The protestors were the ones who got it right

An open letter to the South Kitsap High School students who protested against Wal-Mart:

I’m grateful you’re asking questions and refusing to accept pat answers about the world around you. I appreciate you for exercising critical thinking. I’m glad you’re putting your concerns into action. Thank you for caring enough for your community to do all of the above.

As an adult, I must apologize for the reaction of at least one adult — the individual who provided the editorial in the Port Orchard Independent of Feb. 11 (“Teen protestors need refresher in economics”).

That individual missed the point, I think. He or she is probably one of those adults who get a little nervous about young people who raise tough questions.

He or she may believe in that old cliché that “children should be seen and not heard.” He or she possibly figures that a little harsh criticism will blunt your idealism and you’ll realize you’re way too inexperienced and, well, foolish, to be questioning the business philosophy of a Wal-Mart.

He or she might prefer that you confine your concerns to school dress codes and the quality of cafeteria food.

I just want you to know that not all adults interpret your actions that way. Some adults are heartened to see that younger people are paying attention and asking questions. Some adults are grateful that there is a younger generation right behind us that may help us evolve as a community and readjust some of our values in the face of changing times.

Some of us need your idealism, and appreciate your concern.

For what it’s worth, I definitely agree that you (and we) should be questioning the business practices of a corporation like Wal-Mart. Contrary to what the editorial writer suggested, the ends (“Low Prices Always”) may not entirely justify the means.

That’s probably why Wal-Mart has been sued in several states over the practice of forced “off the clock” overtime for employees. It’s probably why, after intense scrutiny, Wal-Mart ended the practice of taking out “Dead Peasant” life insurance policies on some of its employees — without the knowledge of those employees.

Guess who the beneficiary was on those policies? It may explain why concerned citizen groups in numerous communities — including some right here on the Olympic Peninsula — have questioned the wisdom of having a Wal-Mart in their communities at all.

Of course, Wal-Mart does a great deal of good in its home communities. It provides many low-wage, part-time jobs for people who might otherwise be unemployed.

By limiting the number of employees who qualify for benefits like health care, it keeps public, non-profit healthcare service practitioners busy.

Its aggressive pricing forces smaller local businesses to adapt and survive or close, and of course, competition is the lifeblood of a capitalistic society.

Most importantly, by providing a wide variety of low-cost, imported consumer goods, it gives all of those marginally employed people a way to afford a small, disposable share of the good life. And that’s important.

In closing, I’d also like to commend the teacher or teachers who encouraged your critical thinking and your follow-up activities. It’s refreshing to know that some education is going on that’s not confined to textbooks and multiple-choice tests.

All of you, keep up the good work.

Mike Etgen is a Port Orchard resident.

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