Building a Black Nation, One Post at a Time


November 2011

The People vs. Big Business in the District

The relationship between the people and big business has always been adversarial, to say the least. In the District, the case is no different. Swarms of people who call themselves ‘the 99 percent’ gather in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza representing those who are unemployed and impoverished in the District and beyond. A small business owner who runs a small dry cleaner on 3rd St. and Missouri Ave. NW looks helplessly as his base of customers deteriorates. He fears an increase of taxes and abolition of what he has come to revere in the U.S. capitalistic society. All this happens while the Wal-Mart Corporation goes blow for blow with city leaders who oppose city wide construction of six stores in the District – two of them east of the Anacostia River.

On New Jersey Avenue Northwest, Wal-Mart will occupy the first floor of a mixed-use project featuring other shops and apartments. (source: The Washington Post)

Understanding the mechanics of the people vs. big business takes nothing more than looking at this specific case. Wal- Mart is a multinational corporation that runs 8,500 chains of large discount stores in 55 countries. It is the hugest retailer and private employer in the world with approximately 2 million employees, according to The Economist. Its operations specialize in nine retail formats including food and drugs, apparel, restaurants, and small merchandise.

Despite its success, critics have accused Wal-Mart of overshadowing small business and destroying the local economy. In additions, they have scrutinized employment practices levying accusations of egregious work hours,employee harassment, and low pay. In the makings of a true David vs. Goliath story, local groups stood in protest when news of the eventual construction broke. Union leaders like Thomas P. McNutt, president of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers did not believe Wal- Mart’s promise of healthy wages, calling them ‘wolves and sheep’s clothing,’ according to the Washington Post. Jobs with Justice, an organization that represents employees in working class neighborhoods, has organized protests with local unions in the last few months. Members of the city council as well as Mayor Gray have expressed “cautious optimism” for the plan, but support it more and more with the promise of 1,800 new jobs, fresh groceries in undeserved communities, and $15 million in annual sales tax.

Thomas P. McNutt, President of Local 400 of the UFCW Union

Recent developments in the negotiations between Wal-Mart and the city give even more reason as to why this may work in the favor of residents of the District. According to the five page summary of the agreement posted on the corporation’s website, Wal-Mart will seek small and minority-owned District businesses for construction of the chains and create job training programs in the most underemployed parts of the city. In a city with high unemployment, this is terribly essential to the cause. It also helps in advancing Mayor Gray’s campaign platform of uniting the city and increasing jobs for the impoverished – that group includes minorities, veterans, at -risk youth, and most importantly the formerly incarcerated. This means a lot for the local economy and crime in the city.

While the people and big business go head to head in Downtown DC, in other parts of the District, these two entities are making real progress. Unlike some other major cities, the District is seeing job growth in the private sector. This deal is an opportunity for job growth for working class Washingtonians, many of whom have roots in the District and want to stay here.

Perhaps this is the business model that more corporations should use in their dealings with the common people whom these protest groups have come to represent. On the other side of that coin, this is an even indication of what the “99 percenters” should ask for as they tighten their message and actually try to construct an actual list of demands.



The District of Columbia: President Obama’s Original Chess Piece

The District of Columbia, known to many in the city as ‘the last colony,’ does not have many things afforded to the 50 states, including budget autonomy. Mayor Vince Gray and the D.C. Council cannot pass a final city budget without congressional approval. In addition of having a sub par status, the District has doubled as a political chess piece for representatives in Congress and most especially President Obama. The road to autonomy and ultimately statehood has proven a long and treacherous one.

D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Mayor Vince Gray, Source: The DCist

When the federal government was in threat of shutdown in late 2010, no one suffered more than the residents of the District who feared a shutdown of their government in addition to the federal government’s. In May, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, pledged to fight for the District’s budget autonomy. A bill introduced by Issa on Wednesday would have given budget autonomy to the District and a step in the direction towards eventual statehood.  Local leaders rejected the bill that very same day and for good reason. Deep within the crevices of the bill was a measure that would extend a temporary ban on government funded abortions, making it a permanent fixture.

Kudos to Rep. Issa for his attempts to form a bipartisan coalition in the interests of the District. However, it is quite obvious that there are people involved who have their own interests in mind. It is quite understandable why it would lead to this. President Obama used the District as a chess piece in late 2010; a move that ultimately imposed the temporary ban on government funded abortions. He ultimately is to blame for a culture of political chess that has been a detriment to the D.C. statehood movement.The same culture that he crusaded against during his 2008 campaign.

If one rewinds the hands of time, they will see a different Obama. Then Senator Obama was the original

Obama and Fenty at Ben's Chili Bowl in 2008

co-sponsor of the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2007.  He toured  the District and ate chili dogs with then Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ben’s Chili Bowl. In April 2010, on Emancipation Day, he said that ‘the time is now’ for D.C. statehood because “although D.C. residents pay federal taxes and serve honorably in our armed services, they do not have a vote in Congress or full autonomy over local issues.”  He supported the D.C. statehood movement at the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial .

So why make the people of the District, his neighbors, sacrificial lambs in order to please his peers on the other side of the aisle. That is a sign of no conviction on the part of President Obama. This new bill shows promise given Rep. Issa’s willingness to cooperate and run pieces of the bill by Delegate Norton but no one must forget who originally facilitated this political chess game. As President Obama is on the campaign trail, what he put into effect has the potential to see permanent institution.

The people of the District will not forget that the president is a man of many inconsistencies. The rest of the country will not forget it either. Given the ‘reality show’ that is the GOP primaries, President Obama will most likely win by a close margin in 2012. That will not happen before he will answer for those inconsistencies. No one knows who President Obama is or what he stands for. If he does not let residents know, he could lose their trust. That is something for him to keep in mind as he goes into election mode. Now is time for him to make an appeal to the people of the District. It’s only three votes in the electoral colleges but now every vote counts, especially in these politically frustrating times.

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