There is a Whole Foods store about three blocks from my home, and around the corner from my gym. I am enamored by the displays of produce, the red peppers contrasting the yellow ones, the kale, chard, and collard glistening from their morning sprinkle. I love the way the fish gleams back at you, char and salmon, swordfish and tilapia. When I walk over to the prepared food, I grin at the ways the veggies are layered with cheese, crumbs, and so much more. They have sandwiches that I identify with, ingredients that I salivate about. And now I must declare that I would rather drink muddy water or sleep in a hollow log that to indulge in whole foods.
I am utterly appalled that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey described Obamacare as “fascism.” Fascism is an incendiary word that speaks totalitarianism, or dictatorship, and it descries it in a pejorative way. Whatever dissent there may be about Obamacare, the fact is, enough members of Congress voted for it to make it a law. John Mackey, what were you thinking when you called Obamacare (a term I proudly embrace) totalitarian and fascist? Is President Obama so mesmerizing that he forced opposing members of Congress to vote for his plan?
I had mixed feelings when the store also known as Whole Paycheck swooped into my neighborhood. People earn less hourly than the price of a pound of cheese. Most folks, though, were happy to have jobs. Happy, that is, until they complained about the terms and conditions of their work. I really didn’t pay much attention, but there was a niggling sense that something was wrong
Some of the workers grumbled outside the store. If you asked if they could help you, they were emphatically negative. I can understand folks preferring to keep their jobs than to put it out there for justice. But from the swing of the head, the cut of the eye, it was clear that all has not been good at Whole Paycheck.
Unease translated into disease for me. How dare John Mackey decide to flip his lip without a script to describe national health care as “fascism?” He seems to be trying to start a fight, to diminish a president, to ignore that vote of Congress, to put President Obama in a context that he does not deserve to be in. Fascism? One dictionary describes fascism as “a right wing nationalist ideology or movement with an hierarchical structure that is opposed to democracy and liberalism.”
How did President Obama get in this mix? CEO John Mackey, unsupportive of Obamacare (as many business leaders are) chose to take opposition to another level, and decided that “fascism” was a great way to frame his ire. Then he said it didn’t matter, that his word choice was careless, that his ignorance would not affect his corporate profit, that he simply misspoke. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said to support evil is to embrace evil, is to be evil. This is an evil I can gleefully walk away from. Mackey says that it doesn’t matter that conscious people won’t support his store. He may have a point. But I’m gong to take my little $200 a week elsewhere and I know others who will do the same thing. John Mackey, your words have been duly noted.
If my words are irrelevant, keep shopping at Whole Paycheck and supporting oppression. If you agree with me, send John Mackey a note via Libba.Letton@wholefood.com or Kate.Lowery@wholefoods.com. To use a term like “fascism” in the context of public policy is ugly and unacceptable. To cooperate is to be complicit.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.