I joined nearly 200 members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), a worker organization of current and former associates, in Bentonville, Ark. for an intense week before Walmart’s shareholder meeting, earlier this month.
These workers walked off their jobs on an unfair labor practice strike and were there to tell executives they demanded an end to the retaliation against workers who speak out for respect at work, better pay and safer working conditions.
Now, the dust has settled, and I had the chance to reflect on the week this afternoon.
On Sunday, June 2, many of us went to worship. They had all arrived in Walmart’s famous hometown earlier that weekend (although, one group of tired sojourners arrived at 4 a.m. on Sunday). These OUR Walmart members had just spent the week traveling in caravans across the country, and some were seriously seeking a little nourishment from the Spirit. We led groups to various worship services in the area. IWJ’s Director of Organizing, Sung Yeon Choi-Morrow, and I accompanied three workers to the Bentonville Church of Christ (my first Church of Christ experience, I might add).
After encountering Christ in a whole new way, we returned and prepared for the week of action. Read about one highlight of the week of action here.
Workers organized store visits and talked to residents. They planned and led a prayer vigil outside Sam Walton’s original store. They prayed for both the Walton family and the families of struggling Walmart workers across the country. They visited the Crystal Bridges Museum, which is funded by Alice Walton and the wealthiest privately-funded museum, and reflected solemnly on the contrast between the extravagant treasures inside and the poverty many associates face each day.
OUR Walmart members and organizers from the Making Change at Walmart campaign anticipated the week of action would draw attention to Walmart’s labor practices before their annual shareholder meeting. IWJ’s Executive Director, Kim Bobo, bought five Walmart shares so she could attend that meeting.
Read an account of the event here.
All across the country, people of faith joined them at local Walmart stores at solidarity actions, prayer vigils and letter deliveries to store managers. Nearly 50 supporters committed to action!
On the ground, I spent hours and hours talking with workers and planning ways to connect people of faith to their powerful work. Many workers told me distinctly their God, their Creator, their Spirit called them to their inspiring leadership in a movement that is truly worker-led. I felt blessed to join them for the week and will continue to pray with and work with OUR Walmart members and leaders to remind Walmart execs and store managers of the dignity of work that all faith traditions affirm.
We’ll need supporters like YOU to join us in prayer and action this year, especially on Black Friday in November. Click here to join IWJ’s Walmart action team.