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In what is becoming a very tense issue in a Boston community known for its diversity, welcoming attitude, and respect of fellow neighbors, Monday’s Jamiaca Plain Neighborhood Council meeting showed a neighborhood divided about the arrival of a new Whole Foods store in the Hyde Square section of JP. Here is a summary of the events from around the web:

Jamaica Plain Patch

Click on the image below to watch video segments of the meeting.

The comments from readers about this video have been quite diverse and also reflect the divisive tone that has dominated this debate. Here are just a few examples from the article:

As I said in another post, I attended the neighborhood council meeting last night. I went out of curiosity, and I observed first-hand everything that I had previously suspected to be the case about these protesters. Firstly, their rude and palpably homophobic response to the second pro-WF speaker (the guy from Paul Gore) demonstrated to me that these folks are not interested in diversity at all–they just want to keep the neighborhood unchanged (an aside: correct me if I’m wrong– is it not true that 40 years ago this was more like an Irish and Greek neighborhood, and Hi-Lo at the time was a basic American supermarket?). That speaker had real guts to show up at a loaded meeting like that–you really could feel the anti-gay bias and (possibly) class animus (though the guy went out of his way to point out he’s not affluent) in the room—no other pro-WF speaker was treated so rudely, and the guy’s message was pretty anodyne. From what I could overhear the protesters saying to each other, they were taking offense at him and his delivery, not his message (the other pro-WF speakers I saw were treated more respectfully). The anti-WF protest was a shrill joke; let’s hope it doesn’t turn into an actual menace–

I did not stay long enough to hear Pat Roberts speak, but per my previous post the rude and hostile reception she received is no surprise at all. Last night was class warfare being waged by people with no class whatsoever! My take-away was the ironic conservative, nativist nature of this protest–it’s classic NIMBYism, but with an ironic upside-down twist. Fight change and diversity (both diversity of thought and cultural/economic diversity), even if this resistance defies logic (i.e. preferring an empty store front to 100 new community jobs–what an insult to the unemployed!)–

One of the other themes that emerged last night, which was repeated by speakers on both sides of the aisle, was a concern that this debate has become toxic and damaging to JP. Several speakers tried to reach beyond the stereotyping and rhetoric to urge us to listen to each other and find ways to work together and move forward. Several opportunities are ripe for the picking — the JPNDC and Harvest Co-Op have both stated that they wish to work to bring a Latino food market or co-op to Hyde Square and WF has committed to investing an unprecedented (for JP) amount of money in organizations we hold dear — and attacking each other isn’t going to do a thing to help make Hyde Square and JP any better.

After seeing this behavior, they deserve a Walmart there. There is no one-store solution that will be able to offer low enough prices to compete with large chains. No co-op or buying club can do that. Immigrant families are not going to pay extra for groceries to keep some anti-corporate fantasy afloat.
This whole culture of entitlement has become very shrill.

Last night I experienced the beginnings of real dialogue last night, and strong and respectful support for stopping Whole Foods in JP.

* I appreciated how people on different sides acknowledged the importance of making JP affordable and diverse, and the importance of not letting space stay empty. When I listened to folks — and the forum *did* promote this listening — I heard a shared desire to stay in the neighborhood for many years, to raise families, to make JP strong.

* JPNC facilitators repeatedly offered for pro-Whole Foods folks to comment; people advocating for an alternative to Whole Foods waited patiently and respected the format.

* I appreciated and respected many of the comments of pro-Whole Foods folks. I saw people being respectful to speakers. I know that many folks working for an alternative to Whole Foods have spent their lives combating homophobia (I myself am queer), and that the opposition to Whole Foods in JP spans class, race, and sexual orientation.

* Folks heard the message of Harvest Co-Op — many people raised their hands to show interest in dialogue, which is why they offered to make it happen. People are not just opposed to Whole Foods in JP; people are looking for real alternative and solutions to making JP affordable and diverse.

