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My evening at Wild Oats

I went to the Division St Wild Oats to hand out flyers on Friday evening a little after 5. With only an hour's time before needing to leave, I got right to it, standing out at the curb and handing flyers to people going in and out of the store. It was going well, with a nice percentage of people generally interested and accepting the flyers.
I'd been outside for 15, maybe 20 minutes, when someone from the store came out and asked me to move down the street. It seems a customer had complained that they didn't want to be accosted while going into the store. I listened to her request, and said I am just handing flyers to people and declined to move. Twice more, in a very stiff manner, she asked me to move. She was polite in language, but somewhat pushy and standing close in my personal space. I declined to move, saying I was out on the sidewalk and doing nothing but handing out flyers. She was clearly agitated and upset with my answer. I found her a bit rude that she did not talk to me as a person, try to ascertain if there had been some incident, find out what I was doing etc.

She went back into the store, and made a phone call just inside the entrance, and talked to a few other store employees and they all glanced out at me from time to time. I was somewhat perplexed since I had had no negative interactions with anyone as I was handing out flyers. Why was the apparent situation warranting such agitation?

I went back to handing out flyers, which constituted holding out a flyer as someone passed by, perhaps asking if I may give them a flyer, and a thank you if they took one. If they showed interest or asked what I was doing, I would converse with them. The worker who had asked me to move, came outside, and stood up the street where the Street Roots vendor is always set up. Watching me I suppose.

It started to rain, first a sprinkle, then a rain, and then a downpour. I went to stand under the awning, and was talking to one fellow with his dog who was waiting for the rain to let up. At that point, a police officer showed up and without any introduction, demanded some ID. I said I didn't have any ID (which was true). He then said he had told me a number of times to move on. That was confusing and I wondered if I had misheard him, so I said, hesitatingly, that we had not talked before. He then said that well, the store had asked me to move. I said that someone had come outside and asked, and I had declined. He said rather authoritatively, that I should move along. I said it was my legal right to stand out on the sidewalk and that I was simply handing out flyers and not bothering anybody. He said that is not the story from the store. I said again that I was not bothering anyone, just handing out flyers. He said you cannot stand inside the store. I said I never went into the store. It was my impression that he thought I had from what the store person said.

By then the downpour had let up and it was just sprinkling, so I went over to the spot I had been standing, and showed the officer that this was where I was standing, that I was out at the curb, not blocking the sidewalk, nor the entrance. He seemed to recognize this, and without another word, walked back to the woman by the Street Roots vendor and stood there for some minutes while I continued handing out flyers. He finally left, the woman went back inside, clearly pissed at me, and shortly after it was time for me to leave.

In this whole thing, nobody once just spoke to me, or explained what the complaint was, or engaged in respectful dialog including the person who apparently complained to the store. It is disturbing how the store personnel treated me as if I was not a person, and were so quick to attempt to force me to leave and in essence, though they may not have thought of it this way, violate my right to be there in a public place. Calling the police, without any obvious provocation is an aggressive act in itself.

I know many people would have been intimidated, especially when the police showed up. Many people do not know their rights and are not comfortable to stand their ground.

This is but one small event in the larger panorama. Yet in these things can be seen the state of our society. The lack of dialog, the dehumanization, the use of force and intimidation for what is at most a trivial issue point towards the breakdown of community and the ability of people to interact in a healthy, open manner.

It is interesting to note that this took place at a natural foods store. The movement towards organic, local foods has its roots in a sense of place, community and balance with the natural world. The corporatization of this movement betrays the spirit from which it grows as it turns it into just another commodity.
straight from the book of right on as joanna would say 20.Jun.2005 01:44

pj

To which I say RIGHT ON to you for standing up for yourself and for not giving in to corporate intrusion on the public sphere. Wild Oats, like any other corporation, preys on perceived and/or produced vulnerabilities. I confess I have continued to go there, which is idiotic. Idiot I am! But then Capital wants me to condemn myself too. At the other end of the spectrum are voices like your own which inspire me to not just not buy from them, or this or that corporation, but to turn my disdain for privatization of the public realm into action.

Make sure to mention to cops it's your first amendment right to flyer 20.Jun.2005 07:36

mrraven raven200@gmail.com

When dealing with cops who are trying to violate your free speech rights it's always a good idea to politely but firmly insist that it is your first amendment right to engage in politcal speech. It can help to carry a copy fo the first amendment to show them:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

If the cops are still giving you grief you can say something like what part of "no law abridging freedom of speech," don't you understand?

Keep in mind even if we are anarchists that a) the cops still have to respcet our rights as citizens of Amerika, and b) this can be a good TACTIC as it's speaking a language the cops understand.

Also keep in mind Wild Oats is a corporate entity and less liable to respect your rights than say a co-op. Do you have aco-op to table at there in Portland?

Just out of curiosity what were you flyering for, it wasn't clear from the article?

Anyway thanks for being out there and doing the hard work of polictal activism and standing your ground.

