The Golden Arches are going up in Tecoma, but residents of the small Australian town aren’t lovin’ it.
After flying almost 10,000 miles this week, a group of Australian activists are taking their two-year fight with McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE:MCD) to its own front door, and they say they won’t stop until the fast-food giant agrees to take a permanent McHike. On Wednesday, representatives of the BurgerOff activist movement said they planned to deliver a petition to McDonald’s headquarters in suburban Chicago, calling on the company to abandon its plans to build a 24-hour restaurant and drive-thru in Tecoma, a small town east of Melbourne. The group says the proposed site is too close to a kindergarten and school, and kids as young as 5 would walk past “a giant advertisement for junk food” on a daily basis.
Launched on Change.org by BurgerOff’s spokesman, Garry Muratore, the petition has attracted more than 97,000 supporters. It is just one part of a massive grassroots effort that has included outlandish demonstrations, flash mobs, community outreach and a focused social media campaign. On Wednesday, members of the group inflated about a dozen toy kangaroos in a protest outside of a McDonald’s restaurant in Chicago, according to Melbourne’s Herald Sun.
The group funded its trip to the U.S. with a crowd-sourcing campaign on Indiegogo, where they raised more than $35,000 from almost 1,700 backers. The town of Tecoma has a population of only 2,089. On its website, the group said it polled 1,230 of those residents, 90 percent of whom are against McDonald’s coming to their town. Following more than 1,100 written objections in 2011, Tecoma’s local council initially rejected a McDonald’s application to build the restaurant, according to Australia Network News. That decision, however, was overturned by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
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McDonald’s Corp., which is seeking an injunction to keep protesters away from the construction site, has maintained that the opposition is coming from a small but vocal minority. In a statement to International Business Times, a company spokeswoman stressed that the site in question is appropriately zoned and that the area already contains multiple restaurants.
“We hear the concerns of the group and respect their right to peacefully express their views,” the spokeswoman said. “McDonald’s Australia has followed due process every step of the way to build a family restaurant on a highway that already houses a number of food and service outlets.”
The spokeswoman went on to say that the restaurant will be franchised to a local business owner who already owns a McDonald’s in a nearby community. “This new restaurant will bring 100 jobs to this community and will represent the spirit of small business ownership,” she said.
Despite its avowed support of small-business ownership, McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the world, with 2012 revenue of more than $27 billion.
Since their arrival in Chicago, the BurgerOff delegates have been making the rounds on local television and radio stations. According to Facebook posts, Muratore and three other delegates had hoped to meet Thursday with Don Thompson, chief executive of McDonald’s Corp., at the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill. Either way, they planned to deliver the petition. Earlier on Wednesday, one group member posted a photo of a street sign that reads “McDonald’s Dr.,” with the caption, “We’re here!”
McDonald’s declined to comment on the petition beyond its statement, but plans to go ahead with construction. In the media, the battle is being framed as a classic David vs. Goliath story, but we prefer to look at it as Small Fries vs. Big Mac.
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BurgerOff members said they delivered the petition to McDonald’s Corp. headquarters, but they did not have much success getting McDonald’s representatives to read it. An email from Garry Muratore, BurgerOff’s founder, said “they refused to shake our hand or even touch the petition.” A Facebook update from BurgerOff delegate Peta Freeman told a similar story, saying the group dropped off boxes containing the petition (7,000 pages containing 97,340 signatures). Freeman added that security was called to take the boxes away.