Stephanie Miller of Current TV recently started a fund to collect money for the Salvation Army. Then after collecting some funds, she dropped her request stating that the Salvation Army may be anti-gay. She quickly apologized for the mistake. And she located another organization to support to help those in need. While the Salvation Army’s web site does not contain any reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation, nonetheless, Miller stated that she could not accept funds for and support an organization that she believes speaks to LGBT intolerance.
By way of contrast, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are on a poverty tour crusade to speak out against the Obama Administration and in support of poor people’s rights. On the one hand, their actions might seem admirable. Many people seem to have forgotten to advocate for the least among us. There’s a lot of talk about the middle class but the word “poor” is rarely used. But here’s where the issue goes back to Stephanie Miller. The Tavis Smiley show is sponsored by Walmart, of all companies. And while Smiley and West have gone on poverty tours to bring attention to poverty and poor people, Walmart, by its own policies, is helping to cause poverty among its workers. Walmart assists poverty by paying substandard wages to its employees, paying little or no benefits including health benefits, decreasing hours to avoid paying benefits and working long hours on holidays. This past Thanksgiving, as if Black Friday was not early enough to start holiday sales, Walmart started with workers and stores opening at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day—barely giving employees enough time to digest their turkey dinner.
Apparently, Tavis Smiley fails to see the hypocrisy in taking money from Walmart as a sponsor of the Tavis Smiley show while allegedly supporting and crusading for poor people. According to the Nation, “Walmart is one of the biggest recipients of government subsidies, receiving tax breaks, free land, cash grants and other forms of public assistance, in addition to paying some of its workers so little that they also turn to the federal government for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).”
Meanwhile Walmart’s response to the Thanksgiving protest was not to meet and discuss the workers’ concerns. Instead, acting like the corporate giant ruling over its workers, in response, “Walmart has filed a National Labor Relations Board charge alleging that the pickets are illegal and asking for a judge to shut them down, while simultaneously claiming the strike involves only a “handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these…made for-TV events.”
Occupy Wall Street showed support for the Occupy Walmart and recent Thanksgiving strikes. And with some stores already saying that they will open for Christmas day, it will be interesting to see if Walmart also follows by opening even earlier while Santa is still delivering gifts.
Those who call themselves activists like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West need a little more integrity. They need to end their beloved association with Walmart while reportedly campaigning for poor people and against poverty. The two do not go together. It’s worse than mixing oil and water. The other alternative is to take Walmart’s money but give up saying you support poor people.