Thursday, December 20, 2012

Community vs. Corporation - How a Unified Voice Works

It's not often the underdogs win when going up against a giant corporation, but that's just what happened yesterday for a downtown Phoenix community - which I'm proud to be a part of.  My hope in writing this post is to give other communities ideas/tools to use when faced with a similar situation in their own neighborhoods, as well as to drive home the point that normal, everyday citizens can indeed have a voice and be change makers in their own communities.

Remember the wise words of Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Circle K wanted to abandon their current 4 gas pump store to build a mega 16 pump station on property just across the street from their current location on the NE corner of 7th St. & Roosevelt Streets in downtown Phoenix.  There is currently a Shell station across the street and a smaller Sinclair gas station half a block away.  They also applied for a use permit to sell alcohol.  More than 80 of us attended the use permit hearing at Phoenix City Hall which was granted by the City of Phoenix with stipulations.  It seemed they were on the road to having everything fall into place, even though numerous residents were opposed.

We were opposed for a multitude of reasons: increased crime (which was highlighted in this ASU report on crime & disorder in convenience stores) sustainability setbacks with regard to pedestrian and bicycle friendliness, Circle K's lack of of being a good neighbor in the past and the community feeling strongly about it being the wrong type of development for a gateway corner in downtown Phoenix in a transitioning neighborhood.

Vice Mayor Michael Johnson who serves in District 8 where all of this was taking place agreed to take part in a community meeting.  The room was full and I was happy to see Channel 5 who I had contacted covering the meeting.  You can view the coverage here.  It is my opinion that media involvement can play a crucial role with activism.  It's not difficult to blow off a room of 80 people who aren't a billion dollar corporation.  Throw an interested reporter and video camera into the mix and those 80 people suddenly have a much stronger chance of being heard.  I've experienced this time and time again.

Circle K Corp. hired a public affairs firm to run a campaign called Friends of Circle K - or FOCK.  I'm sure this acronym was muttered under the breath of many of us...  FOCK paid canvassers to collect neighbor signatures for a support petition.  These canvassers misrepresented facts and I was told by several people they were offered gift cards to sign.  Hardly neighborly...  We were told there were 300 supporters of the project.

We were informed  FOCK planned an event (free pizza, a free FOCK t-shirt and free bus ride to City Council) on the day City Council would determine if the liquor application would go to the State Liquor Board with a stamp of approval or not.

Our community kept fighting.

The effort took a lot of work, both behind the scenes and in the public eye.  Strategy meetings, finding common ground and talking points, media involvement, research and data collection, letter writing, petition creation, social media, meetings with elected officials and telephone calls.  It involved neighborhood organizations, non profits, small business owners and community activists.

When we got word yesterday that Circle K was withdrawing their liquor license application and backing away from the project, many of us could hardly believe it.

I popped down to the FOCK pizza party to see how many of their 300 supporters would be out to support what we were working hard to try to stop.  There was a young couple in their 20's with their child and a woman in a pink sweater who had brought three Pizza Hut pizzas and a couple of stacks of the t-shirts you see above.  When I asked her if she lived downtown, she answered "No I don't."  Extra lame...  There was one FOCK'er at the City Council meeting, bringing the grand total of supporters who I saw to 3.  Perhaps that 300 was a typo...

At the end of the day, Circle K did indeed withdraw their liquor license application.  Councilman Johnson had some really nice things to say about the community.  Community members had some really nice things to say about Councilman Johnson.

I had this to say to Channel 15.

Then we all went to Carly's to have a beer and toast our community victory.

“It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there'll be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi


Love and laughter,

Msss. Champion

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