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Walmart protests shine light on Black Friday

Stephon Johnson | 12/5/2013, 2:09 p.m.

Knowing that many Americans will make their Black Friday pilgrimage to Walmart, the company’s employees and community supporters held protests across the nation demanding a living wage and better benefits.

Over 1,500 protests were held against the company, expressing outrage that Walmart pays workers poverty-level wages while basking in $17 billion in profits. Protesters want Walmart to commit to paying employees at least $25,000 a year and to provide more full-time work. In major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Sacramento, Miami and Washington, D.C., protesters risked arrest as they shouted for justice on the biggest shopping day of the year. Emboldened by revelations that 825,000 workers make less than $25,000 while the Walton family’s wealth equals over $144 billion, workers like Dorothy Halvorson, from Placerville, Calif., said she refuses to “live in fear” of any repercussions.

“That’s why there have been so many strikes and protests this month,” said Halvorson in a statement. “We know that we are closer to change at Walmart than ever before—and it’s clear that Walmart knows it too. We won’t stop protesting until we get change. This Black Friday is historic, and we will only grow stronger from here.”

And while the protesters might have not been afraid of repercussions, law enforcement rounded up dozens in arrests across the country. In St. Paul, Minn., 26 workers and allies were arrested practicing nonviolent civil disobedience as nearly 1,000 marched, calling on Walmart, other corporations and state legislators to end poverty wages in Minnesota. Fifteen protesters were arrested at a Walmart in Sacramento, Calif., and 13 protesters, including recently fired Walmart employees, were arrested in Secaucus, N.J.

Before a protest at a Walmart in Chicago, Myron Byrd, a 45-year-old father of three who makes $20,000 working full-time, said he was “prepared to get arrested today for everyone who can’t stand up for themselves.”

“I’ve never done civil disobedience before, but I know what it is,” continued Byrd in his statement. “My mother participated in the Civil Rights Movement and always told me that if I saw something wrong, it was our job to change it. And that’s exactly what thousands of us are doing today—calling for change at Walmart and standing up for fair pay and better jobs.”

Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson echoed similar sentiments in a statement of his own.

“The civil disobedience by Walmart workers and supporters across the country is a testament to the immense courage of these workers fighting for dignity, respect and a decent wage—the same things that working people have marched and rallied for in this country for decades,” said Jackson. “The Civil Rights Movement of the past called for workers to be free and equal.”

November wasn’t a good month for Walmart. Early on, a photo from a store in Canton, Ohio, went viral, making its way onto cable news outlets as it pointed out food drives being conducted for employees for Thanksgiving.

At the tail end of the month, as the AmNews reported, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision stating that Walmart had violated workers’ rights around the country and that it would prosecute the retailer for illegal firings and disciplinary actions involving more than 117 workers, including those who went on strike last June.