GrassrootsDC’s Living Wage Bill “Mixtape”

LRAA Petition Drop Off c/o the AFL-CIODespite the drop-off of over 30,000 petitions from DC residents urging the Mayor to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act (pictured left), and a recent poll showing that a majority of residents support the LRAA, the Mayor used his pen to veto the bill. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, a vocal supporter of the bill, has rallied 8 votes in favor, but will need one more to override the Mayor’s veto. This override vote is scheduled as part of tomorrow’s legislative session, which will take place at the Wilson Building or available live online.

Meanwhile, what about those most affected by the living wage bill? GrassrootsDC’s Noelle Galos brings you this mixtape of DC residents, retail employees and organizers on what the LRAA means to them and how they feel about Wal-Mart’s presence in the District:

Mixed with Head Roc’s 2012 track “Keep DC Walmart Free,” these are the voices of:

Rev. Virginia Williams (native Washingtonian, Ward 7 resident)
Kimberly Mitchell (Macy’s employee, lifelong DC resident)
Tonya C. (former Wal-Mart employee, fired from a Laural, MD location)
Cindy Murray (13 year Wal-Mart associate at Hyattsville, MD store),
Mike Wilson (organizer with RespectDC)
Inocencio Quinones (Ward 7 resident & organizer with OurDC)

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this mixtape, including all the speakers listed above, Head Roc for the musical element, and the organizers that live-streamed a Wal-Mart protest from a Hyattsville, MD location on September 5th, 2013.

Audio download available (.mp3): Living Wage Bill Mixtape. Please share freely!

DC mayor vetoes living wage ordinance

Today, Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the controversial Large Retailer Accountability Act. The bill would have required retail stores with more than 75,000 square feet and whose parent company makes more than $1 billion annually, to pay workers a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour. FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports.

Wal-Mart workers protesting in North CarolinaCiting the negative impact on DC’s economy, including an alleged 4,000 lost jobs if Wal-Mart carried through on threats to halt construction of three stores, Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the LRAA. Gray said it was “not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the District’s workforce.” But living wage advocates argue large corporations like Wal-Mart are best able to afford the payroll increase. Cindy Murray, a 13-year Wal-Mart employee, spoke out in favor of the proposed law at a town hall last month.

“If you look at the wages today, $12.50 is nothing. They could do that without passing it onto the consumers, and I want them to stop saying they need to pass it onto the consumer. What is wrong with taking it out of their profit? Because they can still make billions, even after paying us a decent wage.”

Next Tuesday, the City Council has scheduled an override vote with the hopes that they can sway one more council member to get to a veto-proof majority. Wal-Mart said today it would resume construction on the three stores only if the bill fails.  Similar measures in Chicago and New York in years past were not able to successfully override Mayoral vetoes. Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Listen or download audio here.

Wal-Mart workers protest retaliation across United States

Today, Wal-Mart workers in 15 cities across the US are gathering to protest low wages, poor working conditions, and alleged retaliation by the company against workers who participated in federally-protected strikes.  FSRN’s Noelle Galos reports from Washington, DC.

Walmart protest sign in Chicago courtesy of @changewalmart

Walmart protest sign in Chicago courtesy of @changewalmart

Wal-Mart employees began walking off the job in protest last year, culminating in a Black Friday action that drew thousands of workers and their supporters.  But organizers say the multi-national company has retaliated.

Former Wal-Mark associate Tonya C., who asked that her last name be withheld because of an unrelated legal matter, was fired from her position at a Laurel, Maryland location.

“They retaliated against me and fired me illegally, to keep me from speaking and telling stories.”

To date, Wal-Mart has denied that it behaved inappropriately.

In June, Wal-Mart workers gathered at the company headquarters in DC.  Protesters carried more than 180,000 petitions, but were blocked from entering the building, leading to a sit-in and the arrest of 10 people.

Organizers with OUR Wal-Mart are billing today’s national action as the largest since Black Friday.  They say police arrested three workers in New York City this morning.  Noelle Galos, FSRN, Washington, DC.

Listen to or download audio file here.

July/August News Compilation

Communities United for Immigrant Rights,” (8/19/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

Unity March Event OrganizersOn August 17, a coalition of organizations held a unity rally for immigrant rights in front of the White House, calling for Congress to act on immigration reform and put an end to deportations. Organizers of the rally included WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), DMV LOLA (Latinas Organized for Leadership and Advocacy), and NAPAWF-DC (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum), joined by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Speakers at the event discussed the misrepresentation of immigrant rights as an exclusively “Latino issue,” instead demonstrating that the movement for immigrant rights is part of the movements for women’s rights, workers’ rights, and human rights. A running theme of the rally was that whether we like it or not, the hijacking of immigration reform at the national level has devastating consequences for all our families, economies, and communities

“Mayor Gray Must Understand, Our Language is Our Right,” (7/27/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

Washington, DC – On July 22, 2013 Mayor Vincent Gray, along with a handful of aides and scores of reporters, paid a visit to Petworth with the intention of cracking down on synthetic marijuana and drug paraphernalia being sold at small businesses in the neighborhood. “That’s illegal, man. Can’t do that. That’s drug paraphernalia,” warned the Mayor. This isn’t the first time that Mayor Gray has posed as a law enforcement official in order to bust local shops, in his effort with the group Advocates for Drug-free Youth.

