Editor’s response to letters about the “JJ Bean” article
We received an unusual lot of letters to the editor about Isabel Krupp’s article, “JJ Bean is waging war on the poor,” which Isabel wrote after she was contacted by CBC radio to respond to comments made by the manager of one of the coffee chain’s locations in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver. At the last minute, the CBC show decided to go with a more credentialed, pro-cop source (the VPD’s copagandist Constable Steve Addison) so Isabel took the research she did to prepare for the interview and wrote this article instead.
What’s notable is not any particular quibble that these concerned readers have about Isabel’s analysis. We think the article speaks for itself, and the claims that Isabel makes stand up to reexamination. Read it here and judge for yourself.
What is interesting are the political and language pirouettes performed by these readers, divorcing (and thereby maintaining) their rhetorical denunciations of police, poverty, and even capitalism, from the social role and regulatory activity of a retail manager who they happen to know, or, presumably, feel some identification with.
Hannah Unterschultz calls on Volcano writers to focus on “systemic issues” rather than “attacking their peers.” But what is a “system” that does not include and rely upon the active participation and creative innovation of foremen-type operatives like Julian Bentley? Unterschultz’s fantasy of a system that works without real people’s participation is an example of a fashionable, rhetorical anti-capitalism that recognizes the injustice around us but treats it as inevitable and indestructible, a conspiracy plot that floats above and envelops the whole social world, holding us all helpless in its grasp.
Another reader, Cassidy Anhorn, wrote, “I believe that ACAB and I, in no way, support the Neates, but this is about the workers.” But the “worker” Bentley exceeded his particular worker’s duty to keep inventory in his shop and oversee the exploitation of his worker’s labour power, and took on the role of a cop. The critique Krupp made, which Anhorn is objecting to, is that Bentley mobilized his position of social respectability as a business manager to call for an increase of policing spending and policing powers over the poor on the public streets outside his place of business. There is a real gulf here between “ACAB” as Instagram filter and the principle put into practice that the “all” in “all cops are bastards” would include Bentley because of his advocacy for more and stronger cops.
We are not helpless participants in the wheels of the factory capitalism has made of society. We can struggle against the grain and in our combined power together and really change things.
We are not helpless participants in the wheels of the factory capitalism has made of society. We can struggle against the grain and in our combined power together and really change things. And we are not all peers. There are class lines that divide manager from worker, and workers don’t automatically recognize or abide by those lines.
Between the lines of Krupp’s story, another article is written. It is about the problem that everyday coffee shop workers have to contend with in a city with a grotesque and still growing divide between the rich and the poor. Baristas are, for the most part, amongst the relatively poor. Like other low-wage workers they tend to be women, and tend to be young. Like other low-wage workers, their job is to provide luxury services to higher income, often middle class and financial services workers, investors, and business and property owners. This public service job puts baristas in one of the few public spaces where there is uncomfortable interaction between rich and poor, and managing those tensions can fall to them.
An unwaged, but increasingly expected part of the job of the barista is to also manage a makeshift drop-in space for unhoused and low-income people who often have nowhere to escape the rain and sleet of winter or the heat of summer except for a neighbourhood cafe. This is the problem that Anhorn refers to when they write, “I am sympathetic to the homeless of course and our city is doing a terrible job at providing them resources and support, but this should not fall on the shoulders of a 16 year old barista.”
Nearly a decade ago I worked at the Carnegie Centre at the corner of Main and Hastings in the Downtown Eastside. I frequently bought coffee at the Waves coffee shop on Main and Pender and was always impressed with the good faith and extraordinary patience that I saw from the baristas who worked there.
The 16-year-old barista… is a class struggle fighter, and it’s time for her to take her place as part of a militant working class movement that includes the unemployed.
The regular workers were a young man and a young woman, both of them were international students from west and south Asia. I witnessed them offer napkins and water to people who were bleeding. I saw them mop up the bathroom that someone with nowhere to shower had used to clean more than their hands. One time someone who was shaking with fatigue asked for an empty cup and then emptied the entire cream jug into that cup and drank it back like a person starving. The workers waited, asked for the cream jug back, refilled it, and put it back where the customer could pour out more if they wanted. I never saw them call the cops.
