by Amanda Witherell
This week Wal-Mart cranked up the PR knob with a new bout of ads touting the company's social worth with the gloss of a dirty politician trying to spin some positive image. According to The New York Times the spots make a point of the $2,300 an average family saves shopping at Wal-Mart and paint Sam Walton as a red-knuckled entrepreneur of yesteryear.
Unfortunately, that image in no way resembles the $312.4 billion, Fortune 500 corporation of today.
Wal-Mart is trying to combat a rising tide of criticism inspired by antagonism by anti-sprawl localities, the release of Robert Greenwald's damning documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and a national bus tour, "Change Wal-Mart, Change America." Put on by the DC-based, and also politically savvy group, Wale-Up Wal-Mart, the tour presents a DVD and PowerPoint presentation to 35 communities they're visiting during the month of August, with an awe-inspiring breakdown of statistics, like Wal-Mart's CEO H. Lee Scott pulls a salary 871 times one of his average workers. A blue-smocked associate would have to work 1,000 years to make what Scott banked in 2004.
Wal-Mart has contracted with the PR firm Edelman to deliver the goody-two-shoes look, and staff includes former presidential advisers Michael K. Deaver (Ronald Reagan) and Leslie Dach (Bill Clinton). Wake-Up Wal-Mart has Paul Blank (Howard Dean), and his grassroots bus tour has managed to catch the attention of stumping Democrats who want to ally themselves with a disconsolate middle class. 2008 Presidential possibility Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Sen. John Edwards, Connecticut foes Joe Liebermen and Ned Lamont, as well as California governator hopeful Phil Angelides have all appeared at anti-Wal-Mart rallies sponsored by Wake-Up Wal-Mart. Even Sen. Hillary Clinton, who once upon a time served on the megacorporation's Board, returned a $5000 campaign contribution in protest of the company's inadequate health care benefits.
"Change is going to happen in two ways," Paul Blank from Wake-Up Wal-Mart told the Guardian at their bus stop with Angelides in the Mission last Monday. "Building a public movement, which is what this bus tour is about, and elected leaders responding to that public pressure. Americans are hungry for change."
Wal-Mart is being attacked for issues like fair wages and affordable health care, standard campaign protocal, and they're using the tools of a typical stumper to dispel the bad press. As Blank's campaign points out, America and Wal-Mart are as integral as Siamese twins, and what better way to reach the voting masses than through the country's diehard capitalism? "Americans care more about their brand of toothpaste than their congressmen," Adam Werbach, a former Sierra Club president turned Wal-Mart consultant said in a recent interview with the Guardian. Maybe the newly-greened giant will endorse the Green Party ticket?