What’s It Worth To Ya?

A recent discussion with a friend started me thinking about boycotts. (“What the hell kind of friends do you have, Ghostess?” wonders Statler, or maybe it’s Waldorf, in the balcony. Answer: “Friends that start me thinking about boycotts.”)
Anyway, boycotts have been around since before they were called boycotts, and there’s no doubt that they can be a powerful force for change. One of the cornerstones on which the American civil rights movement took shape was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when thousands of black Alabamans quit riding the city’s segregated bus system. These riders made up a majority of the bus system’s regular passengers, and without their business, there was little choice but to desegregate the buses.
But lately I hear the concept of boycott being tossed around and rendered almost meaningless. Case in point: PETA encourages people to “boycott” the circus due to what it calls inhumane treatment of elephants and other animals. Now, whether circuses are inhumane or not is a perfectly fair question, and of course the answer varies according to the viewpoint of who you are talking to and which circus you’re talking about. But what exactly does boycotting the circus accomplish?
Think about it. The circus comes through town once a year. You either go or you don’t go. Then it leaves town. There will always, always, always be enough people who do attend so that the circus doesn’t lose too much money. This doesn’t mean that people who feel strongly about the treatment of circus animals should just give up and keep quiet; it only means I think that a boycott is innefective and sort of like taking a lazy way out.
The dictionary doesn’t say anything about how to be a true boycott, the people doing the boycotting must somehow be inconvenienced or endangered, but from where I sit, the most effective boycotts do pose hardships for people besides the business or organization being boycotted. Back to Montgomery and the bus boycott; at that time, few black people could afford cars, but they still had to get to work and to the store like anybody else. When they decided not to ride the city buses, they now had to think up ways to get where they needed to go; few employers (usually white employers) would have been very understanding about late arrivals or missed workdays. So people rode bicycles, walked, formed carpools, and made do. Add to this that such a bold gesture of defiance didn’t sit well with many whites in the city, some of whom were willing to resort to violence and intimidation to maintain the status quo, and you can see that the Montgomery Bus Boycotters were really sticking their necks out. Kudos to them all!
Now let’s fast-forward and talk about Chik-Fil-A. Chik-Fil-A is a Christian-owned company whose non-support of gay marriage has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So there was a lot of talk about boycotting Chik-Fil-A.
I see several potential problems with that. First of all, as is usually the case when we’re talking about franchises and large corporations, the first people to suffer due to a lack of customers, for whatever reason, are not the head honchos being targeted. No, the first losers are the lowly individual franchise owners and their employees, who, we should keep in mind, do not have a say in company policy, much less in the political or religious views of the folks at Headquarters. Doesn’t seem fair or egalitarian to punish the Little People for the perceived sins of the Big People, does it?
Now, if a particular Chik-Fil-A was using discriminatory practices in hiring employees or serving customers, boycotting that particular outlet would possibly do some good. But that apparently wasn’t the issue here.
Also, I heard a lot of people on the Internet saying things like “I never go to Chik-Fil-A, but now I’m definitely never going to go there!” They said this as if we should congratulate them on their sacrifice, their bravery, their Social Conscience. No dice, hipsters; you get no points for effort. All you’re doing is what you’ve already been doing, the only difference is you’re making more noise about it.
There is a word for people who do this kind of thing, and I am going to use it even at the risk of sounding like a pundit for Fox News. The word is slacktivist. A slacktivist thinks he’s being a pioneer for change even when all he is doing is passing along chain emails he gets warning “Send this to ten friends! Hurry! People are dying of malaria!” and thinks that his passing along of this spam is somehow a mark of his concern for people with malaria. Or he self-righteously declares that he will never eat at Chik-Fil-A “again” despite the fact that 1. He never eats there anyway. and 2. There isn’t a Chik-Fil-A within two hours of him.
A boycott should be like hot pepper sauce; use it sparingly and in the right circumstances, or you risk burning the wrong people or numbing everyone’s pain receptors.

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One Response to “What’s It Worth To Ya?”

  1. Ghostscribe Says:

    I think I heard about the Boycott Rush Limbaugh’s Companies movement when it was going on, but I can’t remember which companies they were. I’d be in favor of a boycott like that, if it would shut him up for even a little while. At the same time I feel that any kind of reaction to him just encourages him in his antics, and he certainly doesn’t need any help from the public to look like a blue-ribbon fool.
    Incidentally, are my brother and me the only people who think Rush’s voice sounds a lot like Kermit the Frog? This is especially noticeable if you hear his voice from a distance.

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