Black Friday Surprise at Wal-Mart!

The following is a report by a participant in Occupy Ann Arbor’s Black Friday action at the Saline Wal-Mart.

We were briefed beforehand. “If a police officer talks to you, you only need to say two things: ‘I am exercising my right to remain silent’; and ‘I want to talk to my lawyer.'” Our legal observer instructed us about what to do in the event that cops showed up.

It was agreed that the 20 or so of us would cross US-12 on foot, walk into the Wal-Mart parking lot, split off into smaller groups, and enter the store. After over a week of planning, we were ready to unleash our little Black Friday Surprise on a bunch of unsuspecting Wal-Mart shoppers.

We picked out the precise location a few days earlier: we’d go to the women’s clothing section and wait for a designated person to shout “mic check.” We’d pull out the people’s mic and read off from a script that we had written together, outlining the various ills perpetuated by Wal-Mart, from the outsourcing of labor, to the killing of local economies, to discrimination against women workers.

Two of us went to the store earlier in the week to do a little recon work and map out the store. The plan was to enter through each of the store’s two major entrances. We had the women’s section mapped as the place where we to assemble and do the people’s mic. Women’s clothing was a prime spot, right next to the checkout lines, the perfect place to grab attention.

In the parking lot, me and one other person broke off from the group. Walking inside, we passed the Salvation Army guy, then proceeded straight to women’s clothing. Walking through the bra section, a woman from our group crossed our path and with a wink and nudge pretended to be a stranger: “What are two men doing in the bra section?” A little inside joke. In the moments leading up to “mic check,” it was difficult to contain the simple joy of being in on the secret we were about to let loose.

Moving into position, we pretended to look at merchandise. Then it came.

Mic check.

The rest of us repeated.

Mic check.

Our legal observer pulled out his notepad and green National Lawyer’s Guild cap.

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers.

Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers.

Our script continued.

“We are here to acknowledge that low prices, come with a high cost, both locally and globally.”

It wasn’t long before folks started to crowd around. A bald-headed manager walked to us tried to get us to turn off our cameras. But he couldn’t do anything. He told us to stop. “It’ll take a minute,” was all we told him.

At one point during the action, someone walked to one of our camera operators. “Get a job,” the person said. “We all have jobs,” our camera operator replied.

We got to the end of the script without incident. “To the employees of Wal-Mart, please know you are not to blame, know that you have a voice, you have the power to take a stand, and know that we are the 99% and stand behind you.”

In the planning of the action, there was much deliberation over what kind of message we wanted to communicate. We wanted to emphasize that Wal-Mart employees are the 99%, that we stand in solidarity with them, even as we take a stand against Wal-Mart’s exploitative practices. When we broke out the people’s mic, those who worked at the registers simply stopped and lent a friendly ear.

We left in peaceful glee. A couple of us thanked the managers for letting us speak. “We love you,” a couple of us said to the crowed.

As we exited, we saw a Pittsfield Township police officer enter the store. In the parking lot, one of us shouted, “Show me what democracy looks like.” We chanted back, “This is what democracy looks like.” We danced and skipped along our merry way.

Occupy Lansing: Funeral for Democracy

A couple of us managed to make a visit to Occupy Lansing today in time for their “Funeral for Democracy” event. It was a great chance to visit another one of Michigan’s great occupations and here is our report.

We arrived at approximately 2:15pm and the event was expected to start at 2:30. Almost immediately, we were impressed by the size of the encampment. There appeared to be about 15 or so tents around the area, spread out across a fairly open park. In the central meeting area there was also a “GA Tent”, which was specifically reserved for General Assemblies. As we approached, we saw a little over a dozen or so people milling about, all getting ready for the event. At first, we blended in, meeting a few people, shaking a few hands, but it was obvious that the people who were there were preparing for the event, so we tried not to disturb. Shortly after, Aaron (also known as “Bear”) called everyone to order and the pall bearers took their place and the march began.

The total crowd gathered was a little more than 20 and they appeared to be slightly disappointed with the turn out, as they had publicized the gathering quite a bit. We could tell they had made a great deal of preparation, due to several media presences swarming around taking pictures and shooting video.

Another astounding fact about the encampment was that it was two, maybe three, blocks away from the Capital building! It was just a short walk and there we were, on the steps of the building that supposedly represents the entire state of Michigan. The place where all the “important” decisions are made, including the passing of a ridiculous bullying bill, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Once upon the steps, the casket was lowered and we had a moment of silence, followed by a nice eulogy from Dustin (taken from transcript):

“Democracy was born of a revolution in America as a result of a series of political, intellectual, and social movements sparking a rebellion against a ruling Monarch imposing its will from across the Atlantic. Much the opposite of the creation of our democracy, is its death at the hands of a ruling oligarch perched atop an economic and political system ruling from behind desks made of rare and endangered woods in penthouses within their towers.

Democracy was a reflection of its people. As culture changed and improved, democracy did as well. Because of abolitionists, property rights over human beings were ended. Because of suffragists, women and an imported people of African descent were granted citizenship and voting rights. Because of Labor activists Americans were respected in the workplace and gained comfort in employment age and after. Because of Civil Rights activists all Americans gained the ability to vote, gain education, and to work and provide patronage at local business establishments. American democracy was maintained by the 99%’s participation as firefighters, road workers, teachers, engineers, librarians, manufacturers, secretaries, nurses, home health aides and patient care assistants, attendants and customer service representatives, doctors, builders, police officers, cooks, at the same time as they were active citizens.

Democracy is survived by a 324 year old republican system diseased and co-opted by a corporate elite whose sole motive is greed and profit from war, environmental destruction, corporate taxation of the public, and the exploitation of the global working class, including children. Even making citizens compete with the imprisoned for employment.

We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”

With three sentries remaining behind, the rest of us marched through downtown Lansing, chanting our way back toward the camp. We stopped near a Chase Bank where Dustin informed us that Chase had just been chosen by the Cities of Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Flint to take care of all the income taxes for those cities, as decided by Governor Snyder.

When we returned to the camp, the crowd started to disperse and the sentries returned with the casket. Now we had the opportunity to speak to several individuals, including Dustin, Bear, Cindy, and Pey…

He really liked the button, so we gave it to him and he gave us an “Occupy Lansing” button in exchange. It was nice to get out to another encampment and experience the atmosphere. We left around 4pm and made it back to Ann Arbor by 5pm, beating the rush hour traffic.

Thank you, Occupy Lansing! We really enjoyed the camp and were happy to meet many of you! Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help support you in the future and we really hope to see some of you at our upcoming meetings!