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I found information about the Black Friday protests happening around the country well in advance of the event, something that was helpful for my own planning purposes. The protests were held all over the country in dissent of Wal-Mart’s low wages and benefits for employees. The day of protests, organized by the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart) was well marketed with plenty of information shared on the website blackfridayprotests.org. I chose to focus my attention on protests planned for the Cincinnati area, as I planned to be there during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The website had options for people to plan their own protests and even had suggested “host your own protest” options based on location settings. I chose to attend a protest about 5 miles from downtown. The protests all had an RSVP option, and based on that I expected about 15 people in attendance at the protest.
To my surprise, the turnout was much greater. Online, the protest was listed as starting at 11 a.m., but many people were there picketing beforehand. I came to find out that the early birds were all University of Cincinnati undergrad, graduate and law students, most of whom were friends of the organizer, another University of Cincinnati student. She planned two different Cincinnati area protests that day, so she bounced back and forth throughout the morning and afternoon. I didn’t get to talk to her much, but I found out that she was a senior undergraduate student, like me, and she is interested in going to law school or working in the non-profit sphere.
The group was mostly young people, but some other people, who found out about the protests online, joined in as well. One man in attendance is a Wal-Mart employee from another store on the west side of the city. He wore a mask during the protest and tried really hard to avoid cameras (he wouldn’t even tell me his name!). The makeup of protesters was less diverse than the Ferguson protest I attended a few days before, as this protest had mostly white, young college students in attendance.
The protesters held signs that said things like “Always low wages. Always,” “Wal-Mart employees can’t afford Wal-Mart groceries,” and “Don’t Shop at Wal-Mart.” My favorite chant of the day was “Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, you’re no good, treat your workers like you should.” Some passed out fliers with information about local businesses on them.
Shoppers seemed to be interested but not deterred by the protest. Only two shoppers that I saw, stopped to ask about the protest, the rest watched or seemed to make a conscious effort not to stare. Some members of the group, including the organizer, tried to go into the store to continue the protest, but they were asked by the store greeters and a police officer to stay outside. They persisted, however, and tried about five times to get into the store. No one was arrested that I saw (or that I read afterward).
The only criticism I have regarding this protest was the timing. The protest seemed to be going on well after the major rush of shoppers would be at Wal-Mart. Additionally, the parallel between the hectic consumerism and a powerful protest could be moving for shoppers who are already in a charged emotional state. However, the decision may have been conscious and out of concern. There were no arrests at the two Cincinnati-area protests and both started at 11 a.m. This could have been due to less traffic of shoppers, less congestion and, likely, a lower number of law enforcement present at the stores.
I enjoyed this protest, but the passion paled in comparison to the Ferguson protest held only a few days earlier and a few miles south of the Wal-Mart protest. However, media reaction to this national protest movement was greater than expected. This day of protest has been called the largest protest against Wal-Mart in all of history, but no one has seemed to linger on the issue and no other protests have popped up since. Wal-Mart hasn’t made a statement about the protests or discussed any changes to their practices. I think that coverage of the protest has lost momentum because the movement itself has lost momentum since Black Friday. However, I do hope that it picks up again, because there are obviously people passionate about reforming Wal-Mart’s employment policies and practices.
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