Hitting a Wal

walmart vest 0320So far, my at-home time has not been productive. That was one of the points, to try to get my life sorted out and organized, a task that ought not to take any more than 20 years — 25, tops. But I did, late yesterday afternoon, open up the smallest box I could find, the one my hiking boots (two pairs ago) came in, and make some progress. Sort of.

The box is still here, now moved from one room to another, still filled with paper, but now it has an actual function: it’s holding pages for re-use. I re-use a lot of paper, generally much more at work than home, but this will (eventually) get used, and it gives me the illusion that I am saving the planet, one sheet of paper at a time.

Yesterday’s project produced easily a full ream of reusable paper. A ream is 500 sheets, and I feel confident, without counting (although you know I’d like to) the paper left in the box, that there is easily a ream. And all of it saved from the mid-2000s, when much of my energy and effort was devoted to my activist group.

Without even knowing the contents of these pages, you are all wondering why I saved any of it, and the answer is: I don’t know. Because I’ve never met a piece of paper I didn’t want to save. Because, as a student of history, I know that what we gain comes from the people who saved things — diaries, letters, newspapers, etc. Because these were projects that took up a lot of my time and I like to show my work, even if it’s only to myself.

Even yesterday, as I was setting papers with a printable side in one pile and those without in the recycling piles, I heard this niggling voice in the back of my head: what if the city loses all its documentation and might need my copies? It’s hard to be a hero if you’re not prepared.

But what it came down to was: for all our fuss and effort, global circumstances way beyond local control changed everything, and the issue that loomed so large is no longer particularly relevant, especially at this very minute of time. And so I parted, at last and sort of, with my papers.

My activist group formed in the wake of a citizen meeting to discuss the recall of some unremembered number of city councilors. Walmart, already in town, announced it was thinking of super-sizing, an announcement that brought more than 80 people to a city council meeting. Instead of respecting, listening to and addressing the citizenry, one council member referred to everyone present, regardless of opinion, as “an unruly mob.”

This overt disregard for the public process and his constituency (I don’t think he was alone, but I really can’t remember how many went under consideration for recall) prompted the recall discussion. Having witnessed, at the newspaper, an extremely bruising school board recall campaign, I was not in favor of recall, but I did go to the meeting.

The recall never gained traction, but that first meeting did inspire a fair number of citizens to coalesce and start talking about community values. That group in turn thinned itself out to become an activist group, the Gunnison Valley Community Alliance, and we collectively attended tons of public meetings and turned our attention to several issues, including health care (we got precisely nowhere), city and county planning issues, and big-box retail. We did work very diligently on that issue and helped craft a set of design standards that any commercial building over 50,000 square feet needs to meet.

But Walmart never pursued any expansion plans, either in place or in a new, bigger building. Shortly after all this work — and paper — from our group and the city, the national economy crashed and burned, and Walmart rethought some of its approach, moving to smaller neighborhood stores/groceries/they had some specific term. It’s also entirely possible they took a harder look at Gunnison and determined there was no percentage in going bigger.

In turn, Walmart then had to focus on a rising newcomer, Amazon, a company beating Walmart at its own “low prices” game and further leveraging that by not charging customers sales tax, as Walmart had to do. In the long run, I find myself siding more with Walmart, which at least has a local presence and offers jobs to county residents. I even shop there occasionally, although I’d still prefer to spend my dollars at stores owned by locals. (And, when in Montrose, Target, because I’m as big a hypocrite as anyone.)

Now the economy is crashing again, and the numbers coming out this morning are scary. An economist with the St. Louis Fed is predicting the loss of 47 million jobs. By June. That’s one-third of the country’s workforce. One in three.

Jill Schlesinger rode to my rescue, sort of. She’s the business analyst for CBS, and back when the Denver Post was a real paper not owned by a hedge fund that doesn’t give a crap about journalism, I read her column every Sunday in the business section.

She called the St. Louis Fed “curmudgeonly” and said they often take the worst-case outlook, noting many other economists are predicting a peak somewhere between 10 and 14 percent unemployment. Well, that’s certainly a relief!

But Ms. Schlesinger was not a bundle of cheer (as if 14 percent sounds cheery) regarding retail in general: she noted that 9,300 retail stores closed last year, “and that was when the economy was good.”

Her advice this morning to the thousands laid off yesterday by Macy’s, Kohl’s and The Gap was to get out and look for work, even as they’re filing for unemployment and hoping to get hired back on. There are retail jobs out there: they belong to Amazon and dollar stores. And Walmart.

Good thing I flipped over my reams of anti-Walmart information yesterday; it may not be too many months before you find me in a blue vest, once again actively focused on the big-box retailer.

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