Wal-Mart’s Persona in Trouble

I grew up in the Soviet Union. I know what propaganda looks like.

It’s no secret that the style and format of National Public Radio (NPR) doesn’t really get our blood boiling. Despite the BBC-like, at times superb journalism, that I rely on more than any other station, everything about NPR -- their style of reporting, their editorial judgment, their music -- is very safe, predictable, bland, and too often nauseatingly boring.

But lately, NPR has been disturbing me, getting my blood boiling, making me talk to my friends about it.

Like thousands of other listeners, I still can’t get used to hearing Wal-Mart ads on NPR.

"Wal-Mart, committed to providing its associates a variety of career paths, training resources and advancement opportunities."

Is that right? When the world's largest retailer is paying most of its workers less than $19,000 a year, forcing them to resort to taxpayer-funded food stamps and Medicaid, it just doesn’t add up.

Wal-Mart has been too arrogant to care about its public image and it shows. Their PR folks are stale, writing an ad for NPR as if it’s a business trade publication.

I never thought that American radio would ever remind me of the Soviet Union. But when I hear Wal-Mart ads all I can see is the ultimate symbol of Soviet propaganda -- Leonid Brezhnev.

This self-aggrandizing, former Soviet president awarded himself several medals for what he believed was a community service. Just like Wal-Mart, he surrounded himself with loyal advisors, refused interviews, didn’t engage with the public and thought of his economic policies as superior.

When people listened to his speeches, the responses varied from rage to laughter. Most of us laughed at how disconnected these friendly talks were from our lives. And just like me today, my parents seemed amused every time they heard Brezhnev. They’d raise their hands, smile, shake their head and proclaim for the hundredth time: “Circus!”

I’ll also never forget the collective disillusionment and complacency. I didn’t think back then that change was possible. But I saw these loosely-connected people around me that passed around illegal tapes and brochures and talked to other people every day about what they could do to help bring about change. In 1989, the Soviet dictatorship collapsed.

Last week, I met students that were working on a campaign to get their schools and universities to stop buying supplies from Wal-Mart. Their determination, energy and hope reminded me of those starry-eyed Russian friends working for change in the Soviet Union. And it gives me hope.

Wake Up Wal-Mart is looking for volunteers.

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