TEWKSBURY, Mass. — Imagine getting off 495 in Tewksbury on Tuesday and driving into this scene, if you did not know anything about the Market Basket saga.
First you’d pull into the shopping plaza to see people streaming into a roped-off area. You’d see a stage decorated with red, white and blue bunting. You’d see a boisterous crowd holding signs showing a bald white man and the words “Our Leader.”
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You might think you were at a campaign rally for a politician — a big election. You could wonder why so many people are holding stuffed giraffes?
“You have to have a giraffe right now, if you work for Market Basket,” said nine-year company employee Siara Boudreau. “Because we stick our neck out for what’s right. If we believe in something. Do the right thing.”
But you’d soon find out this is not a campaign rally for a candidate running for office. It’s for an ousted CEO bidding to return to the corner office. You’d soon notice that the rally is a little rough around the edges — not your typical scripted event with well-tested stump speeches.
“These people can’t even do a thousand…in a day,” said warehouse worker Josh Ghuste nervously. “I’m bad speakin’,” Ghuste said after a long pause, followed by loud cheers from the crowd.
You’d see that nobody seems to mind that the speakers are not as polished as practiced politicians. Nobody seems to mind that the stage is just two-by-fours held together with grabber screws and mounted in the back of a pickup truck.
The only thing people seem to mind is that their candidate is not here. Arthur T. Demoulas has made no public appearances since the rallies began three weeks ago. So, he was not there on Tuesday to give a fiery speech to rowdy up his supporters.
“In a dream world, I would’ve gotten up there to start, and say I’m cancelling all the speakers, we only have one, but right now that’s dream world,” said emcee of the rally Steve Paulenka, who got fired from Market Basket two weeks ago.
Now the former operations employee is playing the role of a political operative organizing the rallies against company management. He’s gotten calls from actual election campaign staffers who’ve offered their services, Paulenka said. But Market Basket workers prefer to do this themselves, he said, to keep the costs down.
“The Porta Potties, those were donated. The signs were all donated. The sound system I paid for. All homespun,” Paulenka said.
So when the rally ends without the main candidate taking the stage, everything comes down. Workers with electric drills start breaking down the wooden stand holding a banner that says “Save Market Basket.”
And they’re keeping everything to be able to set it up again at the next rally. And no one knows how many more rallies there will be after that because there’s no election day in this campaign. There’s no scheduled vote or a specific date for everyone to look forward to for all the politicking to be over.