A Boycott Culture Isn’t What America Needs

Enjoy waffle fries, or don't. Shop at Target, or don't. Drink Starbucks coffee, or don't. Just don't guilt other people into joining you.

Indianapolis, US - September 7, 2016: Chick-fil-A Retail Fast Food Location.

By Liberty McArtor Published on June 13, 2018

“If you really love LGBTQ people, you just can’t keep eating Chick-fil-A.” That’s what a headline at Huffington Post stated Tuesday.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey caused a stir Saturday when he tweeted about eating Chick-fil-A. He was immediately criticized for patronizing the company during June, which is Pride Month.

Chick-fil-A makes no bones about its Christian roots and affiliation. Most famously (or infamously), Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy ignited protests in 2012 after claiming the company supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

As a result, the food chain earned the ire of many in left-wing and LGBTQ circles. (Case in point, this recent New Yorker article lamenting “Chick-fil-A’s creepy infiltration of New York City.”) Thus the backlash over Dorsey’s indulgence.

In Huffington Post, editorial director Noah Michelson is incensed that some in the LGBTQ community actually defended Dorsey — and Chick-fil-A. He notes Chick-fil-A’s donations to Christian organizations, like Salvation Army, as further proof of why the restaurant should be avoided.

“It’s time to choose where your loyalties lie — with your community or with your stomach,” he says.

The Boycott Frenzy

Conservatives will likely find Michelson’s argument ripe for mocking. He writes, “If you care about queer people — or you yourself are queer — you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever.” Isn’t that a little dramatic?

The fact is that, relatively speaking, Michelson isn’t that dramatic at all.

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Conservatives are famous for boycott campaigns. In the recent past, Starbucks, the NFL, Target, Keurig, and others have felt the brunt of right-wing indignation. Usually the boycotts are a reaction of a company’s support of liberal causes, or open opposition to President Donald Trump.

In his article, Michelson linked to the Human Rights Campaign’s “Corporate Equality Index,” which ranks corporations that are friendly to the LGBTQ community. Many conservatives rely on organizations like 2ndVote, “the conservative watchdog for corporate activism.”

So can we blame Michelson? Is he really off-base in his call to boycott a company that he feels opposes his values? No. In today’s America, that’s normal.

With Us or Against Us

While it’s normal, it’s problematic.

It’s no secret how divided our nation is today. We’re becoming less and less likely to forge friendships with those of differing political views. We scoff at and demean each other, basic decency be damned. Rather than simply living our lives, we constantly react to what the other side does, allowing those we disagree with to determine our actions.

In short, you’re either with us or against us. Any fraternizing with the opposite side means criticism and perhaps excommunication from your tribe.

Constant boycotting only feeds our detrimental divisiveness. It panders to the Us vs. Them paradigm. And in the end, it doesn’t accomplish much.

Constant boycotting only feeds this detrimental divisiveness. It panders to the Us vs. Them paradigm. And in the end, it doesn’t accomplish much. Sometimes protesters get the weak satisfaction of a browbeaten apology from a company CEO. Other times they celebrate a dip in the offending company’s ratings or sales.

But is anyone’s mind actually changed? Probably not. The opposite is more likely. One side’s vitriol galvanizes the other side’s enthusiastic support of the company in question. Everyone gets further entrenched in their positions. We despise each other even more.

The Last Thing We Need

I’m not saying boycotts are never in order. Everyone should be able to consume goods according to their conscience.

But I believe the best way boycott is to do so discreetly. Don’t force people to join you, as Michelson did Tuesday or as conservatives have done in the past. By reinforcing the with us or against us mentality, you exacerbate division. You shove people into corners they don’t want to be in. You guilt people into stands their conscience isn’t compelling them to take.

A better way to truly make a difference is working quietly and faithfully for the causes you care about. And hey, get this: If you befriend people you don’t agree with and they see you working faithfully for those causes, they might just have a change of heart. If you’re truly concerned about where your money is going, give directly and more often to charitable organizations that align with your values. Especially ones in your local region.

And then go on with life. Enjoy waffle fries, or don’t. Shop at Target, or don’t. Drink Starbucks coffee, or don’t. If you want to raise awareness about a particular company’s values, do so. But don’t threaten to label those who don’t share your passion as enemies. That’s the last thing our bleeding nation needs.

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  • Patmos

    Not sure I agree with the premise of there being a simple division. What exists are hoards of selfish and mindless people who think lust equates to love, and who attack people for merely pointing that out. These people think desire is a right, and that perversion and delusion is an identity. Then on top of that you have people who enable those people through political correctness, cowardice, ignorance, and then yes even with the intent to do harm to this country.

