Sacred Space: A Black Friday Reflection
by Stephanie Kimec |
Across the country, Walmart’s own workers are rising up to challenge the behemoth corporation for its poor working conditions and abysmal wages. As Danny Duncan Collum indicates in “Standing Up to Goliath” (January 2013),” the Walmart workforce is making history by organizing strikes against one of the largest employers in the world.
During Black Friday, hundreds of Walmart workers walked off the job, risking arrest and loss of employment. Allies such as Stephanie Kimec, a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist Church, took part in the nationwide day of action. Here she shares her experience of standing in solidarity with the Walmart workers in Paramount, Calif.—From the Editors
As I reflect on my experience of being arrested at the Paramount Walmart on Black Friday, I find myself thinking of sacred space. What a sacred space to be in—to be surrounded by workers, activists, clergy, and supporters as I and eight others sat in the street to speak up against the ways Walmart treats its employees.
When I was asked the week before if I would be willing to risk arrest with a few others, including Walmart workers, I responded that I would pray about it. As I did, I thought about when I first became aware of what kind of a corporation Walmart is. When I was in college I attended a screening of a documentary about Walmart. My older sister worked there for a little while. The whole time I watched the documentary I thought about her, about the discrimination she faced, and the poor wages she was given, along with little opportunity for advancement. It was then that I decided I would try to limit my purchases at Walmart as much as I could.
I am saddened to say my biggest hang-up about being arrested involved concerns of how this would affect my ordination process. After consulting some trusted mentors, I decided it was worth the risk. I have been wrestling a lot this past year with my privilege as a white woman and the power that comes with that. I ultimately decided this was a good way to use my privilege to help shed light on a company which has committed many grievances against its employees, the very people who make Walmart run.
I was willing to take part in this civil disobedience not because this was my way of saying “I know what’s best for you poor Walmart employees.” Rather, I wanted to affirm that “Yes, I will stand with you as you also risk arrest, as you have decided this is what you want to do to tell Walmart this must stop.” What a sacred space to be invited to join with workers as they risk not only a misdemeanor, but losing their jobs and livelihood as well.
What a sacred space to be in a holding cell with two Walmart employees as they shared their experiences. Both have looked for other jobs, but no one will hire them. Both of them had to spend Thanksgiving Day at work, as Walmart decided to stay open through the holiday. One cashier shared how she had to turn angry customers away who tried to buy special sale items before they could be sold. Because Walmart never closed on Thanksgiving Day and night, certain items went on special sales at certain times. She does not create the rules at Walmart, yet must enforce the retailer’s policies. She was clearly exhausted and disappointed to not have the opportunity to spend the day with friends or family.
Both women shared that they work with people who remember what it was like to work at Walmart just 15 to 20 years ago, when it was a place that valued its employees. All they want is for Walmart to return to a place where employees matter, earn fair wages, have opportunities to care for and support their families, can receive health benefits, and can work full-time. What a sacred space to be invited into—a space where workers can share their hopes and experiences as they risk so much to bring about real change to Walmart.
I’ve become more aware of what warehouse workers experience who are contracted to work for Walmart. They work in horrible conditions, receiving little with regards to wages, and threatened if they try to speak out. I was only in jail for a few hours, and it was nothing compared to what my brothers and sisters who work at Walmart endure every day to earn a living.
The handcuffs and misdemeanor are worth it, as a means of telling Walmart to listen to its employees and begin treating them as human beings, people with rights. I pray that Walmart repents and turns back from its ways—that it may become a place that cares for its employees, shares its vast riches with the very people who have allowed it to become so wealthy, and becomes a place that fosters love instead of greed.