Banned by Borders...
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Date: Mon, 18 Nov 96 15:53:55 -0800
Subject: Banned by Borders...
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Banned by Borders
-- By Michael Moore
On November 9, as I write this, I was supposed to have been at the Borders
bookstore in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, speaking and signing copies of my
book Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American. It was to have
been the final stop of my forty-seven-city tour. But on October 30 I was
told that the book-signing had been canceled. The Fort Lauderdale Borders
had received a memo from its corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan,
banning me from speaking or signing at any Borders store in the country.
When I was growing up in Michigan, the original Borders was a store that
actively championed free expression. In fact, when I was publishing the
Michigan Voice, Borders would carry my paper when other establishments would
not. Now, Borders is a huge nationwide chain, and its "liberal" views have
earned it the reputation as the "Ben & Jerry's of the book chains."
So why was I banned from Borders? My book was doing well. It has been on
the New York Times best-seller list for a month and was the number two
best-selling Random House book for the entire Borders chain. I've been
banned, I found out, because I made the mistake of uttering a five-letter
word, the dirtiest word in all of corporate America -- "union."
Back in September, on the second day of my tour, when I arrived at the
Borders store in downtown Philadelphia, I found nearly 100 people picketing
the place because Borders had fired a woman named Miriam Fried. She had
led a drive to organize workers at the store into a union. The effort
failed, and, a few weeks later, Miriam was given the boot.
When I found this out I told the Borders people that I have never crossed
a picket line and would not cross this one. I asked the demonstrators if
they wanted to take the protest inside. They thought it was a good idea.
I had no desire to cause a ruckus, so I asked Borders management if it was
O.K. to allow the protesters in. They said yes. So we all came into the
store, I gave my talk, I gave Miriam the microphone so she could talk,
everyone behaved themselves and it was a good day all around -- including
for Borders, which ended up selling a lot of books, breaking the record for
a noontime author at that location. (The record had been held by George
Foreman, and I now like to tell people only Ali and I have beaten Foreman.)
I also announced that I would donate all my royalties for the day to help
Although Anne Kubek, Borders' corporate V.P. in charge of labor relations,
had approved my bringing the protesters inside, upper management decided
that she had made a mistake -- and they were going to take it out on me.
On the following Tuesday I was scheduled to speak at the new Borders store
in New York's World Trade Center. When I arrived, I was met by two Borders
executives. They had flown in from Michigan just to stop me from speaking.
The executives, flanked by two security guards, explained that I could come
into the store and sign books, but I would not be allowed to talk to the
people who had come to hear me. They said that the "commotion" I had caused
in Philly raised "security concerns." I couldn't believe I was being
censored in a bookstore.
The Borders manager told the assembled crowd that I would not be speaking
because "Port Authority police and fire marshals have banned all daytime
gatherings at Borders." When I heard this, I stepped forward and told the
people this was a lie, that I was forbidden to speak because of my support
for the workers in Philly. Under protest, I signed the books of those who
stayed -- beneath a big banner celebrating "Banned Books Week."
On October 13, I spoke to a large crowd in a Des Moines auditorium. After
the speech I went out front and started signing books. "What store are these
from?" I innocently asked. "Oh, these are from the local Borders," I was
told. Well, I thought, they don't mind if I make them some money -- as long
as it's not on their premises! Then someone slipped me an anonymous note.
It read: "We are employees of the Des Moines Borders. We were told that we
could not work the book table tonight, that only management was working the
table, because they said they wanted to 'protect us' from you."
An hour later, I went out to the parking lot and saw some people standing
there in the dark -- the employees from the Des Moines Borders! They said
they were hiding out there because they had spotted Borders' regional
director with another man inside. "He flew in to spy on you, or us, or
both," they told me. "He saw us so we may not have jobs on Monday."
(Bookstore employees afraid they might be fired for attending a public
speech at the Herbert Hoover High School auditorium!) The executive had
not introduced himself to me -- or his colleague, who employees believe is
a unionbusting "consultant" hired by Borders.
I wished the workers well, and the next night they held their first union
meeting. The previous week, the Borders store in the Lincoln Park section
of Chicago had become the first Borders in the country to vote in a union
(United Food and Commercial Workers). Recently, workers in Des Moines signed
enough cards to hold a union election. It is a victory that should inspire
not only Borders workers but underpaid employees everywhere. That's why I
am not in Fort Lauderdale as I write this. Borders is "protecting" its
workers from me.
Well, they're really going to need protection now. First, I am donating my
royalties from the next 1,000 sales of Downsize This! to the organizing
drive at Borders. Second, I am asking each of you to support the Borders
workers in your city. Bring up the union when you're in the store and thank
that kid with the nose ring and green hair for helping to revive the labor
movement in America.
Note to Borders Executives: If, after this column is published, you
retaliate by removing my book from your shelves, or hiding it in the "humor"
section or underreporting its sales to the New York Times list, I will come
at you with everything I've got. You sandbagged me in Philly, and the only
decent way for you to resolve this is to give Miriam Fried her job back and
let the workers form their union without intimidation or harassment.
Copyright (c) 1996, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights reserved.
Electronic redistribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this
notice is attached in its entirety. Unauthorized, for-profit redistribution
is prohibited. For further information regarding reprinting and syndication,
please call The Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext. 226 or send e-mail to Max
© 1996 Peter Langston