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140 congregations show Wal-Mart film

Many Unitarian Universalists join national economic justice campaign against retailer.
By Donald E. Skinner

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Wal-Mart movie

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Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community and many Unitarian Universalist congregations have joined in a national economic justice campaign against Wal-Mart, using the new documentary film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price as leverage.

Filmmaker Robert Greenwald says the documentary demonstrates that the giant retailer uses its market power to impoverish workers, force some of the costs of doing business onto communities, and put local merchants out of business.

More than 140 UU congregations signed up with UUJEC, an independent advocacy organization, to show the film, starting when it was released a week ago. Many planned to follow the screening with actions against the retailer that include leafleting customers the day after Thanksgiving and lobbying state legislators to require Wal-Mart to provide affordable health care to its employees.

Wal-Mart is not standing idly by while all of this is going on. The corporation has developed a counter offensive, hiring former advisors to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and John Kerry, and has created what the New York Times has called a “war room” at its headquarters in Arkansas to counter the protests or even neutralize them before they occur.

About 50 people gathered Nov. 13 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northwest Tucson, Ariz., for a showing of the film. “We’ve never had such a big turnout,” said Vincent Pawlowski, cochair of the social action committee. “We had a lot of spirited discussion after the film and we’re very excited.” A local TV station showed up to interview him.

One hundred and sixty people came to the UU Congregation of Miami, Fla., where the Rev. Lucy Hitchcock Seck was part of a post-film panel discussion that also included a rabbi and representatives of the National Organization of Women and Jobs for Justice. “It was amazing,” said Hitchcock Seck. “People seemed very engaged in the movie and affected by it. We’re deciding now how to follow this up.”

A number of ministers, including Hitchcock Seck, have also delivered sermons about Wal-Mart.

About 350 people turned out for the film at First Unitarian Church of Portland, Ore., on Nov. 13, where Kate Lore, director of social justice, led a discussion that was covered by the news media.

“Why would 350 community members come to our church for this movie?” asked Lore. “Because they understood that there were deep moral implications in the way Wal-Mart is doing business. Left unchecked, Wal-Mart will continue to squash local businesses, oppress their workers, and subsidize themselves with city funds that would ordinarily be going to schools, parks, and other essential services. The time has come to reclaim healthy business practices that enrich--rather than destroy--our communities. It was an honor to host this film.”

Participation in the campaign has been “incredible,” said Betsy Allis, cochair of the UUJEC campaign. “We had a goal of 100 participating churches and we got 140. In several places more than 300 people showed up for screenings. UUs are really engaging in this issue and there’s also a real movement beyond the UU community. Our participation is helping to build our identity as a denomination that speaks out.”

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