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David Alpert and Matt Yglesias have noticed that the Respect DC group’s list of demands includes some strange contradictions: Both confined hours of operation (which would reduce the number of hours available to employees) and labor benefits like a living wage, for example. Also, a minimum amount of free parking—which tends to encourage driving—as well as accommodation for bikes and pedestrians. The underlying question: Is there any coherent philosophy here?
The answer is not really—but necessarily so. The Respect DC coalition is full of different interest groups with various priorities, and they know that nobody will listen if they just yell about what they want. The consensus document, then, tries to please everybody all at once. Residents closest to the proposed locations don’t necessarily care about maximum employment opportunities, but some have expressed concerns about 24-hour activity near their homes. Environmental types might not be happy about oceans of parking, but they’re willing to ask that it be free (which Walmart would do anyway) as long as alternative modes of transportation are provided for. It’s the classic big tent coalition—just like David Alpert is trying to put together with Greater Greater Washington.
For the Walmart organizers, it’s not an easy tent to prop up. Those who say “we’re not anti-Walmart, we’re just trying to get them to agree to our conditions” are challenged constantly by the people who want no Walmart, no way. Thus, it would be nice to have Ward 4 ANC Commissioner Brenda Speaks‘ support, but giving her a mic is a really bad idea, because it muddies up the message. To keep the anti-Walmart-at-all-costs people satisfied, Respect DC’s lawn signs have an optional “or STAY OUT” sticker that people can append if they are so moved. The whole exercise is an attempt to keep people feeling like their concerns are represented, while presenting a front of reasonableness to the world.
Activism is easy—organizing is hard.