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Protesters gather to rally against Wal-Mart in Chinatown

Walmart

A few thousand protesters gathered in a park near downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to rally against Wal-Mart Inc.’s plans to build a new grocery store in Chinatown.

Many said they were there to protest construction of Wal-Mart’s 33,000-square-foot store in an existing apartment building at Cesar Chavez and Grand avenues, while others came to decry what they said were Wal-Mart's low wages and union-busting attempts.

"I'm especially concerned about Chinatown because it's a historical-cultural center," said Matt Southgate, 40, who drove up from Santa Ana to join the rally. "I'm concerned about all unique communities being homogenized," he said.

For John Wong, a professor at East Los Angeles College, the thought of a Wal-Mart in Chinatown was disturbing.

"To have corporate food come in to Chinatown, it's just kind of gross," Wong said. He also decried the "conditions of the workers, the corporate food, and the whole impact Wal-Mart will have on the surrounding community."

"We hope to send a message that they can't come in here without consideration of the local people," Wong said. "Hopefully this demonstration and others will stop them."

A march and rally were scheduled to start at Los Angeles State Park at 11 a.m. and conclude with speeches against the retail giant under the dragon gates on Broadway at Cesar Chavez. Singer-songwriter Ben Harper, “Rage Against the Machine” guitarist Tom Morello, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-El Monte) were among those expected to take part.

At a Tuesday event at the construction site, Kim Sentovich, senior vice president of Wal-Mart's Pacific store division, addressed a rowdy blend of supporters and protesters.

“Everything we do,” she said, “is connected with our mission of helping people to save money so they can live better.”

The Los Angeles City Council approved a moratorium on big-box stores in March, but Wal-Mart was granted building permits for the store prior to the vote.

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-- Ari Bloomekatz

Photo: Demonstrators rally against a proposed Wal-Mart in Chinatown. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

 
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