Solidarity,

peace out,

Raven

Bizarre 20.Jun.2005 09:25

Den Mark, Vancouver

An amazing report, Deva, of a too-typical encounter. I've "been there". HOW MANY TIMES do we have to go thru this, before there's some generalization! It's like inventing the wheel every time we need one, having to teach corporate & police workers what they should already know. Of the many facets of these encounters which are bizarre, maybe the one that gets to me most is the bit where the complainer, like that one customer or that one employee, is given credence, simply because he/she's the complainer. In other words, the complainer is automatically right until proven wrong. Why can't it be that the complainer is wrong, until proven right? One customer complained, so the complaint must be valid? One employee complained, so the complaint must be valid? That kind of illogic fries my brain cells. Thanks for your resilience, Deva, & all others who bear the burden of this bizarre world.

Turn the tables 20.Jun.2005 11:25

Drew

I always like to respond to police requests for identification with "no." I don't explain myself, I just say "no." Quietly, firmly, body still and arms loosely clasped in front of my body. Eye contact, slight bemused smile without smirking. Calm, even tones are the key. Assertive, without defiance or whining tones works best (for me). White male privelege works for me, too - your milage will vary accordingly in this racist, classist society.

I also sometimes ask that they identify themselves to me. They are actually required to do this, which is usually accomplished by observing their name tag / patch. I know my cops' names from parsing their roll call lists (I'm a copwatcher) so I'll often see their last name on their chest and look at their eyes while I greet them by their first names. You can ask your department for a list of cops and memorize it well, if you're in a town as small as mine. In PDX, your list might be too long to memorize unless you practice.

If a cop does not have his name tag on, or has covered it, and refuses to ID himself, I have the option of calling his department on my cell phone. I keep it in my breast pocket so that it is not as alarming as reaching for my waist would be. (you should say what you're reaching for, but not ASK to reach for it... just state what you are doing, calmly.) I have only had to do this once, for a cop who insisted on walking into my residence without a warrant or permission. He stayed inside for 10 seconds or so and then behaved himself once he knew I really would call it in. His department never responded to my call, but I did not tell him this at the time.

Remember, all of this (not having to give papers to the officer) goes out the window if you are actually being arrested, or if you're driving a car. So don't drive, or minimize it as much as possible. And don't get caught (arrested)!

Right on, deva 20.Jun.2005 12:05

CatWoman

The privatization of the commons, the corporate appropriation of public spaces, and the usurpation of our right to interact with each other in a manner not mediated by the exchange of money...all of these are eroding our communities and our humanity. I'm sure the bureaucratic employee at Wild Oats had no conception of her role in the cold, corporate occupation of our lives, but this is how it works. It starts with a willing participant and a few steps backward. Maybe she was just a frazzled, overworked peon at the foot of the beast, maybe she does not comprehend the truly overwhelming big picture, but her aggressive and thoughtless actions are nevertheless the kind that feed the beast. It is small and bitter everyday acts like hers, repeated over and over again, a million times a day, by a million thoughtless drones, that open the floodgates to the rampant corporate abuses that are ravaging our neighborhoods and making McWastelands of what were once thriving and diverse communities across the globe. Your stand in the face of this everyday indignity is inspiring. You have reclaimed a piece of sidewalk, and that's how we will take the commons back -- step by step by step.

Not going to buy at WO 20.Jun.2005 13:53

Mother

I often stop in W O for things for dinner. I thought that with the Roots vendor always there, they were free speech friendly. I have now changed my mind. No more W O. Back to Freddie's or elsewhere.

I think the US Supreme Court ruled about a year ago that the police can demand ID from anyone. It was about a man and his daughter standing outside a broken down pickup in California. Someone may have to refresh me on this.

You don't need to produce a driver's license, though. Be sure if you are ever stopped for a moving violation on a BICYCLE that you do NOT give them your driver's licence. The violation will go down in your records just as though you were in a car and have a bad effect on your insurance rates.

a couple of things 20.Jun.2005 16:05

to mother

I'm with you, Mother. I'm not going to Wild Oats anymore either. But you can go to People's, or Food Front. These are local, worker-owned owned co-ops rather than corporate chain stores. (Not trying to tell you what to do, just offering the suggestion in case you didn't know about them. People's is on SE 21st between Division and Powell, and Food Front is in NW, up on I think Thurmond, on about 24th or so.)

As for giving ID to cops, you're right about that case. I think, though, that they can "only" ask for your personal info if they suspect that a crime has been committed. I think it would be a stretch in this case, but even so it's a scary precident, set by sold-out judges on a supreme court that handed the presidency over to a blood-fisted coup. I think it's just damn wrong and I can't wait till it gets overturned, not that I'm holding out any hope that America is ever going back to democracy as we knew it. FUCK the coup. Viva la revolution.

Alberta Coop 20.Jun.2005 16:42

Brian

Alberta Coop, like People's and Food Front are consumer owned cooperatives. I'll bet most employees are also owners/members but they aren't worker owned. Alberta Grocery is located at 15th and Alberta.

correctiion 20.Jun.2005 17:00

me

There's no law forcing you to carry identity papers in this country (yet), so the cops can't demand them. What the Court said was that the cops can demand to know your identity, and if the state has a law requiring you to do so, then you must comply and reveal it. But I believe there's nothing in the decision that would prevent an individual state from rescinding such a law, or making it voluntary, say, unless the cop can "articulate a reason" (the previous legal standard).

for Mother 20.Jun.2005 17:05

Varro

That case only applied to a law requiring someone to identify themselves to the police if asked.

