Despite widespread negative publicity about Bradlee Dean's prayer in the Minnesota House of Representatives on Friday, Dean's You Can Run But You Can't Hide Ministry continues to fundraise at a table outside the door at Hutchinson's Walmart.
Dean Street Team at Walmart
Early in the afternoon. I went down to Walmart use a Facebook coupon for free cat litter. Approaching the "Market" door, I was surprised to see a table loaded with CDs and literature staffed by a guy around 20 or so who asked if I wanted to help out with a fundraiser. I declined and went into the store.
Every purchase is a consumer choice, even when a generous coupon makes something "free." I'd like to support retailers who understand the groups they allow to use their space and after Friday's exclusionary and anti-Obama prayer (as well as Dean's long anti-gay record), I wasn't inclined to "buy" even cat litter for nothing there.
But I figured the store deserved a chance, so I grabbed the nearest friendly staff person and asked to see someone in charge. The cheerful older man working in produce told me the manager was at lunch (he turned out to be off until Wednesday), so I was directed to the assistant manager, a pleasant woman named Angie. The first customer service desk person I talked with said the ministry had been at the store "a lot" before Angie was able to talk with me.
I told Angie about the debacle at the Capitol on Friday, about the universal, nonpartisan rejection of Dean's extreme views and his offensive prayer. Surely, I said, no corporation wanted to be seen giving tacit approval of such a hateful person, much less allow its entry way to be used to fundraise.
Angie listened somewhat sympathetically, but didn't seem to think the repudiation of Dean and his ministry was cause to end the tabling outside, since Walmart has a corporate policy of allowing all sorts of groups to table at its entryways. Provided that the groups had filled out a form and been approved, she couldn't do anything, but she would look into it.
I asked if something could be done right away, but she said she had been out of town and hadn't heard about the House incident, just the tornadoes, and would have to look into it. I asked several times if she really thought the company wanted to have its brand associated with a group all major political leaders in the state had condemned. I mentioned that I know media people, and wondered if she thought this story would be good for Walmart. I asked about contacting corporate. She offered an 800 number. She said she was sorry I felt the way I did about not shopping at Walmart because of this.
At no time did she request my contact information--and so I concluded that I was being "niced," as Max Shulman once described the bland corporate acknowledgement of "feelings."
I left, went home and retrieved my cellphone and video camera and returned to photograph and tape. Here's a Youtube of the encounter with the Dean Street Team (the young man would have to be at least 18, given YCRBYCH Craiglist ads):
After the police officer left, I still needed feline staples, so I head down to another grocery store to get some food (the coupon would wait).
Michael Straumann's Friday encounter with the Dean Street Team
On the way to the pet department, I said hi to a young Baptist friend working in the video store. I mentioned the You Can Run But You Can Hide team down at Walmart; he exclaimed, "Oh wow! I can't they're still there today! My friend Mike talked to them on Friday, trying to distract them so they wouldn't mess up any little kids."
He said Michael had snagged a copy of the comic book version of "My War" and scornfully described the pamphlet and this friend's discussion.
Reached by phone tonight, Straumann, who is in his early twenties, said he was shocked to find YCRBYCH conducting a fundraiser at Walmart on Friday. He had learned about Dean's prayer first thing that morning when he read about it on Rachel Maddow's blog and watch the Youtube embedded there.
Straumann said he engaged the ministry team of two (different people than those I encountered) and they defended Dean's prayer and ministry by claiming that the media distorted what Dean is about. They claimed that their faith was a "pure" form of Christianity and that many people who claim to be Christians are not really Christians, Straumann said.
"They talked about how being 'homosexual' was not natural, and how it was illegal in Minnesota," Straumann said.
The team accused him of being intolerant of their beliefs. The younger of the two ministry team members said that he had felt threatened as a Christian when he saw "homosexual" anti-bullying posters in the Hopkins high school from which he had graduated, and that "homosexuals" were given special privileges to spread their message in schools. The ministry team claimed that more numbers of heterosexual teens commit suicide; Straumann said he pointed out that their are numerically more straight people than LGBTQ, and that some of those teen suicides thought to be straight may indeed be gay.
He noted that this isn't true. He also said that they politely argued about the the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. In their worldview, Straumann noted, the United States is a Christian nation and God leads the country. They repeated Dean's claim that President Obama is not a Christian. "They really believe in a theocracy," he said, "and that's not the case," acknowledging that the Constitution forbids religious tests for elected office in the United States.
At one point, Straumann said, a Walmart associate came out and asked if everything was okay. The associate was not a member of the management team, Straumann said, and he went back into the store when both sides of the discussion assured him that there was no problem.
A few people placed money in the donation jar, Straumann said.
He was told what the ministry team wouldn't say on camera: the contributions are intended to pay for the expense of putting on Dean's presentation about "his war" to young audiences. Although some groups can pay for the show, he said, the ministry team told him that they offer it at no cost to organizations and schools that can't afford it.
Straumann noted that by talking a long time with the team, he hoped to keep them from spreading a message he find offensive--and that he also feared that any LGBTQ child might suffer from an exchange.
It was fascinating talking to Straumann.
In the end, I have to wonder what Walmart is thinking and what sort of vetting the company does before allowing group on its property. Let's hope that the Bentonville retailing giant reviews its policies. You Can Run But You Can't Hide isn't a troop of Girl Scouts selling those scrumptious cookies; rather, they're merchants of fear and self-loathing dressed in track suits or t-shirts.
Low prices are one thing, Walmart; cheapening and coarsening our discourse is another.
Updates: Dean Street Team at other Walmarts; Ripple in Stillwater & Dump Bachmann on Financials
Facebook friends are reporting seeing this group fundraising at Walmarts in Elk River and Fergus Falls. The friend who saw the group at the Fergus Falls Walmart said and commented here:
"I sent an ethics complaint to corporate Walmart and never received a response. I find this upsetting because I work for a major corporation and if a customer sends a comment we are required to send a response."
Long-time Dean watcher Ken Avidor emails with information about the Street Teams. He writes, "They get real nervous for a reason - it's a scam:"
Yesterday, we had a post about the phenomenal fundraising success of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International, fronted by radio hate-talker and Bachmann pal Bradlee Dean (Bradley Dean Smith) which reported a whopping increase in revenue in one year from $385,703 to $1,015,605.
According to YCRBYCH's 2009 #990 much of that fundraising success is due to YCRBYCH's amazing "street teams". . . .
And from Ripple in Stillwater, a host of research-packed links, including this tidbit:
• $444,126 from contributions collected by Street Teams. It claims its street teams “shared the gospel six days per week through the year” and “shared the message of Christ with over 250,000 individuals.” Street team members, each of whom is either a “certificated, licensed or ordained minister,” distribute CDs, DVDs and printed materials from tables set up at gas stations and special events, such as the Michele Bachmann-Sarah Palin rally in Minneapolis April 7 and the 2010 GOP State Convention.
Check it out. Also worth a read: Doug Grow on the Marriage Inequality Amendment as legislative session's legacy, despite all the rhetoric about the budget and spending.
Photo: cellphone shot of the young male YCRBYCH ministry team member.
Note: Props to the Hutchinson police department for the officer's professionalism in this episode.