Somerville, MA. We'll Take Wal-Mart's money, but we don't want your store
Wal-Mart announced roughly five months ago that it was withdrawing its proposal to build a store in the Assembly Square neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts, a Boston metro area community. Their proposal ran into strong community and political opposition. But the giant retailer clearly wanted to keep its options open, and maintain a good relationship with city officials. But this week, the company learned that elected officials in Somerville are not keen to have a Wal-Mart at all.
The Somerville Patch reports that Wal-Mart State Giving Council had awarded $25,000 t the Somerville Arts Council. In every state, the Wal-Mart Foundation has a State Advisory Council, made up of Wal-Mart employees, who review applications for financial grants. The $25,000 grant to Somerville is the lowest end of philanthropy offered by Wal-Mart, with grants up to $250,000. Wal-Mart says its giving is targeted to "underserved populations who need help."
But Aldermen in Somerville, who have to accept or reject the grant, were apparently concerned that if they took the Foundation's money, it would create the appearance that the city would look more favorably on any future Wal-Mart project in the city. So several Aldermen went on record stating their continued disaffection for Wal-Mart.
"I never want to say no to a grant or a gift, and I'm prepared to support this,"Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz told The Patch, "however, I feel we should make a statement there would be no reciprocation here. It is a big sum of money. Wal-Mart has tried to come to Somerville in the past. The issue of Wal-Mart coming is one that concerns me greatly and one that concerns members of the community,"
Another Alderman, William White, made it clear his vote was not for sale. "It does not indicate in any way, shape or form that any gift that goes into the city treasury, that goes to a worthwhile cause, is designed to any way grease the skids or result in any type of reward or favorable action."
Alderman Tony LaFuente was the most outspoken on the issue: "I'm not a big fan of Wal-Mart ... I'm glad they're not in Somerville, and I hope they never come to Somerville, but I'll certainly, gladly take their money."
What you can do: The Wal-Mart Foundation says its commitment is "to operating globally and giving back locally." The Foundation's key areas of focus are Hunger Relief & Nutrition, Education, Environmental Sustainability, Women's Economic Empowerment and Workforce Development. In its last fiscal year, which ran from February 1, 2011 to January 1, 2012, the Wal-Mart Foundation says its gave more than $958 million in cash and in-kind contributions, "and we did it one grant and one community at a time." This is because Wal-Mart has to apply to build its stores one community at time, so their donations are just a business-related expense.
Readers are urged to email Thomas Taylor, the President of the Somerville Board of Alderman at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear President Taylor,
How refreshing to see several Aldermen distance themselves from a Wal-Mart store, to make it clear that accepting Wal-Mart Foundation money for your Arts Council does not imply any favoritism for a future Wal-Mart store.
Wal-Mart has a long traditon of giving money to communities it is politically wooing, in hopes of gaining favorable treatment in zoning cases. But Wal-Mart's money does not change the fact that their Assembly Square proposal was the wrong size and the wrong place for Somerville.
So, yes, take their money, which was earned through exploitation of workers, vendors and communities, and put it to better use than they could. But keep your resolve to keep their stores out of Somerville.
This is not a company the city needs, and not one that will bring jobs or growth to Somerville."