Let’s say you found out that McDonald’s planned to raze some historic buildings in your town and build a 24-hour franchise across the street from a kindergarten, and you didn’t want that to happen. What do you think you’d have to do to get that message across to McDonald’s?
Band together with your neighbors, no doubt. OK, let’s say in your town of, oh, about 2,000 residents, you find out that almost 90 percent of them don’t want the McDonald’s setting up shop either, and you deluge your local town council with more than a thousand written objections to the plan. Your town council unanimously votes to reject the McDonald’s proposal—hooray! Democracy reigns, and everyone lives fatty fast-food free ever after, right?
Not by a longshot.
That's at least when it comes to Tecoma, Australia, by all accounts a picturesque place far on the outskirts of Melbourne and one of the gateways to the natural splendor that is the Dandenong Ranges, a lushly forested bank of low mountains.
Rather than back down, McDonald’s appealed the town council’s decision—and won! (I won’t bog down the story with how that happened.) So town residents banded together to “Reclaim Tecoma,” according to the website protesters set up, and 600 descended on the proposed building site and planted (how awesome is this?) a community garden! Then they maintained a monthlong, 24-hour-a-day peaceful vigil.
Mickey D’s has gotta throw up its hands then, right? I mean, after all, do they really want a viral YouTube video out there of bulldozers plowing under, of all things, a community garden in the name of Big Macs and fries?
I guess so, because McDonald’s then went on to sue a number of the protesters for damages, including legal fees.
Thanks to a petition on Change.org, Tecoma residents were able to gather more than 97,000 signatures of support and to raise enough money to send a four-person delegation to McDonald’s headquarters near Chicago this week to deliver the more than 7,000 pages in person.
You can watch that awkward exchange, wherein the Tecoma delegation stands in the soulless corporate plaza outside as McDonald’s PR flak “Heidi” tries to convince the Australians that her company sued the protestors only for their own “protection”—you’ve got to see it to believe it. “Bob,” who won’t deign to put down his cup of coffee, lamely follows up with, “We very much support our owner/operator in Australia.” (Yeah, Bob, because that seems to be pretty much the only guy in town who wants the damn restaurant built.)
Of course I think it goes without saying that I hope the folks in Tecoma get their way, even as, sadly, the historic buildings have already been demolished and construction appears to have begun.
But even if they don’t, their smart, web-savvy yet clearly grassroots campaign, complete with online petition, Facebook videos and a compelling website, is an inspiration for anyone who thinks there’s no way for the rest of us to challenge the designs of a behemoth multinational corporation.
After all, I’m supporting Tecoma, and I live half a world away.