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That Occupy event last Wednesday when we shut down the largest Walmart distribution center in the world, up in Mira Loma? Turns out that was part of a nationwide day of protest and awareness about ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council.) And Occupy Riverside had the idea that, since Walmart is one of the largest backers of ALEC, interfering with their largest distribution center would be an appropriate way to mark that day here. So I should tell you a little about ALEC, in case, like most Americans, you still haven’t heard of it.
ALEC – not to sound conspiratorial, but this is true – is an extremely secretive corporate front group or “think tank” which creates “model legislation” that is farmed out to all those Republican state legislatures who seem to all be enacting the same oppressive laws lately – laws like the Wisconsin one ending workers’ rights to organize and bargain, laws like the Arizona one against immigrants, and all the recent laws against women’s reproductive rights. The group is funded by the Koch Brothers, Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, BP, Bank of America, and many of the the rest of America’s very worst corporations. ALEC was virtually unheard of before this groundbreaking essay by Wisconsin professor William Cronon, who was immediately punished by outside Republican groups demanding an investigation into whether he was inappropriately doing “political work” while on the clock at a public institution. (He was not.)
So, the nationwide Occupy movement declared Feb 29 “Shut Down the Corporations Day”:
As a first step in reclaiming our voices and challenging our society’s obsession with profit and greed we will shut down the corporations that are part of ALEC. We call for creative direct action. Use your imagination to shut down corporate headquarters and stop business as usual.
And so Occupy Riverside, noting that Walmart, one of ALEC’s largest backers and a major anti-worker force worldwide, has its largest distribution center in beautiful, remote Mira Loma, called all Southern California Occupies to help shut the center down that day. And so, off we went.
It was a beautiful chilly morning at the foot of the mountain range, as over a hundred of us gathered before 6AM, from Riverside, San Bernardino, LA, Ventura, and the OC. As the morning went on, the crowd of protestors swelled to around 300, like the Spartans. By 7, as civilian traffic was being slowed down, the Riverside cops showed up, diverted traffic around a perimeter of several blocks, and – to a degree – prevented vehicles from entering or leaving. Later we realized that a result, and probably a goal, of this was to keep out the press.
Over the course of the day, we prevented perhaps 130-140 trucks from entering or leaving the perimeter, most of them doing Walmart business. We allowed some independent contractors to get through. UPS trucks we stopped, due to UPS’ hostile labor policies, and also the fact that we knew the drivers were paid by the hour so it didn’t hurt them. The drivers themselves were good-humored about the whole thing; they often parked their vehicle and got a smoke or a bite to eat. We set up a stage and sound system on one of the Walmart distribution center’s main driveways, and had a rock concert. A popular chant was “Ain’t no party like a shutdown party cuz a shutdown party don’t stop!” (I had to leave around this time, after getting a lot of signatures for the Millionaires’ Tax, so the rest is second-hand…)
Around 10:30, dozens of Riverside County Sheriffs and CHP officers showed up in force, in riot gear. Maybe twenty or thirty of each – on top of the Riverside cops who were already there. A helicopter had been passing back and forth over us for a while, trying to determine how many of us there were at which locations in the area, but it seems they underestimated our numbers, spread out as we were.
Once the sherrifs and CHP felt they were in sufficiently impressive array, they began to force the protestors to retreat, with mixed success. Although it was certainly a ridiculously excessive reaction to a peaceful protest, there are no great tales of brutality to relate, and there were only two arrests of insufficiently co-operative Occupiers. Here’s a taste of the thing. One
tense high point comes at 3:26, when one overly zealous cop trips, drops his gun, and both sides panic:
One smart-aleck commenter, purporting to be a Walmart-related warehouse worker in the area, chimed in with some useful input here. He taunts us that this was “one of the slowest volume seasons as far as distribution to pull off this ‘radical’ stunt.” That’s a useful point, something to bear in mind when we choose our next time to do this again, although I wonder if he’s the same guy who earlier told us, wrongly, that the distribution center is CLOSED on Wednesdays.
He laughs that we cost “a few multi-billion dollar corporations a few thousand dollars” – well, we do what we can, but it had to have been more like hundreds of thousands with all the trucks we stopped, and you can see in the video above how important the corporations thought the disruption was.
Finally he sneers that we were gone when he got off work at 4, which is true – by 2pm, having been there since before 6, successfully shut down business for the day, and tussled with the sheriffs, the Occupiers headed home.
And this is just the beginning, the green shoots, of what will be an OCCUPY SPRING, as the “Tea Party for Thinking People” comes out of partial winter hibernation and our ranks implacably swell. Much more here and here...
[Photos by Marselle Sloane and Mathew Southgate.]