Widgets Magazine

Students demonstrate for workers’ rights outside President Obama’s Wal-mart speech

Courtesy of Chris Lapena

Courtesy of Chris Lapena

On Friday, about 20 Stanford joined a group of 300 people demonstrating on various issues — centered mainly on worker wages and working conditions, as well as the growing income inequality in America — outside of the Mountain View Wal-Mart where President Obama was giving a private speech about climate change.

Students from several groups on campus, including First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), Pilipino American Student Union (PASU) and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), met at the Wal-Mart in the morning after getting in contact with organizers from the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a non-profit organization that had taken part in the demonstration.

“We were encouraging people to wear Stanford attire,” said Sammie Wills ‘16, who helped coordinate students for the event. “Usually in demonstrations it’s the same narrative with low-wage workers, and the public loses interest in hearing the same thing over and over again. As Stanford students, we should use our privilege to bring awareness to these issues.”

Despite the fact that the President’s exclusive speech was held inside the store, demonstrators marched through adjacent parking lots and around the blockaded Wal-Mart parking lot. The blockades prevented protesters from getting within shouting distance of the storefront or the President.

“Even if Obama didn’t directly talk to the protestors and demonstrators, it’s really valuable to make sure that the voice of Wal-Mart workers is reflected — for example in press coverage of the event — and reflected in the experience of the people that went to see Obama,” said Emma Hartung ‘17, a member of Stanford’s Student and Labor Alliance (SALA) who had attended the morning demonstration. “We must keep the message coming that people do care about these issues and that people will hold Obama accountable to his words about income equality.”

Demonstrators also criticized the President for choosing to highlight Wal-Mart as an example of corporations that emphasize sustainability and alternative energy. The President’s speech announced 300 public and private sector commitments to increase the use of alternative energies.

Some demonstrators suggested that Wal-Mart’s sustainability record was less than stellar. Ultimately, though, the protesters’ main aim was to stand with the workers of Wal-Mart.

“I wanted to help show solidarity for low-wage workers outside of the Stanford community,” Hartung said. “And I think it was a really good opportunity for us to show our support and solidarity for folks working to improve working conditions in the Bay Area and nationally.”

Wills said that she was pleased with the Stanford turnout and expected further Stanford involvement in the surrounding community.

“I sent out this email on Wednesday night, and it was amazing that we were able to gather that many people in that amount of time,” Wills said. “People always complain about the Stanford bubble but there’s always opportunities to go off campus … and there’s a diversity of low-income communities to get involved with. [Going to protest at Wal-Mart] is a great show of that and hopefully people build off of that momentum.”


Catherine Zaw contributed to this article.

Contact Andrew Vogeley at avogeley ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Andrew Vogeley

Andrew Vogeley ‘17 served as President and Editor-in-Chief of Volume 249. He is a senior majoring in political science and hails from the great state of Texas (and he’ll be sure to let you know it). Outside of The Daily, Andrew is President of RUF, a Christian fellowship group. To contact Andrew, email him at avogeley ‘at’ stanford.edu
  • Candid One

    Many media wonks covered this Walmart choice in the face of the chain’s workforce issues…myopia? Many protestors sang the same tune and maybe that was gamesmanship. For a lame duck POTUS to choose this specific location…in an area of protest likelihood, to highlight a energy conservation affirmation from nationwide employer with a nationwide brick-and-mortar presence…is being under-appreciated as a multifaceted photo opportunity. This event could’ve been scheduled elsewhere, and many critics ventured that it should’ve been scheduled elsewhere…but why? Really, this way twice as much was highlighted. Hopefully, the workers’ rights groups were secretly appreciative of this prime time windfall. This President has already been vocal in support for workers’ rights in many other venues.

  • Geax Card

    Students should be protesting the Bookstore, too. In November, in an action that stinks of age bias, many long term, full time employees were laid off. Follett Corp, the company who operates the Stanford Bookstore laid off over 600 full time, hourly employees (those who’ve earned benefits) and the Stanford group was part of that layoff. The company spokesman said it was to improve service to students. Previously, full time status was hard earned and it is safe to assume those who had full time status and benefits are older workers.
    Specifically, at the bookstore, over the past 18 months every female senior manager, over 45 years old and with at least 15 years experience, has been driven out or fired.
    The President won’t be pinning any medals on Follett, but this kind of blatant abuse deserves attention, too.

  • politics wonk

    President Obama was in Arkansas the day before. In our current money charged political atmosphere, it is likely that he picked up a nice check from a Walton representative and in exchange he highlighted their “green” efforts from silicon valley, where he was going to pick up more checks. Our government doesn’t happen, it’s built. It is for sale. The cashier in chief was making it rain.