Calling for a boycott of a business because you don't like the stances they take on social issues or the political views of the owners/founders is a time honored tradition in American activism. Lately some of the more prominent calls for action have revolved around LGBT issues.
Rightwing anti-gay groups have called for boycotts of J.C. Penney, Starbucks, ToysRUs, Oreo cookies, and the Gap. Gay groups are up in arms about Chick-fil-A, coffee company Jitters & Bliss, and Exxon-Mobile as well as groups like the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts of America. Hell, here on Bilerico Project we've hit viral gold lately with a post about why you shouldn't eat at Jimmy Johns sub shop if you support progressive values.
When the National Organization for Marriage announced a boycott of Starbucks over the company's statement in support of marriage equality, we laughed and said they were stupid. When Jitters & Bliss supported NOM, we called for a boycott.
When Bryan Fischer said that gays were going to "go all Ahmadinejad" on Chick-fil-A for the company founder's outspoken opposition to the freedom to marry and corporate donations to anti-gay groups, we said he was a bombastic overblown fool who was over-exaggerating to make LGBT people look vicious and spiteful.
Now the LGBT community and allies have gone ballistic over Chick-fil-A founder Dan Cathy's statement that he thinks "we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say 'we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage'."
We're protesting outside of stores and food trucks, we're furiously signing internet petitions, working to get the franchise thrown off of college campuses, celebrating when business partners ditch them, and rejoicing when government officials threaten to use their political and bureaucratic might to oppose the chain's expansion efforts in their cities.
Wait. What? Let's slow things down for a minute and take another look at that. Something seems a little off.
I've asked before whether or not boycotts work and the general consensus I got from the comment thread on the post and the comments left on our Facebook page is that they don't. Not anymore. As a society we've evolved our corporate structures and distribution models to make it too difficult to meet the definition of a successful boycott. Today's method is more of a blend between a boycott and a public relations campaign.
In the case of Chick-fil-A, LGBT activists are waging a brilliant public relations campaign spurred on by both grassroots activists, national organizations, and, now, politicians. The result will hurt the fast food chain's bottom dollar. But I can't help but wonder how much we'd howl if rightwing mayors pledged to block Starbucks from their towns based off the company leadership's political stances.
As always, the best way to boycott anything is with your feet. Don't patronize the offending company's store and/or products. Don't vote for politicians who don't fit your moral worldview. Raise hell. Stomp your feet.
But when you bring in the weight of the government to actively oppose a corporation based solely on the owner's beliefs - whether religious, political, or simply ridiculous - makes me rather uneasy. If the company has broken a non-discrimination law it is one thing. But to punish franchise owners for a corporate parent company's decisions before they even open their doors is another.
They have the right to think and say and donate where they want. We have the right to spend our money elsewhere and to say why we are doing it. A Philadelphia city councilor has said he'd introduce a bill to denounce the company.
I'm perfectly fine with that. Denounce away. Spread the word. Help get more people to vote with their feet. Thanks for the help. We're a creative and political community and a good part of why our rights have advanced so far has been the wit, the perseverance, and the political know-how of our community's elders. We have a million tools at our disposal and the righteousness of our cause.
But the government should not have the right to make a moral judgement call - let alone use that arbitrary decision to decide whether or not a local business owner can get a license. That's a dangerous path lined with snakes.
What do you think? Is it going too far when the mayor of Boston and the mayor of Chicago threaten to oppose Chick-fil-A's expansion to their cities based on the corporation's founder's personal beliefs?