The story between the lines of Krupp’s article is one that would likely make these particular readers more uncomfortable. It is that we live in a society, not in the matrix. The battlelines of systemic issues are not abstracted from our everyday lives, they are drawn through and by everyday people, including our peers. The 16-year-old barista who Anhorn imagines is not a powerless victim, we believe she is a class struggle fighter, and it’s time for her to take her place as part of a militant working class movement that includes the unemployed.
Re: JJ Bean is waging war on the poor
Your writer, Isabelle Krugg [sic] recently wrote a piece on JJ Bean Main Street that is widely inaccurate and slanders/ bullies an innocent person within the article.
I do not work for JJ Bean currently so I have no stake in this, but I know the staff very well and what Krugg wrote was extremely inappropriate.
The issue that the article has failed to see is that minimum wage workers are having to deal with things beyond being a barista, such as cleaning up human waste, and dealing with violence and theft etc. with no support.
Krugg’s article misses this point by a landslide and attacks the manager of the store saying that he hates the poor. They even posted his photo and full name, and then assume that he himself is poor. The irony is that Krugg bullies and belittles him, “the poor”. The poor includes the workers that are the ones suffering. I am sympathetic to the homeless of course and our city is doing a terrible job at providing them resources and support, but this should not fall on the shoulders of a 16 year old barista. Which was the main point of the original new story.
I encourage being critical towards the CEO of JJ, as they have the power to change the situation, in a humane and dignified way. I wish Krugg had approached it from this angle.
Honestly the article reads like Krugg has a personal vendetta against Bentely.
I believe that ACAB and I, in no way, support the Neates, but this is about the workers. Please ask your writers to use a more critical lens in their work.
I would strongly consider revising your article,
A concerned reader.
Re: JJ Bean is waging war on the poor
I am writing to you to express my concern over the venomous article written by Isabel Krupp about Julian Bentley, JJ Bean, and the homelessness issue in Vancouver.
Disclaimer: I am a former JJ Bean employee and acquaintance of both John Neate and Julian Bentley.
I found the article to read like the frustrated musings of someone who has decided to embrace the term “cancel culture” and applied it to anyone who even mentions hot button topics.
Anyone who has read the CBC article will note that Bentley expressed sympathy for the houseless community in Vancouver, and wished that there were more resources available to these people so they were not forced to be in a position of desperation. This is a fair and appropriate statement to make. It is not the job of a local cafe manager to find solutions to the housing crisis in Vancouver, but that of the city government and other governing bodies. The police need to be held accountable for the violence they’ve committed against these communities, and it is unconscionable that the article should mock Bentley for doing “police work for free” because he is not the problem here, they are.
This is a problem of structural and systemic oppression of poor communities, and the writer has no right to mock and slander someone who is trying to make a living without getting coffee thrown in his face, and having people take a shit in the middle of his cafe.
I do understand the frustration of the author, but cannot condone their reprimandation of the staff of JJ Bean. The issue at hand lies with the city and the police force.
As a footnote, yes, JJ Bean has the typical problem that all capitalist-conforming enterprises do: John Neate made an attempt to make things right that was misguided and kind of stupid, and yes, he is profiting off of the work of his employees, but again, this is a city problem and not a rich man problem, in my opinion.
If your staff are to write articles of this incendiary nature in the future, I would advise them to address the systemic issues at hand, rather than attacking their peers for both being, and hating “poors”. This article was an embarrassment and deeply frustrating example of misinformation.
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
Hannah Unterschultz (she/her)
Re: JJ Bean is waging war on the poor
Hi, this is an email directed more toward Isabel Krupp, the author of the analysis of JJ Bean’s war on the poor. I worked at that location under Julian Bentley for about a year and a half and worked at the company for a combined 2 and a half years. I was actually working there the night that the person committed suicide in the bathroom. Odd that they seem to be concerned about their employees now, because when it happened they certainly didn’t seem to care about our well-being, they just sent a clean up crew. In fact, I had to clean that very bathroom the next day, as it was part of my “daily duties” despite being quite traumatized by what had happened only 14 hours earlier, and asking not to.
Anyways, I have information regarding that location, and the particularly toxic work environment I experienced there, if you’re interested, please let me know.