By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I finally settle on a pair of Old Navy jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch tank top, then dash over just in time to be issued a picket sign that says, “Living Wages = Equal Dignity!” There’s the usual protest mix of college students in Birkenstocks, community organizers, and people from other unions (restaurant workers, day laborers) out to show their solidarity. We march in a tight circle in front of the store as a bespectacled Asian girl starts up a call and response.
“Quﾃｩ queremos?” she shouts.
“Justﾃｭcia!” we reply.
“Cuando?” she asks.
“Ahora!” we say enthusiastically.
She follows with a high-pitched “Woo- hoo!” that meets with far less energy.
The second time around, I pause for a moment in front of the store window and look a little too longingly at a navy-blue and kelly-green striped polo with a cute white collar, nearly knocking off the hat of the man in front of me. He’s a portly Latino man in his late 40s, chummy with the members of the Day Laborer’s Union, wearing a maroon South Park cap with a picture of fat Eric and the words “Kick Ass.”
“Sorry. Umm . . . kick ass!” I say, pumping my sign and pointing at his hat by way of apology. He lets the misguided girl go, and we continue marching as passing drivers honk and a group of Korean drummers strike up a beat on the other side of the street.
Over the next 20 minutes, more picketers gather until we have a crowd of more than 100 and other signs join mine: “No Somos Esclavos” (“We are not Slaves”), “Do Won Chang Unfair!” “Si no nos pagan, no ﾃ｢ oy paz” (“If we are not paid, there will be no peace”). A man with curly hair holds shirts up on wooden sticks, and they wave guiltily, like the heads of fallen dictators. I realize, with a pang, that I actually own one of the shirts — a red tank top with a British flag on the front and laces down the sides (it was only $8.99!). Then I remember that the Gap and its subsidiary, Old Navy, have been cited for running sweatshops. I furtively check the waistband of my pants — phew, no visible Old Navy labels. I haven’t heard anything about Abercrombie & Fitch, but I’m guessing that their workers probably aren’t treated any better than the Gap’s or Forever 21’s.
“You have to assume that anything you buy in a store is made in a sweatshop,” says Joann Lo, one of the organizers from L.A.’s Garment Workers Center, a group that formed in response to an El Monte slave-labor case involving more than 70 Thai garment workers.
I ask some of the other organizers where they get their clothes. They all say that they try to buy their clothes at thrift stores, but I definitely recognize a few articles of Urban Outfitters provenance, and several of the garment workers marching are wearing things that I could swear are from Forever 21. Which, I suppose, makes sense. I mean, if you’re going to sew the damn flowery shirt for $3 an hour and no water or bathroom breaks, you might as well wear it, right?
Inside the store there are more workers than shoppers, and I self-righteously avoid looking at anything on the racks as I talk to Susan Chae, a Forever 21 district manager who was outside earlier taking Polaroids of the protesters (who in turn, took pictures of her). “I don’t appreciate them taking pictures of me in front of the store,” she says.“I think it’s very rude. And I know you’re with them. I saw you.” I think about pleading journalistic impartiality (down with sweatshops, up with cheap clothes?) but decide not to bother. Later, I will try, and fail, to get the Changs’ side of the story, but today I simply head back outside as the picketers are wrapping up with a repeated “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”
Artist Recognition: Musicians Wanted: Must Be Quirky, Quiet
Last Monday, a very odd lineup — Nikka Costa, Talib Kweli, the Dandy Warhols and Sigur Ros — took the stage at the Knitting Factory, each of them one of 10 finalists for a brand-new music award, the Virgin Megastore Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement. But the nominees had mixed feelings about being up for the prize. “Oh, cool,” said Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, “the Shortlist of Bands That Don’t Sell Records.”
Co-founded earlier this year by industry veterans Tom Sarig and Greg Spotts, the Shortlist Prize was designed as an American answer to Britain’s Mercury Prize. Given to the best U.K. album of the year, the Mercury is meant to increase the overseas profile of the acts nominated. (Essentially, it’s the Mercury Prize for Bands That Don’t Sell Any Records in America.) The Shortlist, though, is an attempt to offer winners more than just a new doorstop and a pat on the back.
“You don’t get $10,000 for winning a Grammy,” Spotts said from the stage, pointing out one of the Shortlist’s advantages, “and some of these artists could really use the dough.” Albums were eligible provided they hadn’t been certified Gold (500,000 copies sold). Fifteen “tastemakers” — Beck, Lucinda Williams, Trent Reznor, Dave Grohl and producer Dan “the Automator” Nakemura, among them — nominated 49 records, the Longlist. Next they picked their five favorites among the 49. Records with the most votes made it onto the Shortlist of 10. Genre-agnostic and artist-driven, the process was designed to distance the prize from music-industry logrolling and ignorance (the Grammies), the vagaries of the unwashed masses (the People’s Choice Award) and the photogenic (MTV Video Music Awards). It’s a prize for quirky artists, the musical bohemian-class.