Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Boycott and Me

Here's a nice drawing of Charles Cunningham Boycott, which, Wikipedia assures me, is in the public domain:

I am in mind of Captain Boycott these days since his name is much in the news. Well, not so much his name as the activity that his name has come to represent: the boycott, of course, the idea of which gets flung up with astonishing regularity whenever someone is unhappy with someone or something.

Most recently, of course, it's Target that we're being called upon to boycott. A few weeks ago it was BP. And Arizona. Walmart is pretty well ensconced on the boycott list. I'm sure there are dozens of others at the moment that I'm unaware of.

Well, I've signed a couple of petitions calling on Target to quit supporting the right-wing Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes gay marriage. I think corporations should stay out of elections, and I particularly think that corporations who don't--now that the Supreme Court has granted corporations "personhood" and allowed them to make unlimited contributions to buy elections--should be made to realize that some people are paying attention, and that we will make our decisions as consumers based in part on their decisions as corporations.

Certainly, news of the $150,000 Target contribution to Emmer's campaign has made me unenthusiastic about spending money at Target, which once was one of my favorite retailers. But boycott? Hmm.

In my youth, I was quick to boycott anything and anyone. Poor service? Boycott 'em! Lousy product? Boycott 'em! Odious social or political position? You guessed it.

Truth to tell, I never quite understood the difference between my self-righteous boycotts and simply no longer frequenting a restaurant or otherwise doing business with a given entity, but boycott sounds pretty damn impressive, I guess.

Now the problem I have with boycotts is trying to figure out who's really going to get hurt.

And I conclude that it's almost never the people whom I intend to hurt.

Let's take Target. It would be very easy for me to quit spending money there; in fact, my household's visits to Target had declined to practically nil until the corporation opened a store on "our" side of town a few months back. We've been frequenting it fairly often since then, but it would be pretty easy to drop back. They have nothing that we can't get elsewhere, and for probably about the same price.

Obviously no one at Target will notice one way or the other if I cut them off. Which is why we're all supposed to boycott them. And, to be sure, they would notice if significant numbers of Target shoppers stayed away in droves.

But what would be the most immediate effect? Upon noting a decline in sales, would the board of directors resign? Would the CEO be replaced? Would there be massive layoffs in the executive suite at Target Corp.?

Seems unlikely. Seems more likely that a bunch of minimum-wage clerks at various Target stores would be canned. Or, worst case, stores would be closed and they'd all get canned.

Not quite sure how my getting some high-school kid working part-time at Target thrown overboard translates into my bold and noble stand against the faceless corporation.

Ditto with BP. Early on, the call went up to boycott BP. Certainly my sentiments were in that direction, but there was the practical consideration: How the hell do I do that? In my environs, BP is represented by a local convenience store with a handful of locations around town. Easy enough to boycott them--not that they'd notice, since I seldom gas up there anyhow. But, again, the question is who's getting hurt? BP? Not much. The local store owner? Yeah, a little. What's his reaction apt to be? Dissociate from BP? Probably not. More likely that he will, yes, throw some part-time employee over the edge.

But I am still left with the fact that I am severely disappointed in Target, sorely ticked off at BP, and just generally leery of Walmart. What do I do?

As in every corner of existence, it's a question of balance. As is my wont with Walmart (I counted awhile back, and discovered that I have shopped at Walmart a grand total of five times in my life), I will think twice about parting with money at Target--and most of the time I imagine I will find an alternate route. But I don't know that "never" will be a big part of the vocabulary.

I would prefer that the bad publicity about their support of a candidate who expressly opposes fundamental rights for gay people will cause someone at Target HQ to wise up. It could happen--even if experience indicates that the more likely response is to dig in heels and weather the storm.

And then of course you always have the chip-on-shoulder contingent, which always can be counted on to say something bright like, "I don't like gays so I'm gonna shop at Target all the time now." Those people I'd like to find a way to boycott.