Those poor people were Walmart employees from across America, and dozens of their shouting union supporters. The house was 515 Park Avenue, a towering three-tiered apartment building at 60th St. in midtown Manhattan. Walton purchased the 30th and 31st floors of the building earlier this summer for $25 million. It's a bit misleading to call it her house—her primary home is a ranch in Texas, where she breeds horses. This duplex is just a place she pops into from time to time, to avoid the hassle of luxury hotels.
Although Alice Walton has gotten $100 million richer this year, she does not have a job, per se. She is sometimes referred to as a "billionaire philanthropist." That's a bit misleading, too. Despite being the single richest family in the world, the Waltons have famously never been too big on philanthropy, except to the extent that it can be used to minimize their taxes. Alice Walton's main personal work of philanthropy is Crystal Bridges, the billion-dollar art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart's headquarters are located. Whether you consider this a work of charity or a work of corporate and family image-buffing depends on your perspective, I guess.
Alice Walton has more money than she could ever possibly spend, even with the occasional $25 million apartment and billion-dollar art museum purchase. All of her money comes from her ownership of a piece of Walmart. Walmart employs two million workers, who make the company go, and who allow Alice Walton to earn all of that absurdly huge pile of money that she has. The employees of Walmart are generally paid very little. Working at Walmart, most agree, is not a good job.
These two facts—Alice Walton's leisurely life of great wealth, and Walmart employees' great poverty—understandably make Walmart employees upset. It is not hard to see why. So today, a crowd of dozens of Walmart employees, accompanied by sign-waving union organizers and grandparents and grad students and a little marching band with two trombones, two drums, cymbals, a clarinet, a recorder, and a trumpet turned the corner of 59th St. and Park Avenue this afternoon at 1:11 p.m. NYPD officers, lining the entire block at evenly spaced intervals, were waiting for them. Before the marchers arrived, well-dressed midtown women with no apparent jobs had been wandering up the cops, one after another: "What's going on here? A protest? Of Walmart? Here?" They'd glance suspiciously at 515 Park Avenue's clean entrance, guarded by several doormen and white-shirted officers, then walk off, hustling.
"Alice, Alice, you can't hide, we can see your greedy side!" the protesters chanted as they filled up the sidewalk in front of the building. They'd come to deliver a petition from thousands of Walmart workers asking for higher wages. At 515 Park Avenue, though, there was no one to accept it, except the building manager. Fortunately, they had also come to be arrested. There was an absolute army of cops ready to accept that.
All of the workers who'd come to be arrested were designated by the green cloths tied around their arms, and by the fact that many of them had emergency phone numbers written down their forearms in bold black marker. As the police looked on patiently, an organizer instructed them on exactly how the arrests would proceed. "They'll be using zip ties today," she told them, in the manner of a waiter explaining the day's special. About two dozen of them walked out into the intersection of Park Avenue and 60th street, sat down in a semicircle, and locked arms. The group was far outnumbered by police, most of whom were standing around with nothing to do. One officer took up a bullhorn and read a script informing them that they would be arrested if they didn't leave. Then the officers went down the line, one by one, helping the protesters to their feet, and taking their IDs, which they had ready, and pulling zip ties on their wrists, and leading them to waiting paddy wagons. It was all very polite. Several elderly women were participating in the sit-in, and the cops helped them each up graciously. The small core of demonstrators was surrounded by a layer of police, then a layer of organizers and legal observers, then a layer of reporters and cameramen, then fellow protesters and bystanders, like an Everlasting Gobstopper of civil disobedience. "Have fun in The Tombs! You're cut pal, they'll like you!" yelled one onlooker, who was sporting a "Colorado Volleyball" backpack. An internet commenter in the flesh. He gestured to the nearest cop—"You know I'm with you guys. I hate these fucking hippies." The cop did not respond.
After everyone from the intersection has been loaded up, the organizers move everyone back onto the curb in front of the building. Some words of encouragement are spoken by the organizers, and the milling reporters grab their last interviews, the police begin waving traffic down the street again, and the whole thing winds down with a few last chants.
"We believe that we will win! We believe that we will win!" Thirty floors above, Alice Walton's $25 million apartment sits empty. Walton is, by most accounts, a nice woman. It would be nice if she would listen to all of these nice people, who have made her rich, but who are themselves poor. But I don't believe she will. No matter how nice she may appear to be to those who admire her pretty horses and beautiful art museum, she is, in fact, a villain.