More than 10 days after Whole Foods employees were sent home for refusing to take off their Black Lives Matter face masks, Cambridge community members remain frustrated with the company.
On Sunday, more than 40 people held signs in front of the River Street store, where they have gathered nearly every day since June 25. The group erupted into cheers every several minutes, marking each time they persuaded a shopper to buy groceries elsewhere.
A statement issued by the company said a longstanding dress code forbids employees from wearing slogans and messages that are not company-related.
Many of the protesters, like Jason Slavick — who lives just across the street from the store — used to frequent the market. He and other boycott organizers have contacted local store managers as well as corporate leaders to argue that a company that pitches itself as a values-oriented business should change its policy.
“There should be no place safe for racism, and the only way that happens is if they say it out loud and stop hiding behind neutrality,” he said.
Suverino Frith was one of the original seven employees who was turned away after showing up to work in a Black Lives Matter mask. The 21-year-old spoke before the crowd, urging them to continue fighting.
“These are careful people who want to be loud but not too loud,” he said, speaking about the company. “They don’t want to alienate anyone. They don’t really want to choose a side; they just want to seem like they are. Only that’s too bad, because we’re choosing a side for them.”
Though Frith, who has worked seasonally with the store for two years, had heard that employees had been turned away at other stores, he was still surprised when he and his colleagues were told to leave. Managers have some leeway about what rules the store enforces, he said.
“With the core values that we have at the company, that we always talk about, it didn’t seem like that would be the response,” he said.
Cambridge City Councilors Alanna Mallon and Quinton Zondervan were present Sunday after sending a strong statement to company leaders.
“This protest shouldn’t be necessary to get Whole Foods to do the right thing,” Zondervan said.
Several protesters held up painted wooden signs or banners that gave contact information for Whole Foods management.
The last protesters left around 7:30 p.m. Two Cambridge police officers stood nearby throughout the rally, but kept their distance.