For many years, Ms. Mitchell focused on Walmart, including writing a book about mega-retailers in 2006 called “Big Box Swindle.” Some of her work was hands-on, like when Walmart announced a new supercenter in the tiny Maine town of Damariscotta.
A few townspeople wanted to oppose the store but did not quite know how. “We were so out of our depth,” one of them, Jenny Mayher, said. “Walmart had a very successful strategy of dividing communities. It would say that people who didn’t want their stores were privileged rich people, while the working people needed jobs and an affordable place to get diapers.”
The Walmart opponents contacted Ms. Mitchell, who gave a presentation at the local library arguing that both tax revenue and the quality of local jobs would decline. “Stacy armed us with exactly the information we needed to have fact-based argument,” Ms. Mayher said. “She has an ability to be wonky without taking the humanity out of it.”
In early 2006, Damariscotta voters changed the town zoning, blocking the supercenter. Walmart declined to comment on Ms. Mitchell.
Walmart was a challenge. Amazon is a bigger one. Walmart dominates groceries, but the company is not a platform-controlling gatekeeper for multitudes of smaller businesses in the same way that Amazon is. And Walmart’s demographics differ from those of Amazon, which has become an essential feature of a certain optimized urban lifestyle.
“People love e-commerce technology,” said Michael Zucker, director of Change to Win, a federation of labor unions that is allied with the Athena coalition. “The frictionless ability to order something reliably with very little risk is a very popular product. The question is, do you want just one company to have that?”
Optimism at a dark moment
It’s probably not a coincidence that this center of Amazon resistance is about as far away as you can get from the actual company. Seattle is 2,500 miles distant, and Maine is one of the few states without a major Amazon warehouse. (There is a Whole Foods, however, a few blocks from Ms. Mitchell’s office.)