6.21.2006

Wal Mart Story

Alison and i are in the news today. We both get quoted in Charelston's CityPaper on a story about Wal Mart. Take a look at it. That's me doing the Superman thing on the cover, and obviously me that's standing in front of the store.

That was really scary, by the way....

...i thought when i started this post i was gonna write about how my recent experiences of getting interviewed has taught me to use (and also be leery) of the media's need for soundbites. They want the concise version, the insightful comment. I'm not good at that. I ramble. Jason interviewed me at a coffee shop where i went on for like fourty minutes---ohhhh! trucking! China! disposable culture! addiction to fleeting style! ohhhh! ohhhh! ohhhh! I see how difficult--and uninteresting--writing like that could be, but then i also see how "boiling a story down to its essense" leaves out so many important factors. After all, if god is in the details, are we just making noise when we essentialize things?

Anyway, that was what i was gonna write about...until i wrote that it was scary to get my picture taken in front of Wal Mart. See, if i deal with that honestly--if i look into my soul and reflect on what was scary about going back to a Wal Mart--i see...well, of course, i see a lot of things.

On the perimeter of this soul of mine, i find that one reason i was scared is because i truly don't want to make strangers uncomfortable. I know that might sound like a contradiction to people who know me--i know i revel in making people uncomfortable--but the way i usually get to make people uncomfortable is okay with me. Standing in the parking lot of Wal Mart was different. Maybe that difference is that this time i've got something to lose. I'm not the one in control. Sure, the good Southern boy in me says that we aren't supposed to make a scene (and it's that expectation that the rebellious part of me plays against), but standing there in front of god and everybody...well, it exposes ME.

See, if i talk about poop at a party, or make the woman at the Quaker meeting squirm , i'm the one in charge. But if i'm in a parking lot i'm just one of hundreds of opinions...

Maybe i'm not making sense here with this rumination. Let me boil it down for you, and tell you what lies deeper in this soul of mine: the reason i was scared has less to do with my sense of genteel manners than it does the fact that I lack courage.

This is a complicated notion. Let me see if i can sort it out. Alright:

Southern boy. Taught good manners. Doesn't want to make others uncomfortable. (On the other hand, i use this expectation as a springboard for iconiclasm.)

Then we have:

Southern boy. Taught to be courageous. Be a man. Wear a belt. Carry a hankie for the ladies. Stand up for what is right.

Which Southern boy am i supposed to be? The courageous one? Or the one that doesn't question tradition? Or are they the same thing?

One answer to this dillema is found in a tried and true process: achieve wealth, wear a suit, act respectable most of the time and fight the good fight through economics. If this suit-wearing me is fairly conservative, gives at church and helps the needy, then i'm considered both a good citizen and courageous. The worse case scenario is that i'm not conservative and then i just get labelled "eccentric." (as we all know, the meaning of "eccentric" is "the enhanced buying power of a pariah.")

But, i'm not sure that's real REAL courage. Just like with me and alison in the story--it's easy, not simply courageous, for us not to shop at wal-mart. We can (mostly) afford it.

I'm struggling here. I can't quite get a grip on what ails me, you know? See, what really comes to mind is this: Do you know what takes real courage? Sitting down at the counter of a Woolworth's in Nashville, TN in 1963.




I used to work at a machine shop at Vanderbilt Hospital. While i was there i had quite a few conversations with one of the machinists named Odie. Odie, a soft-spoken black man, brilliant machinist, and Baptist preacher, once told me how he went to the ...well, i don't remember what the name of the training classes that were held for the sit-in folks at the time, but he went to those classes. What they did there was prepare the students for what might happen when they went to these sit-ins. They prepared them by striking them, spitting on them, hurling racial epithets right in their faces. They treated them like dogs...they treated them like pariahs. Odie told me that he didn't make the cut. He couldn't keep his cool. Odie was one of the gentlest souls i've ever met, but even he couldn't handle the heat doled out just in a practice session.

What about those that really did sit at those counters? How much courage did it take Rosa Parks to do what she did? I was told that the folks that rode the buses to Washington were instructed to write a sealed letter to their families--saying goodbye. The letters were to be read in case they were murdered.

So who the fuck am i? ooohhh....white boy takin' a stand against wal mart. don't wanna upset anybody.

I believe in the wal mart thing. i think those guys are damaging our humanity. and i think we let them do it by continuing to shop there. I think we create the necessity for some people to have to shop there by shopping there. This should stop.

We need more courage.

See, i think the deal is is that wearin' a belt, holdin' the doors open for ladies, carryin' a hankie, doffing your hat to those you meet is called courtesy. This is a good thing, but it isn't courage.

I've missed that point. John Wayne and the rugged American individualist, the man of steel and the southern boy i was brought up to be are the same thing. I've just gotten it wrong by conflating courtesy and courage. Society taught me wrong by saying they are the same things. I think i see how that's a smoke screen. True grit is found in really really standing up for the things i believe in. Like those folks at the lunch counter.

How ballsy is it to stop shopping at Wal Mart when you can afford not to? How tough is it, really, to wear a suit and work in a bank and tithe 10% of a hundred thousand dollar income? I listened to Dave Ramsey last night talk about "buying salvation." Really. Evidently tithing is a part of this purchase.

Where the hell are the Martin Luthers when you need them?

