Pragmatic Protest – Don’t Boycott Bad Companies, Divest From Them

Author: November 22, 2012 1:00 am

Yep, you’re playing their game… There’s only one thing to do… there’s only one thing’s gonna do any good at all… And that’s everybody just look at it, look at the war, and turn your backs and say… Fuck it…

Author Ken Kesey spoke those words at a Viet Nam protest rally in Berkeley back in the 1960′s. His observation that the anti-war movement was essentially playing a role in the establishment’s ‘movie‘ wasn’t well-received by those in attendance. They were young motivated people, horrified by the actions the government was taking on their behalf, and had created an opposing force to push back against the heartless military-industrial complex. But their actions in Kesey’s estimation, were just more of the same; the anger, the friction, the sloganeering and rallying exacerbated the problem, as much as it did solve anything. They had created an army to fight for peace.

In today’s political climate, we’re fighting mostly for economic justice. It’s a good fight; in this last election, we came within a hair’s breadth of losing our government to wealthy plutocrats. And a good many of them seem intent on punishing us for opposing them. We have owners of chain restaurants pushing against Obamacare, we have Wal-Mart and their systematic mistreatment of their workforce, and we have Americans pushing back with boycotts. That’s a good fight, too. Anyone angry with these corporations is certainly correct.

But there’s a better way than boycotting Papa John’s, a more efficient way to fight Wal-Mart than protesting them; we need to turn our backs on them. We need to walk away from companies that underpay workers while funding political campaigns that attempt to control our economy and our rights. It’s time to remind these companies and ourselves, that they exist and thrive by our leave alone. They need us to survive, we do not need them.

A boycott suggests sacrifice; the idea is that you’re willing to endure a personal hardship by going without something for a length of time. But it’s no sacrifice to go without Papa John’s Pizza. It is, like the overwhelming majority of franchise store food, barely fit for human consumption. The only thing it offers is that it is cheap and fast. But so is dumpster diving. It is easy to walk away from Papa John’s pizza and never return.

Wal-Mart is a trickier proposition; while their odious business practices and worker mistreatment are legendary, American consumers have a host of rationalizations that keep them shopping there. Among them:

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  • They have everything in one store, it’s just more convenient.
  • Their prices are just cheaper than everyone else.
  • I don’t have time to shop around.

The Wal-Mart paradox is summed up neatly in this ‘Bizarro’ comic, by Dan Piraro:

But America desperately needs to divest itself from Wal-Mart and other ‘Big Box’ stores. Conservatives love to claim that progressives want to ‘punish success’ by pointing out the myriad sins of these retailers, but with Wal-Mart and Papa John’s and all the rest of these chains there’s one irrefutable truth: They’re creating a ‘one-way economy.’ Money from all over the country is vacuumed out of local economies, never to return.

That money rests solely in the hands of a very few people, along with its attendant power. That is an unsustainable business model for the American people. And protesting them, while a perfectly logical reaction to their abysmal nature, is not enough. Boycotting Walmart on Thanksgiving Day is the very least you can do. The fact that they expect people to leave their family gatherings to buy disposable doo-dads during the actual holiday is grotesque and cynical, but hardly out of character. We are the cattle they believe us (workers and customers alike) to be if the best we can do is avoid them for a holiday weekend.

We have to abandon them, and never return.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to look at the ways that we’ve become ensnared in this non-viable economic model, the cultural mind-set that led us to a place where pizza merchants believe they can hold our political process hostage, and how to find balance between our needs, our desires and our moral compasses.

Whether or not we would have it be so, all commerce is political. If you don’t believe me, look at your money; there’s a politician on every coin and dollar you have. We’ve allowed people without principles to control the world of retail shopping, we cannot expect them to adopt ethics, in response to our outrage. We can only find an alternative to engaging their services. Turn around, and walk away.Join me on FaceBook and Twitter

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