Leaders of the anti-Wal-Mart movement swept through Ohio last week, bringing with them a new and improved version of a long-held thesis: Wal-Mart is the devil. Or at least it's where the devil buys his cat food.
Of course, people have been crusading against America's largest retailer for years, trying to convince consumers that its mammoth profits and low wages are a drain on the towns it inhabits.
But WakeUpWalMart.com's 35-day, 35-city bus tour -- which started in New York and will end in Seattle -- is taking that effort a step further. Judging by last week's stop at Lorain Community College, the campaign wants to make hating Wal-Mart . . . cool.
Funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, the campaign is manned by spunky young activists plucked from the staffs of Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, and moveon.org. The group parked its sleek bus at LCC last Monday and ushered visitors into a conference room, the Black Eyed Peas blaring from a boom box in the corner. It then hit an audience of 40 or so with a quick multimedia presentation on the evils of Wal-Mart and encouraged people to join the movement to "Change Wal-Mart, Change America."
In the words of MoveOn.org's Ben Brandzel, they finally have "a package that's sexy, that sells, that tells the story. And Wal-Mart's panicking. Now they're fighting back."
The company has responded with paidcritics.com, which sings the retailer's virtues and criticizes the Wakeup campaign.
But Wakeup's Chris Kofinis isn't concerned. His campaign will reach out to college students to make Wal-Mart-hating trendy on U.S. campuses, the same way corporate giants like Nike and the Gap were targeted.
"This is going to be the next Nike," Kofinis says.