Jay Carmona, Contributor
Ideology: Left | Writing from: Washington, DC
There’s been a bit of hubbub lately about Target Corporation’s recent, ill-advised, $150,000 campaign contribution to an anti-gay Minnesota Gubernatorial candidate, one Tom Emmer. In an extra-classy move Target even used the money to buy campaign ads for Emmer, a far-right candidate who also pledges to lower the states’ corporate taxes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about how a corporation is trying to make more profits; that’s not news. What is news is that this particular example of profit-before-people methodology was made possible by the Supreme Court Decision in Citizens United. In response to its contribution, Target has become the target for an LGBTQ boycott, a MoveOn campaign as well as scrutiny from its own shareholders.
Thanks to Citizens United, corporations like Target can give money directly to political candidates— in unrestricted amounts. Recent, rather feeble, attempts by the Senate to try impose restrictions on corporate contributions have been defeated by Republican filibuster. Where the government and courts fail to protect the basic democratic principle of “one person one vote”, we must ask an important question:
What recourse are consumers and voters left with now?
Some corporations, such as Goldman Sachs, have pledged not to spend on election advertising, but others, like Target, have no intention of resisting the temptation. Without pressure from voters, corporations are sure to intervene in elections in increasing amounts. But corporations don’t respond to voters. Whatever are we to do?
What LGBTQ activists know is that boycotts have delivered results for voters and consumers where their governments have failed since the 1800’s, and, in fact, played an important role in the founding of this nation. Indeed, a boycott of British goods was effective enough to be one of the causes of the American Revolution. Consumer boycotts are a historically proven tactic specifically designed for use of the many when the few cannot or will not act within the public interest.
The Target boycott, however, paired with some very creative actions by LGBTQ groups, has generated push-back. Critics have called the boycott “infantile” and “ineffective.” While I agree that boycotts should not be undertaken lightly, they can hardly be called ill-advised for an imagined lack of participation. In fact, this particular boycott has delivered results, including a drop in stock prices, albeit temporary, as well as public pressure and protest from stockholders, as mentioned above. Further, it strains credulity to call one of the most historically proven consumer tactics in existence “infantile.” One really must start to wonder, if boycotts are so ineffective, why all the squawking?
What really causes so much resistance to even the potential use of the word “boycott” is this: they are defiantly and devastatingly effective.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott practically crippled the Montgomery Transit System in 1955 and was responsible for getting segregation laws declared unconstitutional in the Supreme Court. The United Farm Workers table grape and lettuce boycotts are the stuff of legend. With a track record like that, no wonder mere mention of the word “boycott” causes squeals of ideological terror.
Some individuals and corporations would prefer that voters (LGBTQ and otherwise) only flex our power behind the curtain and in the safety of a voting booth—but democracy is not so easily controlled. The idea that corporations should be able to buy elections goes against basic democratic principles, and what better weapon is there to use against a profit-driven corporation like Target but not buying? What better, simpler, weapon, in this economy, but refusing to spend? Target may buy the election, but it can’t buy the consumers.
After all, every voter is also one other thing: a consumer. Perhaps if more consumers would act with as much self-respect as LGBTQ consumers have against Target, corporations would have to loosen their hold on our democracy.
After all, history has already given us the solution to our problem: the boycott.