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When Wal-Mart Name is Outlawed, ACLU Cries Foul


The little, low-lying town of Yelm offers a spectacular view of glacier-covered Mount Ranier, the tallest mountain in the northwest state of Washington. For that reason, and its relative proximity to the big cities of Seattle and Tacoma, Yelm has been growing like a weed.

In the past 5 years, its population has jumped from just 3200 people to 4500 today. And the Wal-Mart superstore chain -- the world's biggest retailer -- has noticed. It has petitioned Yelm's town council to allow construction of a 17,000-square meter store that will sell everything from toothpaste to tires. A "big-box store," as some call it.

This pleases some folks, who want the wide product selection and generally modest prices that Wal-Mart offers. In fact, in small-town America, a Wal-Mart is sometimes considered a status symbol.

But many others don't want the store. They say it will clog Yelm Highway, pollute stormwater runoff, and put downtown shops out of business.

The opponents have been plenty vocal at town council meetings. So vocal that the council ruled the word "Wal-Mart" could not even be mentioned in public hearings. It banned the term "big-box store," too. Some people say these naughty words in council meetings anyway -- though they're immediately told to sit down and be quiet.

Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union -- which often champions free-speech causes -- has protested in a letter to Yelm's mayor, who responded, "We don't answer to the ACLU."

The name "Yelm" comes from a Native American word meaning "heat waves from the sun." These days, the mayor and council are feeling PLENTY of heat -- from a source much closer to home.

This is one of VOA's Only in America radio essays on events and trends that are peculiarly American. To visit our Only in America home page click here.

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