Want to help fight citizens protecting their homes and neighborhoods? Want to help force huge superstores into tiny communities? Want to overwhelm your neighbors with traffic and crime? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then the Wal-Mart Customer Action Network (CAN) is for you. You can win valuable prizes, like a $200 Wal-Mart gift card, just by convincing your friends to join CAN. Based on a model they have been using for several years in California, Wal-Mart has set up the New England Customer Action Network, “a program designed to keep customers informed and involved regarding issues that affect Wal-Mart and its ability to save people money so they can live better. As a member, you will receive updates regarding important issues along with ways you can help!” Wal-Mart says that CAN is a program “to keep customers informed about government issues that affect Wal-Mart and its ability to provide good value for your shopping dollar.” Wal-Mart’s CAN is not just a group designed to battle with grassroots neighbors — it’s also aimed at government officials. “When government tries to limit your shopping choices, or interfere in Wal-Mart’s ability to offer Everyday Low Prices, Customer Action Network members can help by expressing their opinion,” the company’s website says. “CAN members can get involved in a variety of ways. Opportunities to participate in petition drives, public hearings, letter writing campaigns, or even just going to the polls on Election Day can help ensure your access to the savings that Wal-Mart provides. As a member of the Customer Action Network, you will receive: free newsletters with shopping tips, consumer information, and special; important bulletins and email alerts; invitations to special in-store events and receptions; information on important issues affecting us all, and how you can make a difference. Through the Customer Action Network, you can join thousands of other members in New England to help Wal-Mart continue to make a difference in your community!” CAN membership is FREE, and open to all New England residents 18 years and over.” To join, you just go to www.walmartnewenglandcan.com, fill out the membership packet form, or call toll-free 1- 877-859-4555 and ask for a membership packet, and the friendly folks at Wal-Mart will drop one in the mail to you right away. When the membership packet arrives, fill out the postage paid membership sign-up card and send it back so Wal-Mart can add you to our list of supporters. “Rest assured,” Wal-Mart says, “that we do NOT sell or share our list with outside vendors, suppliers, or marketing firms! Your information will be kept for CAN use only, to alert you of issues that affect Wal-Mart shoppers.” Members of Wal-Mart’s CAN receive a quarterly newsletter which features the “Supplier Spotlight,” to profile a different local supplier that provides fresh, quality goods to Wal-Marts in New England.” (Guess that Chinese pet food will never make the newsletter). “We are overwhelmed with the support for this program in its early stages. As part of your membership, you will receive this quarterly newsletter. This newsletter will inform you of important issues, Wal-Mart facts, as well as highlight charitable contributions that are being made in New England.” The Fall 2007 Newsletter includes a testimonial from a store manager in Providence, Rhode Island, who says: “I have been with Wal-Mart for over 11 years and love it! The CAN program is an excellent way for customers to get more involved with Wal-Mart. It shows Wal-Mart’s commitment to community involvement and gives customers a chance to learn how the business is growing. Customers at this location take pride in the store and in the Company. My absolute favorite part of working for this company is having the opportunity to change people’s lives by showing them their inner potential and ability to succeed with Wal-Mart.” Another woman is identified as a “CAN Recruiter” from Springfield, Massachusetts, who testifies: “I love Wal-Mart! We save so much money at Wal-Mart compared to any other store or club. I love the fact that I can talk to all the customers and explain how joining CAN helps.” The New England Customer Action Network is open to residents in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont only. Customers are even encouraged to email in their favorite Wal-Mart story, but they have to sign the following agreement: “I hereby agree that the Wal-Mart Customer Action Network (CAN) or any entity connected with CAN shall have, without further obligation to me, the right to use my Favorite Wal-Mart Story, including my name, voice, likeness, photograph, or any taped appearance or interview and biographical information on the CAN website or for CAN advertising and promotional purposes in any and all media now known or hereafter developed (including without limitation print, broadcast, and Internet) in conjunction with the CAN program and similar promotions without notice to me and without compensation.” Kind of like working at Wal-Mart!
The Boston Globe yesterday broke the story of Wal-Mart’s CAN in New England. According to the Globe, New England CAN has 26,000 members, with 7,500 iin Massachusetts. The newspaper quotes one woman who signed up for CAN “because she expects to get tipped off to secret sales.” The paper then quoted Sprawl-Buster Al Norman as saying the effort to mobilize Wal-Mart shoppers was unlikely to succeed: “Their supporters like cheap underwear, but they’re not likely to come away from the TV set long enough to lobby for it.” This CAN effort is similar to the largely unsuccessful organizing effort Wal-Mart created called “Working Families For Wal-Mart,” which never really got any traction. CAN is just the latest manifestation of what we for years have called “astro-roots” organizing — when a corporation hires public relations firms to create groups that are financed entirely by the corporation, and do the bidding of the corporation. Readers are urged to call the New England CAN phone number at 1-877-859-4555 and ask for a membership packet. Anti-Wal-Mart activists should join the CAN in droves. This will help you keep up on Wal-Mart’s messages to its ‘astro-roots’ shoppers. While Wal-Mart shoppers are busy looking for secret sales, you can be watching for local battles to support. The address for the new shopper’s rights group is: Customer Action Network New England, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., P.O. Box 231113, Boston, MA 02123-9902.