They say when one Facebook group closes another one opens, or something like that. For local activist Bruce Alan Beal, whose anti-Lakeview Walmart Facebook group called it quits Tuesday (leaving some 900 members), a new opportunity has presented itself. Now Beal is starting a big box retailer watchdog group for all of Chicago.
See, even though the Lakeview Walmart appears to be a done deal, the retailer is seeking development in other neighborhoods, including Logan Square, which has its own protesters. But not everyone thinks Facebook activism like Beal’s is effective. So says Chuck Sudo at Chicagoist:
Beal’s page was an example of how to not stage a protest. It was disorganized and disjointed, without a unifying theme other than “not in my backyard” and an inability to muster bodies to put together even a grass roots campaign opposing the store. Beal’s online nolo contendre will also add fuel to the fire that this wasn’t much more than an armchair protest, at best.
This is what Beal had to say to RedEye after launching his new coalition of local activists.
I think some folks here and in Logan Square realized that Walmart is really actively rolling forward with its plans. Walmart would rather not have any more community input than they have to – but clearly we think neighborhoods have a right to have some input into that process. Using what we’ve learned in Lakeview and Logan Square, maybe there was a way to build a pro-active group for people and organizations trying to deal with Walmart and other big box / national chain stores moving into our communities.
So far we have worked on several sets of ideas, over the past 2 months. We want to help neighborhoods facing any kind of big box developments benefit from what our communities have learned in the recent past. We will have a toolkit they can use with an outline of some options they have for engaging their company and their alderman on the issues they are concerned about.
Our group also thinks that the aldermen do have some limited tools (via zoning, etc.) they can put to use but there are some real limits, as Lakeview found out. We have a very different city council from the 2006 version – fully 33 different faces in the room compared to the group that struck the old deal with Walmart. Many of the new faces, we would argue, are in the council as a direct or indirect result of the people’s displeasure with various actions of previous councils. Given that, we will be encouraging the aldermen to think about being proactive and developing better business plans with their local chambers and better zoning and land use tools to help regulate these national chain developments. Zoning laws have often been revised to account for major social and economic changes, like the lakefront protections or the bank laws in Chicago, for example. The time has come for new local regulation of national retail chains who want to come to Chicago. We also know the city council was already working on ordinances like this last year and we want to encourage and support that important work.
Third, we think a lot of great things can be done to support local businesses and chambers so that there is not room in many communities for a Walmart like store — because there will be no need. This could also help local business survive better when a big box does come knocking. In the end, we hope to support the longstanding Chicago tradition that “Neighborhoods Count.” We are a city of neighborhoods, now, as we have always been.