At the corner of Grand and Kilpatrick Avenues in Chicago, the Rev. Joseph Kyles addressed a rally last May. "Tomorrow morning," he said, "we need you to pray for the City Council to vote for Wal-Mart in this community." That Rev. Kyles would be preaching the virtues of a corporate retail behemoth was no fluke. It was part of a strategy by Wal-Mart executives to cultivate support among black city council members and church leaders for building two stores in Chicago--each about the size of ten football fields. It is also part of a broader strategy to bring Wal-Mart to the 'hood--touting not just lower prices but also racial equity.The piece discusses Wal-Mart's courting of minority, low to middle income communities and how the power of low prices and job creation can be very tempting (Liza Featherstone in The Nation wrote another good article on this issue). This pitch failed in Inglewood, California but succeeded in Chicago where a variety of factors, including a poor relationship between people of color and the town's unions, helped Wal-Mart built its first Windy City location.
We believe it crucial that the Wal-Mart Free NYC coalition learn from these successes and failures. New York is certainly different in some ways- there is more minority representation in the union movement, there are a number of minority City Council members who are against Wal-Mart - but we must be sure to continue cultivating support in the city's diverse ethnic communities. Problems such as unemployment and “understorring” are real and we must be ready to explain why Wal-Mart isn't the best solution to them.