Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hole in the Head

If it's been some time since I've posted about the woes that big box stores, especially Wal-Mart, heap on our society, it's not because my views have changed. If anything, I'm more violently opposed to what is happening to our landscape, our workers, and the impoverished people abroad who are existing in near-slavery conditions in order to produce the cheap goods that Wal-Mart demands. At some point, though, I started suffering from what I've heard aptly termed "outrage fatigue syndrome" on the Blue Voice: the consistently high level of outrage that we feel about something eventually leads us to need a little break from thinking about it. Such was the case with me and Wal-Mart.

Today I heard my husband let out a loud groan while scanning headlines. "Ugh, Wal-Mart is planning to build 1,500 new stores....," he said with a shake of the head and a troubled tone. I know that he often worries about the destruction of our environment for the sake of new McMansions, Applebee's restaurants and, yes, Wal-Mart super-centers. I also know that when he looks at the area around his hometown in Pennsylvania, he feels a palpable pain at seeing cornfields and meadows turned into another subdivision with tiny lollipop trees or a Target. Maybe I vicariously felt his disgust this morning, maybe it's just that it's already been a long week and we're only halfway to the weekend. Whatever the reason, I'm feeling really bent out of shape about this latest Wal-Mart news. We need another 1,500 Wal-Mart stores in America like we each need a hole in the head. Where are our heads? Where are our hearts? Maybe the better question is, what can we do about it? Is there a way that we can overcome our outrage fatigue syndrome and do something about this?

Here are a couple of ideas. Please share any that you have.
  • The most obvious idea is to stop shopping, or at the very least reduce your dollars spent, at Wal-Mart and other big box stores. Yes, that means Target too. I admit to shopping at Target occasionally, but I know that it's not the answer to Wal-Mart. I haven't stepped foot inside a Wal-Mart in a long time, and I don't plan to again...ever. I just can't be complicit with their policies.
  • We need to get and stay educated about the effect that the largest retailer has on so many aspects of our society, culture, and environment. Check out the Wal-Mart movie if you haven't yet seen it. There are also a bunch of books that your local library likely stocks about the mega-chain. One that I particularly like because it focuses on what it's like to work not only at Wal-Mart but also in other low-wage jobs is Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.
  • Support so-called "Fair Share Healthcare" legislation in your state. The Maryland state legislature passed a law that is set to take effect on Saturday requiring corporations employing more than 10,000 workers to pay 8 percent of their payroll in employee health care or pay the difference to the state. 30 other states are considering similar measures. Predictably, a lawsuit was filed yesterday challenging the law. Read here what you can do to support these kinds of laws that force companies like Wal-Mart to provide health care coverage to their workers that doesn't leave the taxpayers on the hook for subsidizing their basic health care. If you live in a hot spot state (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia), start writing letters to your representatives in the state legislature.
  • If you are in a town where Wal-Mart is trying to build one of its new stores, join in the protests. Talk to your neighbors, organize, fight!

I've been feeling a bit powerless in the face of my outrage recently. I'm going to take the edge off by kneading dough for two loaves of bread and enjoying some red wine with dinner tonight. Maybe then I'll be able to celebrate the many blessings I've been given while at the same time holding the outrage in my heart and turning it into something productive: an energy for saving this world of ours.


  • At 7:32 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    It's nice to know what I've been feeling has a name. I think I'm generally feeling outraged out, but I'm glad not everyone is. The movie is good and thought-provoking.

  • At 1:33 AM, Blogger Siel said…

    You might be encouraged to know that Walmart CAN be stopped -- It just takes serious dedication and effort. Not sure if you already know about this, but (re)check out this SoCal story for a little morale boost --

  • At 11:36 AM, Blogger Katie said…

    I just started reading The Wal-mart Effect last night after hearing the author on NPR. Amazing story - the author says that 90% of Americans already live within 15 miles of a Wal-mart so why do we need more? Crazy - crazy - crazy. I feel your pain and your "outraged out" feelings too.

  • At 12:15 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    i'm glad to know that i'm not the only one feeling beaten down by what's going on. it's hard to stay optimistic about this stuff all of the time. i'm also glad that siel included a link to one of the positive outcomes that can come from staying focused on getting results and not getting discouraged. i had heard about the story that she mentioned and others like it, but i just didn't have the time to find the links. thanks for providing an upbeat and encouraging counterpoint, siel!

  • At 2:01 PM, Anonymous Cherri said…

    Thank you Lauren for your post. I was actually beginning to wonder what has happened to me.

    I left California almost a year back. When in California I never stepped foot in a Walmart...Not even once.

    In California that was easy. So many other places to shop and lots of support from the locals (to stay out that is)

    I moved to the Grand Canyon North Rim to work last year. The North Rim is 2.5 hours from the closest town, which populates about 100 people...Not much there.

    Well, as it turns out, I took the employee shuttle to town with my co-workers one day. I needed supplies. Guess where they went.

    I was shocked. I actually never knew anyone who shopped at Walmart, but they were all very excited.

    At that point, I figured I didn't really have any choice out here in the sticks. I have stopped in a few times, as the trek to civilization is always a chore.

    This article does, however make me wonder if perhaps I too have been taking a rest? Time to do more internet shopping!


  • At 2:01 PM, Blogger I_Wonder said…

    In the last election, Flagstaff had a vote to prevent large box stores. WalMart dumped so much money into the election that it became the most expensive election in Flagstaff history. The money worked and the law was narrowly defeated. I've already decided to avoid the super store when it's constructed.

    Sorry, I can't add to the discussion in a more hopeful, postive way.

  • At 3:48 PM, Blogger lauren said…


    Thanks for your comment! I know that it's much harder to avoid Wal-Mart when there's a dearth of viable options. It's very easy for me to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart here in Boston but when I visit my inlaws in their small southern town, there are very few other options for most items unless you drive very far. Gas vs. big box store becomes the "choice," which really isn't a choice at all...


    So glad you stopped by! Your anecdote is a grim reminder of what towns are up against even when people are willing to work really hard to stop a big corporation like Wal-Mart from coming to town: citizen efforts can seem futile in the face of so much money. Try we must though! Avoiding the store is a good individual action to take when the collective action isn't enough.

  • At 4:38 PM, Blogger Melissa said…

    Take it from someone with three children, two of them old enough to give voice to their wants and desires: another downside of those big-box stores is that they promote the "Gimme Gimme's" and "I wants" that drive any well-behaved child into a frenzied state of sensory overload.

    I am happy to do most of my shopping online where I can choose the companies which share my values. On the rare occasion that my husband and I feel brave enough to venture out with all three kids, we let them take their quarters (earned from doing odd jobs) and buy something from our little toy shop downtown.

    I suppose my motive for avoiding Wal-Mart and Target is more personal - I could stand a few less tantrums! Either way, they aren't getting my business!


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