* Folks advocating for an alternative to Whole Foods want a JP inclusive across race, class, and sexual orientation. I was hurt when I heard “thank heavens” for middle-class people or that only new people improved JP, because this didn’t feel inclusive. I think Pat didn’t mean to sound divisive, but the way she phrased her comments was hurtful. People aren’t against hearing other opinions. People aren’t against middle-class people or new people — it’s many such people who support an alternative to Whole Foods! But it hurts when it seems that people are saying that middle-class people or new people are better, instead of celebrating the diversity of new and old, of rich and middle-class and working-class, that makes Jamaica Plain so strong.

The Boston Globe

Tuesday’s Boston Globe has a very detailed account of Monday’s meeting, including comments from Whole Foods representatives. (Editor’s Note: After having access to Whole Foods PR department, we have repeatedly called and emailed them since February 15 about the letter they wrote to JP Residents and also to get comment about Monday’s meeting. We have  yet to get a response, so we are reporting what they said to the Globe prior to the meeting.)

From The Globe:

In a phone interview prior to Monday night’s forum, company spokeswoman Heather McCready said, when asked whether outcry from some residents could cause Whole Foods to pull back on plans to move into JP, “I think the facts sort of stand as they are for us,” before later adding. “Our lease is signed and we have access to the building starting in late March.”

“We’re listening, and we are hearing both sides” in the neighborhood’s debate over Whole Foods’ future opening, said Whole Foods’ spokeswoman in a phone interview before the forum. “As we’ve said before, we have a long history of being a very productive and positive member of communities we serve.”

After the renovation process begins and Whole Foods has a better idea of its timeline for opening, she said the company plans to host community-wide meetings at which “we will be happy to address any questions the community has.”

The Globe also reported that “more than a dozen” speakers shared their public comments at the forum expressing their support of the new Whole Foods, while “around twice as many” spoke against it.

Facebook

On a pro-Whole Foods Facebook page called WE ARE ALL WHOLE FOODS (created by Boston social media enthusiast Steve Garfield), there was very little activity from the page’s followers, with just one post by one fan of the page:

Saw this in the Patch today. One particular passage caught my eye:

Later in her remarks, Roberts drew shouts of “racist!” and “bigot!” when she said, “I say ‘Welcome’ to all the new people who have made this a safer, quieter and cleaner place.”

Stay classy, JP.

Another fan responded to this post with the following:

Last night’s meeting was actually a huge improvement over the first. But the important thing now is that if you support WF coming to JP, you must let the JPNC know. Here’s the email address: info.jpnc@gmail.com

Because of the way the meeting was announced (as a forum for folks “with concerns” about the use of the Hi Lo space), the people most motivated to attend and speak were those who are opposed to WF’s planned use of the space. Those who agree may not have seen any purpose in giving up an evening to go to a meeting to simply say they agree. So take a minute now and send a sentence or two to the JPNC. Include your name, address and telephone number. And ask your friends who want a WF in JP (or just want to avoid having yet one more empty building in Hyde Square) to do the same.

Thanks!

 

On the Facebook site for WHOSE FOODS?, which is actively trying to stop Whole Foods from entering JP, the comments were a bit more active. Here are just a few:

A poor resident’s chances of being forced to move out of a gentrifying neighborhood are only 0.5% greater than in a non-gentrifying one.

Only Latin foods stores should be allowed in this neighborhood. There are plenty of white neighborhoods that can have a Whole Foods. Even Stop & Shop is gross but at least Aftrican-AMericans shop there a lot – at South Bay particularly. I am not happy about any of this. I live in government housing and will be forced out and I can’t work because of disability.

Only Latin food stores should be allowed? Only white neighborhoodds should have a Whole Foods? Stop and Shop is for African Americans? I am afraid of this kind of tone in the discussion.

Members also posted pictures of the rally that was held by Whose Foods? organizers before the forum:

Twitter

During the Monday forum, Twitter was not that active, although a few tweets and RTs did show up in streams such as #whosefoods, #jamaicaplain and #wholefoods. However, on Tuesday, the tweets did start getting more active, especially those that were critical of Whose Foods? campaign:

At the next @whosefoods performance, they should bring the guy on stilts from Wake up the Earth and the mariachi band from Tacos El Charro

@WhoseFoods You should really open up your Facebook page to have more of a dialogue.

newly posted video clip of several speakers from the “discussion” last night. http://bit.ly/fy7j5A

community group @WhoseFoods opposing gentrification-via-Whole-Foods in Boston.

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