Wonky Muse
Wonky Muse

March 25, 2006

Andrew Young Hearts Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart’s newest resident shill is…Andrew Young??

DECATUR, Ga. - At the grand opening of a Wal-Mart in a black suburb of Atlanta, civil rights leader Andrew Young danced with store clerks, bouncing to the song "We Are Family."

He also posed with a $1 million check from the company — a donation for a memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be built on the National Mall in Washington.

Young took part in the pep rally in his new position as a paid corporate cheerleader for Wal-Mart — a role that has perplexed some of his longtime civil rights colleagues, who have all but accused him of going over to the enemy.

Activists for the poor have long complained that Wal-Mart skimps on wages and health benefits, forces employees to work off the clock, and kills off mom-and-pop businesses.
I think MLK would be dismayed if he was alive today. I don’t think he’ll be happy with a monument built with profits from a corporation with abhorrent labor and business practices.

Young's defenders think -- more like hope -- that he has a good reason for doing this:

"This is a case where Wal-Mart is hiring someone to make them look good, but this is someone who will try, through friendly persuasion, to get them to review some of what they're doing," said Margaret Simms, an economist for the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
I don't buy it. If you want to champion the rights of employees, you become the voice of the employees, not the poster boy of the company that mistreats them.

The lowdown is more like this:

Can we say “commodifying credibility?”

[snip]

This is the same tactic as putting a hot chick next to a toaster in an ad, hoping to give the toaster sex appeal. There’s a flip-side to that transference equation: the girl comes out looking like, by dint of association, an appliance.

Wal-Mart’s street cred is not going to be improved by shopping for spokespersons, whether they’re bloggers or former civil rights activists. Rather, Wal-Mart will continue to look like a gaping sore and its avatars will emerge besmirched. At least they’ll have a room full of money with which to dip their wounded conscience in.
Consumerist is spot on here, and I totally agree that this move only hurts Andrew Young’s credibility as a civil rights leader.

Not that it hasn’t suffered as it is, considering it’s not the first time he has commoditized it:

Other callers reminded each other that Wal-Mart relentlessly discriminates against women and minorities, ruthlessly crushes unions, and dumps its health care costs onto the public sector while receiving millions in local government subsides and tax abatements for each of its thousands of U.S. stores. Andy Young used to walk with Dr. King. He used to be on our side, more than one observed. Why, they asked, is this happening?

To get at the answer we need to understand what an international "business consultant" is. Andy Young is co-founder, with Carlton Masters of GoodWorks International. A 1997 New Republic article by Stephen Glass, "The Young and the Feckless," succinctly spells out what Andy Young's firm did for its first client, Nike. Public outrage in the United States was building over Nike's outrageous business practices, including child labor and forcing employees to work as many as 65 hours per week for only $10. Incensed citizens disrupted the opening of a Nike Town superstore in San Francisco standing in front of the store chanting, "Just don't do it!"
You can read more about this outrage from Bruce Dixon’s article entitled Andrew Young: Shameless Son over at Alternet.

I hope Mr. Young reconsiders this association with Wal-Mart before it permanently tarnishes what is left of his reputation and legacy. Otherwise, as Bruce Dixon also pointed out, we should reconsider our ties and deference to him.

As for Wal-Mart, it seems they learned well from the Bush playbook: when you make a mess and get flack for it, don’t straighten things out, go on a PR tour.

Photo: AP/Ric Field

posted at 7:29 AM by Wonky Muse

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"Sapere Aude."
(Dare to Know)
-- Epistularum Liber Primus, Horace

Wonk (noun): def. A political nerd. Know spelled backwards.

Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.


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