    That last one may raise an eyebrow or two, but it’s an old infiltration technique to destabilize a country: Encourage immorality through propaganda so that institutions crumble.

    • Robert M

      Those people again? They’re the worst.

  • Up_Words

    Does it really matter if we “take a stand” against immorality, by our shopping preferences—or purchasing requirements? For so long, American Christians have been able to “get by” by largely being Sunday Christians— within a society that, many believed, was nominally moral and Christianized. Few noticed the values creep by which many were being bent (corrupted) by the media and society we live in. We were, you might say, “one happy family” and one melting pot of an “(im)moral majority.” Now, suddenly, a red line has been drawn in the sand, and some are “waking up” to a New America, we think, that is becoming deeply divided. Maybe we should ignore the change, and simply go back to being closet Christians. — Oh,really?

    When we pass from this life into the next, will there be a division? Might it be that the homosexuals are actually doing us a favor? Perhaps we should be a little more sensitive
    to how we live, in general; being less thin skinned about being “different” and marginalized within the “world” we are only visiting for a short while (1 John 2:15-17).

  • Robert M

    Thank you for this article. There’s no way to avoid all of the businesses that support causes I don’t like and guilting others into my pet boycott makes no sense. My approach to the boycott-or-not issue is probably not totally consistent. I generally think that if I buy a cup of coffee, I’m just buying a cup of coffee. That’s it. I’m not making a political statement nor am I giving to a cause. It would be a different situation if the coffee shop had some promotion that with every cup of coffee purchased on a certain day, they would give a dollar to Planned Parenthood. But most companies don’t tie their charitable giving to purchases in that way. Many just match the donations of their employees. All that being said, even though it might not be completely logical, I am more likely to buy a pint of Haagen Das over a comparable brand because of what the other company supports. Ok, so I make a little space for irrationality in my life. Still, a pint of ice cream is a pint of ice cream. Not judging.

  • tz1

    The right never boycotts. Microsoft and the Gates foundation can singlehandedly fund PlannedParenthood and you will still use Office and Windows. Same with starbucks where you will continue to quaff their incinerator hellfire roast. Same with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple…

    If the Red State half of the country would simply do what the Blues did, the corporations would be out of politics or bankrupt. But they won’t.

    You are spinless moral cowards and might even burn in hell for your compromises or failure to avoid material cooperation with evil.

    • Dave

      “The right never boycotts.”

      Did you even read the article?

    • Chip Crawford

      The right boycotted Target over their bathroom bingo right into corporate management cutbacks (this time) instead of a few local cutbacks like last time. Ask Proctor & Gamble about the effect of boycotts on their products over their Satanic product symbol. Just two examples that come to mind.

      • tz1

        Rush pushes Apple all the time, and everyone on the right seems to use Microsoft or say how great Gates and Buffet are because they are rich. For some reason it doesn’t always extend to Trump – the former two are rabid pro-aborts.

        P&G has the rumored symbol, but they could give a billion to Planned Parenthood and the right would just yawn. They could sponsor LGBTQ drag queen reading Dr. Seuss in school assemblies across the USA and there would also be a yawn.

        The only time the right boycotts is if someone suggests Israel isn’t perfectly justified in any action, no matter how brutal, against the Palestinians.

        • Chip Crawford

          If you’d only gotten one right … or anything you stated even made sense ? I gave you two true examples contradictory to your statements. Just a contrarian, I suppose.

    • BlueMit11

      “You are spinless moral cowards…”
      You’re right! I hate spin. I try to eliminate it from my life.

      So did you make this post from a Dell computer using Ubuntu since you’re boycotting those evil technology companies?

      • tz1

        Actually I prefer my Raspberry Pi running a version of Debian, but, yes. I also still have an ancient but excellent dumbphone that works well as a phone.

        • samton909

          Doo doo head.

    • samton909

      No, you are a spineless moral coward doo doo head.

      • tz1

        I’m a vertebrate that does things. You can only insult. I can think of multiple probable anatomical challenges.

  • Regan Albertson

    I have decided to refrain from conducting business with corporations that take blatant positions that counters my Catholic values. It’s a personal decision that I’ve made on several occasions, but I do not make a public pronouncement as it isn’t productive and energizes those that forced the policy. Every business has to make decisions on attracting and not repealing the customers they need to be profitable.

  • David Hess

    I will be eating a lot more at Chick-fil-A now. Let the backfiring continue.

  • Dave

    It’s nice to see an opinion piece that makes sense. Thanks. Liberty McArtor. I’m going to remember that name.

  • Chip Crawford

    Their boat is built for a storm. They’ll navigate these choppy currents and come out with a larger command of the waters.