Oregon doesn't have such a law.

WAKE UP !!! 20.Jun.2005 17:21

me

It's time to realize the truth: Wild Oats and certain similar stores are just corporations that have hijacked the natural/organic foods idea in order to turn it into huge profits. I would even go as far as to question whether some of the stuff they sell as "organic" truly is organic. They'll just slap that label onto something and voilla they've got a reason to double the price. And the unknowing sheep keep going there buying their fraud and enriching corporate coffers...
And who said WO is local??? They're not local! They're just an out-of-state corporation exploiting the local natural foods movement.
WAKE UP!

be careful making baseless accusations 20.Jun.2005 17:57

me

Unless you know for a fact that they do this, I wouldn't go around stating it as a fact. Where's your evidence?

To deva: what were the flyers of? 20.Jun.2005 18:08

lil one

I am glad you stood your ground deva cause most people would have been too intimidated. What were you flyering anyways? I was wondering if what you were flyering had anything to do with the snottyness of the wild oats employee.

reply 20.Jun.2005 22:14

deva

hi lil one,

I was handing out flyers about the CAAT (Coalition to Abolish Animal Testing) garage sale. I believe there is a post about it on the newswire.

hi den mark,

I did not have a single unpleasant interaction with a customer. In fact, there was much support and positive sentiment. The whole thing was perplexing really. I do believe someone must have complained, but where it went from there was pointless. Maybe a bizarre manifestation of 'the customer is always right'

well said catwoman

Way to go Deva! 21.Jun.2005 14:37

stu sugarman

Way to go Deva!


Should the cop cite you for petitioning, I hope you'll accept my free representation so I can personally embarrass them in court.


You did the right thing by:


1) Never going in the store


2) Never standing in anyone's way


3) Never being offensive in any way to anyone


4) Being polite to everyone, regardless how they treat you


5) Being on the sidewalk. This is a public forum and they can not remove you, according to articles 8 and 26 of the Oregon Constitution, and the First and Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.


6) Remember, in a real pinch, never to talk to cops. Often they will make up stuff and nail you for it.


Nature's used to let me petition. I think your experience is one more reason to boycott Wild Oats.

Go get 'em!

stu

A proactive response 21.Jun.2005 16:11

Long time Natures shopper

Re: Wild Oats/ Natures calling the police on a sidewalk leafletter, boycotting may not be the best option. First of all I've been going to Natures for years, and frequently see people with clipboards for ballot measures as well as flyers and requests to join,ie: OSPIRG, etc.

I see this as an isolated incident, and walking away from being a customer does no good especially if you don't bother to talk to the store people to let them know why you are leaveing in the first place. Also someone mentioned going to Fred's and they are owned by Kroger I believe which is a national chain too.

If we want to see things done differently, then the best way is to simply call Natures/Wild Oats on Division, ask to speak to the manager or supervisor and tell them that you heard about the incident and why you support the people out there passing out the flyers. You don't have to get mad or demand a response, just give them your input. The people who work at Nature's are not bad folks, even though they appeared to make a mistake in this case. If everybody who has commented here called them, they would certainly get the message. I also have been buying my Street Roots paper from the guys who sell there for years now and they seem very happy with their relationship with the store.

teaching us how 22.Jun.2005 18:04

lupin

I appreciate this article, Deva, as it teaches me a bit about what my rights are. I would have been upset by the first request to leave and probably would have moved on. That would not have been the right way to handle the situation. Thanks for the lesson.

Complainers is a Ghost. 10.Aug.2005 09:02

Gypsy

It is my experience that 99% of the time when they tell you to move because a customer complained, they are usually lying. Why? Because most places have the policy of not bothering someone unless someone does complain. Most people don't. Its more likely the store Employee themselves decided they didn't want you bothering the customer & just told you that to justify their telling you to move. This "Believing they are speaking for others" Is quite common. A good example is I was recently at the NW String Summit at Horning's Hideout. During YMSB's set a young girl had gotten her beach ball going over the crowd. It went on & on for like 20 minutes. Even the band was trying to hit it when it came close enough to them. This small snobby group in front of me suddenly snatched it & started to let the air out of it. The little girl ran up crying & the mother was right behind her so the lady guiltly gave it back to the girl. But told the mother not to let the girl throw it out again saying that the band don't want it flying around as it might hit their equipement (remember the band was laughing & playing with it too). 10 minutes later the ball was back in the air & everyone was have fun bouncing it around. Again the snobby lady snagged it & this time popped it, looked around & stuck it under her blanket. Several of us started yelling at them for being party poopers & they should leave. The heckling worked & they left. But the point I was trying to make is the truth was it was bothering her so she decided to justify her not wanting it going over her head she told the mother that the band didn't want it flying around. The employee was more than likely the actual complainer. But if they had said that they feel guilty. By telling you a customer complained they place the blame on a ghost customer & they don't have to feel guilty.