil disobedience. I wanted to say to these workers, people like my sister, that “Yes, I will stand with you you also risk arrest.” I was arrested, and shared a cell with two Walmart associates.
What a sacred space to be in – a holding cell with two brave Walmart 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 Walmart, as Walmart 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 Walmart 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 Walmart, 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 Walmart.
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 Walmart to return back to a place where employees matter, earn fair wages, 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 Walmart. I was only in jail for a few hours, but it was nothing like what my brothers and sisters who work at Walmart go through every day. I’ve become more away of what warehouse workers experience who are contracted out to work for Walmart. They work in horrible conditions, receiving little with regards to wages and threatened if they try to speak out.
My wrists still ache from the handcuffs as I write this. That pain, however, is a small price for Walmart listening to its employees treating them as human beings. I pray that Walmart repents, and (as the Hebrew word for repent implies) turns back from its ways. Walmart must become a place that cares for its employees, shares its vast wealth with the very people who create it, and fosters love instead of greed. I hope that we can, together, create a sacred, loving space in Walmart for workers and customers.