  • KC

    Seems boycotts are helping Chick-Fil-A become one of the most successful fast food restaurants.
    I know for a fact that the Chick-Fil-A I frequent has a gay person employed. The owner doesn’t discriminate against someone, he just won’t call sin good.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, I agree Liberty. I believe division and broadcasting the issues are not the solution to finding peace between the left and the right. Consumable goods should be just that…Unfortunately, that is not the case in some circles. The best route is to search our heart and check with Holy Spirit about these places. He will be the best guide in this area.

  • Howard

    Constant boycotting only feeds this detrimental divisiveness. It panders to the Us vs. Them paradigm.

    Because we all know it’s never really Us vs. Them, as said the first guy who tried to cross the lines for a Christmas soccer game in 1915.

  • St. Kolbe

    Interesting thoughts. I prefer to take a stand on what I believe in, but I admit it is very difficult without forgoing most of our modern lifestyle. Should an environmentalist boycott cars and electricity (all power generation is harmful to the environment…read up on how solar panels are made…waste/mining rare earths, etc.). Yes! But do any? no. I think the complex tapestry of ideologies throughout the poltical and economic sectors of our culture make it truly impossible. So I am not justifying my use of Apple products, even though they are as self-contradictory as they come, I am saying its all a lie and to get too wrapped up in it means we are dragged into the battle of meaninglessness that Satan has set up for us to distract us from pursuing the Truth. Look at the race wars and gender wars the media keeps perpetuating. Most of us dont think like that, but they keep telling us we do. Does it exist? Sure. Its not good. But so does various forms of crime, but we arent all theives and murderers. That said, stand up for what you can, when you can.

  • Howard

    “Boycotting” needs to be kept distinct from the normal exercise of good stewardship of money: boycotting is a mechanism by which a group of private citizens attempt to punish a person or institution. The fact that I buy store-brand corn flakes rather than Kellogg’s is not a boycott because it not part of a group action and it is just to save money, not to punish the company. What are the possible objections to a boycott?

    • Howard

      1. It is unjust, because the target does not deserve to be punished. When people discuss a specific boycott, they always concentrate on this topic, which after all is foremost in the minds of those proposing a boycott; but when people discuss boycotting in general, it is usually forgotten, possibly because there is disagreement on this point with each boycott. Still, as with any punishment, this is the first question that needs to be answered.

      • Howard

        2. It is unjust, because groups of private citizens have no right to punish anyone. Obviously some punishments should not be handed out by private citizens, if indeed by anyone, but obviously some punishments need to be on the table. Your employer should be able to fire you for serious mistakes or misbehavior; your friends should be able to leave you off the invitation list if you acted like a jerk at the last party; your church should be able to excommunicate you if your actions are incompatible with the church’s teachings; etc. It’s much healthier for a society if the courts and police are used only for wrongs that are obviously and uncontroversially serious.

        • Howard

          4. It moves us away from respectful, civil discourse. Would that this were a serious consideration! But respectful, civil discourse, which requires cooperation from both sides, is not really possible now, and the topics being discussed are now so extreme it might not even be desirable.

          • Howard

            3. It is disproportionate to the offense. For a good example of this, consider the boycott that closed Bama-Bino Pizza because the owner’s son had the temerity to run for University of Alabama student body president against the “machine” candidate in 1989. Even if it had been wrong for Joey Viselli to run — and it wasn’t, so consideration #1 is also in play — shutting down his dad’s business is obviously an overreaction. [Apparently links send comments into the approval queue for an indefinite period of time, which is why this is out of order.]

          • Howard

            5. It does not attempt to persuade by reason, but to intimidate by economic force, peer pressure, or false appeal to authority. Briefly, it is always better to persuade, and any actions should always be accompanied by persuasive arguments. Anyone can, however, simply refuse to accept moral arguments, however rational those arguments might be.

          • Howard

            6. The cost of the boycott is too high (or the commitment too small) to be sustained, and its failure will only make the boycotting group look foolish. See Luke 14:28-30. This is basically what happened with the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney.

          • Howard

            To wrap up, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of boycotts. The legitimate objections to boycotting in general can, I think, be satisfactorily answered, except to those (and they are many) whose real god is Capitalism.

            At the same time, Christians should take into consideration what St. Paul said about eating meat offered to idols. St. Paul did not object that by buying that meat, Christians would be supporting idolatry; he said, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.” (1 Cor 10:25, RSVCE) Yet he also said to avoid that meat if it would cause a believer to stumble or present an obstacle to an unbeliever’s conversion. Generalizing from this, me drinking Starbucks coffee has an insignificantly small effect on the legal status of abortion, but it could, under the right circumstances, have a much more serious effect on those who know me, and that has to be taken into account.

