Walmart in East NY: Desperation Exploitation

The piece was first posted on A New & Unsettling Force Blog

With my Walmart job I have been able to get off of welfare and buy my home.”-Walmart Radio Ad

This morning while listening to the radio I heard the above quote in a commercial placed by Walmart. I have been paying close attention to the proposed East New York Walmart, because I was born and raised in this community. I do not think this ad was placed haphazardly, because corporations spend millions on marketing, and psychology is a VERY important aspect of advertising. To place this commercial on New York City’s first and only African-American-owned radio station shows that Walmart knows who it needs to reach to come to East New York, and this commercial hit a couple of targets. East New York is one of the twelve communities in New York City that sends the most people to prison; the community has very high poverty and violence rates. Walmart is very familiar with these statistics and the desperation that residents face, and it is exploiting this desperation.

I saw similar desperation exploitation this summer while organizing for United Workers during a Baltimore City Council hearing for that city’s proposed Walmart. While we were having a pre-hearing protest, busses came packed with Walmart “supporters.” Veronica Dorsey, a United Workers leader and Poverty Scholar, engaged the “protestors” in conversation and found out that they were paid by Walmart to protest. Many of the protestors were poor and needed jobs, but when Veronica explained that they needed not just any job but a job with human rights, she struck a chord with them. Many supporters of a Walmart in East New York (including community residents) are focused on the potential for jobs – and rightly so – but what we need in East NY are jobs with justice that don’t violate our human rights any more than they already have been by systematic oppression, governmental neglect and violence.

In spite of the commercial’s success story, the facts are many Walmart employees actually need human services such as Food Stamps and Medicaid, which means the government is subsidizing this corporation. If Walmart employees in cities with lower costs of living are struggling, how much more will East New York residents struggle with our city’s high cost of living? If our