Comments of the Week: Walmart, Fracking and ‘Lincoln’

Storified by The Nation · Fri, Nov 30 2012 13:05:12

Last week, Josh Eidelson reported on the historic Walmart Black Fridy strike, the largest ever strike targeting the largest employer in the world. The strikes promise to be part of a much longer campaign to hold the department store behemoth accountable. This week, Josh reported Walmart’s connection to a factory that recently caught fire in Bangladesh, killing at least 112 workers. Our readers pointed out some disturbing historical parallels. 
Workers in the USA fought and died for the right to have safe workplaces… And then we shipped all the jobs overseas where there are no regulations; and this is the result.Mary Ellen Segraves
I grew up hearing the story of how my grandmother survived triangle shirtwaist. When i was young, the journey to the fire always started in Russia, then traveling by boat to Ellis Island and entering the land of milk and honey. As i grew older the memories of that tragic day played a major role in my family’s history.Grandpa was a union organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and met grandma after the fire. I went with grandma and grandpa to the dedication of the cornerstone of the NYU building – the building that once housed Triangle Shirtwaist. Several elderly women told stories of seeing people jumping from windows and watching co-workers and friends burning to death. Grandma spoke about being in the last elevator down, with flames over head, then searching for her young sister – among the living and the dead. One cannot help but wonder why these things still happen. Nobody should die that way – for a few pennies an hour pay. Attention Walmart shoppers – how cheap is cheap?Photos Show Walmart Apparel at Site of Deadly Factory Fire in Bangladesh | The Nation
Also this week, Bryce Covert reported on a survey by The National Domestic Workers Alliance that shed light on the low pay and lack of benefits and workplace protections that characterize many of the jobs held by domestic workers. On twitter, Jim Barrows thought of a great way to spread the story. 
Retweet if you are the child of a domestic worker. I am. When Domestic Workers Suffer, Our Economy Suffers The Nation Barrrows
Our readers were horrified by and had a lot to say about this week’s cover story, Elizabeth Royte’s “Fracking Our Food Supply”  
Good, thorough article. This is in YOUR grocery store in the US, no matter where you live: #Fracking Our Food Supply Aday
I live in northern Pennsylvania.  It is as bad as the article states.Fracking Our Food Supply | The Nation
Finally a discussion abt how fracking is affecting food, not just water. #fb Fracking Our Food Supply | The Nation Elise Prasad
This is a fantastic piece, thanks Elizabeth (and FERN and The Nation) for writing this.  Hopefully this will turn some heads in Washington and State Capitols to start demanding transparency from the gas industry (at the very least). I can’t help but notice the consistency between gas and food as consumer products. It’s easy to blame oil and gas companies for their actions, and they certainly deserve it and their business needs to be done in an environmentally-benign way, if that’s possible. But this business wouldn’t exist without customers, and we as consumers need to realize – just as many have realized with food – that consumption has a real impact.  We consume far too much energy in this country (and, yes, some of it is the fault of utilities, I know) and we’re less willing to compromise than we realize. Are you actually willing to turn the temperature down in your house? Or pay for UV panels? Or cook less on your gas range?  I’ve found far too often that I’m not.Fracking Our Food Supply | The Nation
Finally, in response to Jon Wieners’ “The Trouble with Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln'” our readers shared their own opinions on the film. 
The focus of the movie, as with history, is to preserve the magnanimity of whites.The Trouble With Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ | The Nation
Craig OConnor: 
I think the central argument about the need to pass amendment before war ends, as presented in the film, is that it is Northerners who would choose not to pass the amendment, seeing no need to do so now that war has ended. It is clear in the film that many Northern politicians were terrified of idea of black freedom and any tiny steps towards equality. While Lincoln and others in the film do say they need to pass it before the Southern states are back in union, they also say and show that the real concern is Northern states not passing it w/o it being a tool for winning the war. It further argues that Lincoln understood there to be a flaw in the validity of the Emancipation Proclamation, one that would be exploited to overturn it once the war was over and the case came to the Supreme Court. he says, in perhaps the most moving part of the film, that he and his Administration must pass the amendment now, in order to prevent freed black people from being retaken into slavery, and also that the Emancipation Proclamation is valid only the grounds that slaves are property, thus encoding the very thing he wanted to end.   Mr. Wiener’s essay is not accurate, and he needs to watch the film more closely. There are flaws aplenty in the film.  Among them: its token portrayal of women and black people, only a passing reference to reasons for the Civil War other than the morality of slavery (meaning the difference in economic systems of North and South), and liberties with the character of some Northern leaders. But the criticism Mr. Wiener levels – that it a) says Lincoln freed the slaves, and b) that the film portrays the passage of the amendment for a spurious reason – are incorrect.   (And trust me, it is out of character for me to defend a Spielberg film…)The Trouble With Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ | The Nation
I saw Lincoln and concur with Wiener and Foner. The comments on here, strongly defending the film against criticisms are to be expected. I teach a course on slavery in film/media, and in movies where slavery is wrapped around both patriotism and as one poster noted, the "magnanimity of whites" (Glory, Amistad), audiences do not like being told the stirring visual narrative they witnessed had serious "problems." The usual defenses always come into play–"it’s a movie not a documentary; the director couldn’t focus on everything; you’re nitpicking and not seeing the larger picture." What I try to explain to students is that there is a political economy at work here, of what type of movie Hollywood is willing to tell–what type of movie can be green-lighted. Everything in Lincoln, from the superb acting of the all-star cast (nearly all featuring great white men) to the well-timed musical score, is built on a classic Hollywood formula intended to evoke feelings of patriotism, pride and allow movie-goers to leave the theater "happy." It reinforces what most people already believe, giving them new pieces to fill the gaps; it certainly doesn’t challenge, in any meaningful way, the popular nationalist narrative. If you follow how long it took to write this script (some 6 years) there was no early decision to do *this* aspect of Lincoln’s life. Numerous ideas were tossed about, focusing on the latter years, the Emancipation Proclamation, etc. One story even wanted to place primary focus on Lincoln’s interaction with radical abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass. All of that was scrapped, and in the end this story won out. Why? I’m certain there were many reasons. Yet that very *choice* (and it is always a choice) to focus on the wranglings of Congressional procedures, places whiteness and white men (by intent or default) at the center of a film discussing the abolishing of American racial slavery. Lincoln is a wonderful cinematic achievement, and I’m sure audiences (white, black and otherwise) will enjoy it. But for historians attempting to tell a broader and different story that deviates from the normative narrative, showing how various marginalized peoples and groups participated in this process of abolishing slavery, I have to agree with Foner that the movie is quite "inadequate."The Trouble With Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ | The Nation