The Information Age made possible by the computer’s revolutionary power has made having a much more informed and vocal citizenry possible and usually a reality. In particular, discovering that yet another company has engaged in practices deemed immoral by contemporary mores has become an everyday occurrence.
Just this week we found out that Hobby Lobby doesn’t welcome Jewish customers, and Barilla doesn’t welcome non-heteronormative families. We recently learned that Goodwill, rather than being the charity we thought it was, is actually just paying its administrators the big bucks. Chick-fil-A is always in the news because its homophobic president can’t control his bigotry and ignorance. The Salvation Army has been in the news too for being a hate group and church disguised as a charity. Wal-Mart, of course, has been in the spotlight for years due to its anti-union, anti-woman, anti-[fill in almost any passion you have] practices.
Social media groups and their hundreds and thousands of followers call upon concerned citizens to boycott. The limitations with many potential protests, however, are three fold. Boycotts, while aimed at a company and its decision-makers, are too often targeted at workers who have absolutely no control or voice over what their employer does. And getting another job isn’t always an option. If a boycott is powerful enough in number and duration, it will hurt employees at the bottom of a company’s hierarchy long before those at the top.
Second, companies like Wal-Mart have been so successful in bully business tactics that they are now the only grocery store in a growing number of communities. If you want to eat, you have to shop at Wal-Mart! Others, in the practical, very real realities of today can’t afford to shop anywhere else, even if they would like to, because workers are paid far less than employers and struggle to survive.
Third, there are so many concerns that we are now keenly aware of and alarmed about that it is impossible to boycott every single last company that has unethical practices. Seemingly all companies have institutional practices that privilege the executives and minimize the men and women who actually make the company run. These same businesses are destroying the earth and refusing to use environmentally friendly practices. The list is endless. Pick your cause. Any one. And there are far too many companies that don’t follow that basic and important mores.
As a result, we are unavoidably contributing to the perpetuation of a tiny group’s monopoly of power, opportunity, and freedom when we shop anywhere, and we are unwillingly somewhat hypocritical when we boycott one business but not virtually all other businesses. Moreover, there is so much wrong in corporate society and everything (even small mom and pop stores) is so infinitely, intricately, and intimately connected to the corporate world that no one can keep up with all the news. Additionally, any momentum for a protest tends to die quickly (although the short life of a social movement/protest is far from new). Whatever happened to Paula Deen and all of the fierce protest against her (and a few supporting her)?
This is not to say boycotts are not worth time and effort. Indeed, they are important and can be effective (and fun, too!). Protests and boycotts are also wonderful in that they demonstrate that PEOPLE DO CARE and DO HAVE A VOICE. Indeed, despite popular mythology, this nation was created as a very anti-democratic, anti-equality nation. The only reason we have achieved the degrees of democracy that we have are because brave women and men stood up and fought against the powers that be. While computers have made being overdosed of news an everyday experience, computers also make it possible for thousands of people to very quickly voice their opinion whether its on Twitter, Facebook, or other sites.
In 2010, civil rights groups directed our attention to Target’s anti-gay funding and organized some awesome flash mobs.
Target reversed course and became a model for other companies wishing to embrace individuals above, beyond, and outside of stereotypical heteronormative paradigms. Or so we thought. Just a few months ago Target was again under fire for giving money to anti-gay politicians. Additionally, Target caught the attention of human right watchers for its extremely stereotypical and derogatory guidelines for understanding Hispanic employees.
So don’t worry too much about keeping up with who and what to boycott per se. Our energy is more effectively used when we speak out on social media and pressure our elected officials to push reform that will increase pay, opportunity, and equality for the majority.