They aren't me. I'm just a loud mouth who tries to behave and gets alot of stuff wrong. I pray to be more like them.

_______________________________


Here's what a friend of mine has to say on the subject or courtesy and courageousness:


Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. He began to teach them and he said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst for goodness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see god. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of god. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of goodness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salt again? It's no longer good for anything--except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine for people, that they may see the good deeds and praise god in heaven.

....Jesus wrote a letter home, too, before he got on that bus. Don't miss the point.

8 comments:

The Mom said...

Having courage doesn't mean that you're not afraid. It means that you act on your convictions regardless of the fear. It has to do with living from your higher Self, or your connection with your Higher Power, or whatever or whoever you want to call it. The difference between the friend you referred to and those of us living today is that your friend knew that he was always connected to that Higher Power...we are, too. We just don't know it!

Anonymous said...

Courage has three definitions. 1. Allowing change to occur without it impacting your core values. 2. Doing the right thing even when it hurts. 3. Having the courage to Question Authority, especially your own.

1. I live in Orlando. From my office building I can see Universal Studios in front, SeaWorld on the side and Disney World (begun by another brave man named Walter). I live in a city of constant flux. 50% of the residents have lived here less than 5 years. Change is the only constant in the universe. Our American society is changing away from small family owned businesses to Walmart. It is easy to look at the negatives, however, it takes courage to list the positive ways Walmart adds to a community and admit you might be wrong. Small town stores were a change from the frontier days when there was only one trading post for every settlement. Organizing roads, neighborhoods, town halls was a drastic change for those living on ranches. But change they did. They kept their values: family, God, country, work ethic, and the result is today America is the greatest nation on Earth. If we fail to hold on to our values that won't be the fault of Walmart. The American way of life is just as important as the principles in our Constitution because if we lost our way of life (our border, language, culture) most of us would not have much reason to keep the ideals laid forth by Thomas Jefferson.

It is readily apparent that you love this country because you are willing to risk embarrasment to make a point about the danger of selling out its values to internationalists. You have even raised your banner (your website) and assumed a power sobriquet as the "Banned from Wal-mart" guy. Although I may not necessarily agree with your conclusions I do admire your level of conviction. No one has ever built a monument to a moderate, rather, we honor those who stand still while the rest of the crowd is walking aimlessly. Never stop questioning your beliefs but always do from the perspective of an architect, not an anarchist.

2. "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something." - William Goldman. As a thinking human being you can let pain motivate you to do greater things as long as you maintain the sweet creed that your life is important. You are not a product. You have a soul. No power can take away your value, rather, you can only give away to cheap pretenders.

You can remain angry for decades at your classmates for calling you a faggot or you can take that pain and help other teens with their problems. One involves a comfortable illusion of inferiority and the involves risk.

3. Question Your Own Authority. And keep in mind that old people are usually right. Not always, mind you, but most of the time they are a more salient wisdom than your contemporaries.

Remember, Hebrews 13:8 and all those old hymns you sang back in Donelson. Edward Henry Bickersteth, Jr. wrote a great ditty all about peace.

Have a great day. -See you on July 8th in Joelton.

Pam said...

Great Walmart story (in City Paper) and it's nice to read about your view of the experience here. I agree with you on this - any time I've taken a serious stand on something and feel awkward/afraid etc, I think of Rosa Parks sitting on that bus and saying she was tired. Perhaps courage is contagious?

Kelly Love said...

I agree with The Mom. And add:

Positive influence rarely comes from agreement. It comes from dissent. No one has ever changed the world by embracing the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Walter - get you SS# off the internet! It is on your no trespassing notice in the newspaper article. This is a very bad thing - (identity theft).

On a less alarming note . . . How much would a dining room table and six chairs designed by and made by you cost?

Sarah M. (samaxwell_99@yahoo.com)

Walter said...

well, the good thing is that is not my social security number. not even close. (it's amazing how many people have noticed that however.) anyway, one of the good things about being me is that stealing my identity won't get you real far--probably not even into the country at this point. and i'll email you about the dining room table and chairs.

Laura said...

"and i think we let them do it by continuing to shop there. I think we create the necessity for some people to have to shop there by shopping there."

Yes! That's the key. People think there is nothing they can do against this corporate giant, or that if they shop there it isn't really doing any damage... but yes, it creates the necessity for some people to shop there by continuing to feed the corporation.

I have been reading yours and Alison's blog here for awhile, and I remember seeing a post about your Wal Mart protest/work of art some time ago. So naturally when I picked up my City Paper last week and saw you on the cover I recognized it right away. I was excited to see the project get put out there for all to see, and for the issue to be given such a prime spot in the paper. Hopefully people who read it will think twice before setting foot inside a Wal Mart again.

Much love and take care,
Laura
student, CofC

Anonymous said...

I was saddened to find myself at Walmart earlier this month. I came to town for a funeral (father of a friend's) and needed simple, cheap, somber clothes. I looked at the outlets in Lebanon on the way in from the airport and was too cheap to spend $25 for basically a nice T-shirt. And they didn't have any wide-width black sandals. I knew I could get it all at Walmart, and I did. For cheap. But I was definitely thinking of this blog the whole time. Even when I threw in a not-needed "Girls rock!" shirt in the cart. At home I avoid Walmart, but sometimes it can be comforting to know that when you're out of town you can get what you need quickly and all in one place. *shrug*

--Mel