  • Mike Lane

    “Exacerbate division”? And how w is anyone “forced” to participate? Doing a boycott “discretely” served the vompaby being boycotted. Are you kidding me? The only people who disapprove boycotts are the potential boycott targets and the ignorant.

    The economic boycott is not recent invention. The strategy has been around for centuries. “Economic boycotts have a long and illustrious history, tracing their lineage from the Stamp Act of 1765 (American colonists refused to pay a British tax) to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to…stay off Alabama buses,” writes Marshall Glickman, author of “Pocketbook Power: How Well-Organized Boycotts Change Corporate Policy,” in E magazine.
    Charles Stewart Parnell coined the actual term “boycott” in 1880 when describing the ostracism of Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott by his Irish neighbors. Such tactics were effective in the struggle of Irish peasants against English landlords. Tenants faced barriers to ownership and paid increasingly high rents that left them destitute. One year earlier, Parnell and Michael Davitt had founded the Land League to fight for just treatment in housing and land. The League began Ireland’s first peaceful widespread peasant rebellion.

    The highly successful strategies of India’s Mahatma Gandhi and America’s Martin Luther King, Jr., were employed to bring change to South Africa. Boycotts of white-owned businesses, legal actions challenging racist laws, rent boycotts, and mass demonstrations became commonplace. International boycotts by governments and corporations alike, including an end to foreign investment, were unquestionably too much for the apartheid regime to bear.

    “Most people associate the word ‘boycott’ with ‘60s radicals,” reports IN Fashion. “But boycotting is a well-respected, effective and legal means of nonviolent protest, as well as a vehicle of change.” This fact is now more widely known and accepted than ever before in history.

    In a Freedom Daily article, Wendy McElroy wrote, “The application of boycott in its many forms has been refined and sophisticated through centuries of use. Like any other strategy, boycotting will not address every situation…But the greatest strategic failure is to dismiss it out of hand.”

    “Economic boycotts have a long tradition,” reads an article in South Coast Today. “There were those who argued that the many economic boycotts of South Africa would never work — until apartheid was toppled and the boycotts were given much of the credit.”

    Boycotting can bring about two of the most detrimental problems that any corporate executive would prefer to avoid: bad publicity and loss of revenue (in that order). Boycotts succeed in part by “putting a corporation on a defensive footing, generating potentially damaging publicity, and giving its competitors an unearned opportunity,” writes Dale D. Buss in “Ethics and Economics: Holding Corporate America Accountable.”

    One poll showed that 78 percent of consumers avoided or refused to buy from certain companies because of negative perceptions. In an­other survey 48 percent said unethical or unlawful business practices played a role in those decisions, reports Buss in Christianity Today.

    Marshall Glickman writes that, “A nationwide survey of business executives indicated that they consider boycotts more effective than class-action suits, lobbying and standalone letter writing campaigns. Companies hate the loss of sales and negative publicity these campaigns bring — an image problem that…can dog them for decades, even after they’ve reformed.”

    Glickman said “the truth is, once you know about a boycott, it is pretty simple to follow. And the good news is that when boycotts are well organized, they can really work.”

    A boycott will generally fail when it has unfocused leadership, employs inconsistent pressure, has insufficient organization and planning, makes unreasonable demands, or when those who support the cause behind the boycott will not participate. Corporate leaders expect consumers to be apathetic and they believe any boycott will be a short-term irritation at the very worst. Corporate leaders also may count on human weakness and they far too often are not disappointed. But when a boycott is done well, their initial hopes fade and they begin to pay attention to the boycott.
    Activists need to think twice before calling for a boycott. “A boycott should not be utilized on a whim,” said Douglas R. Scott, Jr., who as president of Life Decisions International (LDI) has managed a boycott of Planned Parenthood’s corporate supporters for more than a 25 years. “It should also not be the tool of first resort. A boycott needs to be well-thought-out and corporate leaders must have been given ample information and opportunity to change the offensive practice” before an economic sanction commences.

    Another key problem that can greatly hinder the success of a boycott is second-guessing by participants. Boycott leaders must be trusted to decide when the economic action should cease and what demands the offending corporation must meet before this can occur. If every individual decides what constitutes sufficient grounds to end the action, the corporation may ignore boycott leaders. Unity is essential. If boycott leaders are ignored, corporations can effectively disregard the economic action itself. This is only possible if the corporation is able to undermine boycott leaders and divide the loyalty of those who should naturally support the effort.

    When groups that have endorsed the boycott effort or whose charter supports the same cause “openly and knowingly begin doing business with targeted corporations, it can have a devastating effect on boycott efforts,” said Scott. “Not only does it make the boycott laughable to corporate and executives, it is just one more example of people unwilling to back their words with action.”

    It is clear that boycotts can be effective. If the strategy did not work, few groups would use it.

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