I’m not a huge boycotter. It is not that I have anything particularly against them. In fact, I think they could be effective in many cases. The main reason I tend not to boycott is because, in my own jaded view of the world, everything seems so screwed up and – to use a Hillary Clinton term – “unredeemable” that in order for me to be consistent in judging where my dollars should go I’m not sure I’d step foot in just about any store, and I would probably not buy products from nearly any brand.
Having said that, I have moved beyond that generally sense of hopeless response to warming up more and more to the idea that selected boycotts are a good thing. I think my mindset was incorrect that it is necessary to boycott every evil all at once. It is probably more realistic, and possibly even more effective in changing the culture, to take selective action for specific reasons where it can have the most impact. This not only presents a more specific message, but it also serves as a warning shot to all those who were not on the receiving end of the boycott to clean up their act or they may be next.
I think it’s all fine and well and good to take principled stands, but I think one also needs to understand that not everyone will (or reasonably can) avoid every place everyone else might want them to avoid. I know many people are boycotting Hardees/Carl Jr because of racy ads. Many people are boycotting companies that came out as supportive of gay marriage during that whole fight. And the list goes on. I say, go for it. But if your friend isn’t boycotting Hardees then don’t whack that friend on the head in judgment. He or she may well point out this thing or that thing about a company you are not boycotting where it could be argued that it is just as meritorious to do so.
I guess, to me, it is most effective if all of us Christians can get together and collectively come to grips with the fact that all of culture is broken and is in various states of decay, and instead of just trying to fix everything all at once and ending up with only a handful of people boycotting any particular place, there needs to be a bit more thought and actual strategy behind it.
That is one reason I loved the Target boycott. It was kind of cool to see something so well organized that tugged on the boycott levers of a large swath of people. The other good thing about it is that they knew exactly why they were being boycotted. It is then up to them to decide what to do, or not do, as the case may be. And despite their own resolve, it is almost certain that other major corporations took notice and thought “Uh, yeah… think we’ll not wade into those waters right now.”
So, ultimately, there are two kinds of boycotts. (1) You, as an individual, feel strongly about something and you are not going to patronize some place. There is no real organized movement afoot. (2) A critical mass of people have signed up through an organized effort to boycott. In the first case, depending on your approach, it is unlikely that your boycott will impact anything at all, and may in fact do you more harm than anyone else if you are foregoing a product or service you enjoy. That may well be a worthwhile sacrifice, but that is all your boycott will likely product. But there could be exceptions to this.
So, taking a look at those words often heard in terms of journalistic enterprise:
WHO – I think it’s probably a losing battle to boycott everything. So it is probably important to focus either on a particular issue you feel very strongly about or a limited number of companies that have particularly upset you.
WHERE – If you take your boycotting to the peaceful protest stage to try and educate others, keep some things in mind: (1) do not harass other patrons. (2) do not judge other patrons. (3) keep in mind that the people working there likely need a job and your actions may be indirectly hurting their future job prospects – particularly if a boycott is successful. Treat them with dignity and respect even if they aren’t all that nice to you. They may be seeing you as an enemy not so much because of the issue, but because they are concerned for their own job.
WHEN – As I said, it’s completely up to you. But I would look for organized boycotts that have built up steam and can actually have an impact on the financial results of the company being boycotted. It may not even be your primary issue or main focus, but if it’s a cause you can get behind and can help send a greater message, this makes better strategical sense than proverbially carpet-bombing everything in sight. But you may feel very strongly about other issues as well.
HOW – I think the most important element of boycotting is to make sure companies realize you are boycotting them and why. And it also probably helps to let them know how much you would have otherwise patronized them. Sure, they may dismiss you as a nutjob or may simply not even care that you will not patronize them, but if 1000 other people send them the same note or email they will be forced to take notice. They may not even want to capitulate, but with enough pressure they just might because they are still a business. If you personally boycott Hardees and have never told them how much you would likely spend there in a year and why you are taking your dollars elsewhere, they don’t even know that they are missing out on sales, or even if they notice a decline they don’t know what the reason is. A few years ago I happened to see the sponsors of a local gay pride event. I saw a jeweler my wife uses on the list. I sent an e-mail, not even to boycott, but to express my disappointment that they would sponsor such an event. As far as I know, my email was the only one they received and it prompted the owner to take sponsorship duties from his store manager and promise me that it would never happen again – and it hasn’t. A note can mean a lot, or it may not mean much, but if they don’t know then your actions likely mean even less.
WHY – I encourage people to stay focused on the fact that it is executive management who decides the corporate approach to things. I work for a very large company. I don’t agree with some of the public stands taken by my company. I am an employee who wants to do a good job providing a good product for people who need it. Taking the torches and pitchforks out against all company employees is a disservice to what you are trying to accomplish. You are trying to change the culture by getting people to reconsider the damage they may be doing to it by the actions they are taking. If you are angry and hateful in doing so, then you will fail miserably, will bring disrespect to the cause, and will only help further the deterioration of our culture. You are boycotting because what they believe and what they are doing is causing harm to society. That needs to be said, but in a charitable, clear, concise, and logical way.