In this article for The New Inquiry, Erik Forman reflects on the Christmas 2014 occupation of the Mall of America by the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the height of the 2014 Christmas shopping season hundreds of people converged on the Mall of America rotunda to disrupt business as usual and remind a nation that Black Lives Matter—and matter more than shopping.
It was a moment I had dreamed of for years. I had been a part of business as usual in the Mall of America. For six years, I was a barista at the Starbucks that faces the Mall of America rotunda. While for shoppers the Mall of America is a place of glistening wonder, where a constantly-changing array of commodities surprise and delight, the hours my coworkers and I spent at work were a mind-numbingly torturous monotony of feeding a never-ending line of shoppers concoctions of caffeine and sugar for a pittance that kept us in poverty. Our plight was not unique.
No one I knew while working at the Mall of America from 2006 to 2012 made more than $10/hour. No one had quality healthcare from their employer. No one had full-time or guaranteed hours. These are the dead-end food service and retail jobs that are eating the American working class alive. It is a dead end inhabited disproportionately by black and brown Americans.
Business as usual is largely unbearable for workers in the Mall of America. It was only occasionally disrupted. Mall management sought to draw shoppers by organizing various kinds of spectacles in the rotunda in front of our store: a concert, a job fair, a televised competition, a special sale. On one weekend, the rotunda was filled by a giant “suitcase of cash.” Six contestants were chained to the suitcase. The one who managed to stay enchained longest was to win a cash prize- $10,000, roughly what a retail worker earns in a year. “What a metaphor” I thought, “For all of us chained to our jobs in this building,” staring out at the rotunda.
And then I noticed something different. An object was falling through the air. It looked like a mannequin. It hit the ground with a deadening thud. It was not a mannequin, it was a man. Blood begins spreading from the fallen body. The contestants handcuffed to the giant suitcase begin to scream. My coworkers and I run to the door of our store, panic sets in. Mall of America security guards rush to the body and begin to administer CPR. The body’s chest cavity rises and falls like a bubble of chewing gum. He is not going to make it.
Paramedics hoist the mangled corpse onto a gurney and wheel it away. A janitor puts down some powder to absorb the blood. Stroke by stroke, he mops up the vital fluids that the body had spilled onto the floor. Stroke by stroke, the floor regains its marble shine. In minutes, shoppers are again walking through the rotunda, aimlessly wandering from store to store over the spot where the man died.
I worked in the Mall of America for another two years. The Mall was renovated, shining glass and steel replacing worn surfaces and blurry windows. New roller coasters in the theme park. New stores replacing tired old ones. Eternally rejuvenated, the Mall endured, but mall workers got older, more broke and broken with every passing year. Ligaments and tendons succumbed to repetitive strain. Psyches suffered under anxiety and depression. I realized that the mall was maintained in its eternal youth because it mattered. As poverty-wage retail workers, our lives did not.
Continue reading at The New Inquiry.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/2016/06/05/erik-forman-black-lives-matter-mall-of-america/