For the past few months, Moscow’s community chat group, Vision 2020 has been buzzing with arguments for and against the proposed WalMart Supercenter. The laissez faire free marketeers have accused the smart growth opponents of wanting to limit choice or, worse yet, of wanting to “stick it” to poor people. By opposing the Supercenter, we liberal, progressive, pink commies are just demonstrating, once again, that we’re out of touch elitists. We don’t know what it’s like to be poor. We want to force everyone to shop at the expensive but attractive Moscow Food Co-Op.
(Only conservative Republicans truly understand poverty. Oh, yeah, when I think poor, I think George W. Bush. I think of him growing up in a log cabin in Springfield, Illinois; walking miles to borrow a book; always curious, always working to educate himself; desperately trying to hold together a nation divided. No, wait! That’s Abraham Lincoln. Nevermind. Same thing. Or so George W. and Condollezza Rice would have us believe.)
Ah, well. Screw reason and sound argument. Forget facts and figures and proof and evidence. I’ve decided to stick not just my hand but my whole head into the Moscow WalMart Supercenter hornets’ nest. Though I do have sound economic and ethical reasons for opposing Wal-Mart, I’ve decided to come clean and offer up a confession. I believe that it is wrong to shop at Wal-Mart. It’s wrong to shop at a company that relies on slave, child or prison labor. I no longer want to discuss globalization, economics, or percentages — I want to state categorically that if any company uses a single prisoner, slave or six-year old in its workforce, then that company is wrong, and you are wrong to buy from that company. It is wrong to shop at a predatory retailer that screws its workers and its suppliers, and, once you know exactly how it is that Wal-Mart is able to sell you incredibly cheap tennis shoes or vacuum cleaners or toothpaste or Kotex, it is morally reprehensible to choose to benefit from the misery of others. When you shop at Wal-Mart, you and your dollar bills are saying “F*ck those Chinese child workers” or “My American pocketbook is more important than your Honduran civil rights.” We are what we buy, and I don’t buy abuse. And here’s a hot one for you — I do want to limit your buying choices to the extent that don’t believe you should have the unfettered right to buy abuse either.
The Fox News empty talking heads believe that George Bush has the right to wiretap potential terrorists like PETA or peaceniks or the PTA without a FISA warrant. I believe that I have the right to trample on your stinkin’ buying power whether you like it or not. Both of us claim to be acting on behalf of U. S. national security. Neither of us were legitimately elected to public office, at least not in the year 2000, when I didn’t run and George didn’t win. You don’t like it? Lump it. I’m flowing with the national zeitgeist here; I’m tossing reason to the wind and going straight for the gut. Some fear Al Qaeda. I fear predatory global monopolies. Go figure.
I’m told that the average Wal-Mart sells 60,000 products. Hooray. What percentage of those are cheap-assed versions of better things available at better stores? What percentage are things you could buy for even less at Goodwill? Don’t tell me I don’t give a rip about poor people; I am poor people. My take home pay won’t take me home, but I will not buy a toy for my kid that’s made by a kid even younger than my kid. You catch my drift? I’d rather buy less, shop less, and own less than consume on the backs of pennies-a-day foreign labor. And, what’s more, I’m willing to step out to the very edge of my swaying limb and say, “Not in my backyard, Herr Free Marketeer. Go buy your cheap plastic shit somewhere else, Mr. Laissez Fair. Hop on the Wheatland Express bus, Gus. Ride your bike, Mike. Take Pat and Charlie, hop on your Harley, or lace up your boots and hoof it on shank’s mare to a WalMart Supercenter somewhere else, somewhere far from Moscow, because I don’t want the damned thing here.” I don’t give a monkey’s brasses whom that might annoy or inconvenience. Why? Because the free market be damned; I don’t want to look at a 200,000-square foot store squatting on a piece of ex-farm land adjacent to the Latah Trail, directly across from the Moscow Cemetery, and that will obstruct my view of Paradise Ridge. Call me selfish. I’ll agree; I am.
I guess this polemic makes me unreasonable. There it is; my secret is out. On my recent drive to Portland, I got a good look at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the hideous collection of strip malls that Washington residents call the Tri-Cities. It was a giant carbuncle of a building; an ugly behemoth; a complete and utter bastard. I don’t want one of those beasts here in my little Moscow. The contrast between that . . . thing . . . and downtown Portland, or our own beautiful and lively downtown, couldn’t be more striking. Let others make reasonable arguments. I’ve given up. I’m going to rely on my old favorites fear and loathing, and what I say is keep that awful engulfing retail hell-hole out of my town. Keep its crap products and its cheap prices and its tire and lube center away from the Troy Highway and way the hell away from me. Go find somewhere else to wreck. Moscow’s too good for a Super Wal-Mart. Way too good.
I invite my critics to hop right on that last sentence because I mean it to be both absolutist and elitist. Launching the occasional hot dog out into cyberspace is what keeps me off the Pepcid AC and allows me to sleep at night.