DC Government-Issued The visit took an unexpected turn, however, when Gray encountered an Ethiopian clerk who had trouble understanding English. “You don’t understand? How do you sell anything if you don’t understand? If somebody asks you for something, do you know what they’re asking you for?” Mayor Gray chided. At one point, visibly frustrated by the language barrier, the Mayor told the clerk “I don’t even, I really don’t know how you are working here if you can’t communicate with the people who come in here.” Despite criticism from NBC4 reporter Mark Segrave, the Mayor denied that his remarks could be considered insensitive and said that the language barrier was “irrelevant.”

“A Lesson in Systemic Racism, Part II: ALEC, School Closures, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” (7/23/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

The previous post, entitled “A Lesson in Systematic Racism: Stand Your Ground, the NRA, and the American Legislative Council (ALEC),” examined the connection between the untimely death of Trayvon Martin and the powerful lobbying groups that made laws like “Stand Your Ground” possible. This post expands on the previous one by highlighting ALEC’s connection to school closures and the privatization of education.

That’s How You Win Campaigns: What DC’s Progressive Community Did Right in the Final Legislative Session of 2013,” (7/15/2013 // GrassrootsDC.org)

walmart-400x281Last week, the District’s most vulnerable residents organized to win two major victories in the City Council: the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require big box stores to pay their employees a living wage, and which effectively prevented the expansion of six Walmart stores within the District; and the Driver Safety Amendment Act (DSAA), which grants the City’s 25,000 undocumented residents the ability to obtain a driver’s license without a mark indicating their undocumented status.

On (Re)Constructed Discourse, KONY2012 and DC as Activist Playground

A week or so ago, my 13 year old cousin posted a bizarre looking link on my Facebook wall.  At the time I had no idea what “KONY2012” referred to and I shrugged it off as spam or a pesky virus.  A day or so later, I realized my ignorance: This Kony business was everywhere.  But in no time at all, commentary on my wall went from guilt-inducing command (“you must watch this!”) to more critical extrospection (“should we watch this?”).

From a sociolinguistic POV, much of the debate centers around issues of voice, authorship, and representation, showing that it’s not about what is being communicated, but who is doing the communicating in the first place.  Invisible Children, the organization behind the 30-minute documentary, gave instructions for viewers to support the cause by spreading the video and donating to the organization.  This strategy is by no means groundbreaking:  advocacy organizations and campaigns have quickly tapped into the affordances of a web3.0 world with virtual engagement strategies (like us, retweet this, sign on if you support… the list goes on. But the explosiveness of the Kony2012 campaign raised concerns about the limitations of mere awareness, and more importantly, the fallacious thinking behind slogans like “speaking for the voiceless.”

Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist and longtime activist uploaded Youtube video with a powerful message, saying: “If you’re showing me as voiceless, as hopeless, you have no space telling my story, you shouldn’t be telling my story.”

In one of her many best-selling books, Professor Deborah Tannen argued that what linguists had long termed reported speech was a misnomer, replacing it with the idea of constructed dialogue.  Why constructed dialogue?  She argued (quite successfully, I might add) that when we repeat someone else’s speech, it can never be quite as it was and will be shaped by the lens of our own experience.  Something like Geertz’s issues with the practice of using manuscripts to report the happenings of another place, the copy of a copy of a copy erodes the original.

Onion Parody of the White Savior Complex

Ms. Kagumire goes on to say that the video campaign simplifies the narrative of Africa and waters down the complex socio-political situation in Uganda for Western consumption.  Journalist Teju Cole doubles down, saying that tactics like those of KONY2012 and other activism are fueled by the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”  Because it is motivated by white guilt (as a consequence of privilege), he says that activism (especially on the African continent) tends to serve activists’ emotional needs  themselves more than the cause(s) they support.

I haven’t been to Uganda, or anywhere in Africa for that matter, and this post isn’t meant to be a history lesson.  My interest lies in the discourse surrounding KONY2012 and its implications.  Even here in DC.  Much in the way that “Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism” where any person can become a “savior,” DC is treated as a loca-national activist playground, according to the Washington Peace Center.  In their “Principles of Organizing in DC” they make the case that transient national groups use the symbol of DC as a soapbox for issues that are oftentimes already being advocated on a local DC level.  Thus the Principles document is meant to serve a guide for out-of-town activist groups, a blueprint for how to “support important and inspirational national protests while also empowering DC communities in order to strengthen and unify our movement as a whole.”

So what does this have to do with constructed dialogue?  In my mind, Tannen’s concept could be expanded to more than reported speech, perhaps to (re)constructed discourse.  The KONY2012 video is as much a (re)constructed discourse about the plight of Uganda, watering down it’s complexity for the consumption of White Western eyes.  The appropriation of DC as a sociopolitical playground serves as an analogous example. In these cases, local struggles are reformed into national or international issues, thereby downplaying local efforts to organize around issues resulting from colonization and globalization. This happens through the reconstruction of narrative discourse, either through online media campaigns (such as the KONY2012 video), or the spectacle of protest in the Nation’s Capital.  The language used to tell these stories reconstructs the discourses of others for a new audience, to the benefit of (inter)national organizers.  Thus, we might speak of (re)constructed narrative or (re)constructed discourse as necessary vocabulary for linguists in the postcolonial milieu.