Boycott politics

Chick Fil A is the most recent company to fall within the sites of a boycott campaign.  Dan Cathay, president of the fast food chicken restaurant chain founded by his father, reaffirmed his commitment to an evangelical approach to his business.  A quotation from the Gospels adorns the entrance to Chick Fil A restaurants, which have always been closed on Cathay’s sabbath, Sunday.  Cathay donates money to evangelical causes (millions to anti-gay groups), most notably its WinShape foundation, directed to shaping winners, through ministry, education, counseling, and support.

Cathay’s interview with with the Baptist Press made national news when the chicken magnate reaffirmed his (and Chick Fil A’s) commitment to Christian values in general, and what’s now described as “traditional marriage.”

Cathay has given witness elsewhere, explaining in a radio interview that advocates for same-sex marriage are “inviting God’s judgment on our nation….As it relates to society in general I think we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake out fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.  And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.”

It’s not surprising that some people would be offended by these comments and decide to forgo the chicken sandwich and waffle fries–no matter how tasty they might be (no info. here).  Some activists (see Boycott Chick Fil A) have begun a formal boycott of the restaurants, calling on supporters of same sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights more generally to drop the chicken sandwich.

(It seems that most of the larger and well-established organizations are stopping short of calling for a corporate boycott.  Maybe they’re concerned about civility?  Maybe they’re concerned about their own corporate sponsors?)

The boycott is a familiar tactic for activists, but one that is rife with risks (see this and this, for example).  First, activists undermine their power when they can’t deliver on threats.  How many of Chick Fil A’s customers oppose the company’s stance?  How many of those are willing to give up the sandwich?  How many of those most committed to the boycott don’t eat at Chick Fil A anyway?  Second, the boycott can invigorate the opposition.  Former Arkansas governor and current radio host Mike Huckabee has called upon people who support Christian values to eat at Chick Fil A on August 1.  Third, boycotts are imprecise and sticky, likely to hangover long after whatever offense provoked them has passed.

It’s odd to see such polemic politics around a chicken sandwich when animal rights activists aren’t even involved.

There’s also an important question about where we as consumers draw the political line about our market behavior.  At The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt writes that the restaurant offers good sandwiches, excellent service, and no discrimination against customers or employees.  The political contributions are just something else, I guess.  Merritt notes that gay rights groups protested when anti-gay groups announced a boycott of JC Penney, which had hired Ellen De Generes to be its spokesperson.  (That boycott, like most, fell apart.)

There’s a place to draw a line, but where?  How many labor sympathizers are thumb typing on an Iphone at this moment?  How many Democrats still enjoy Clint Eastwood’s movies?  Most of us do business with companies that don’t agree with us on everything.  Most of us don’t pay much attention to the politics of our dentists and optometrists, worrying instead about our teeth and eyes.  In fact, connections outside politics could provide the spaces for meaningful discussions about politics, assuming that some of us can learn or even change our minds.

Then again, some issues are so fundamental that activists want to put market power behind their moral stances.  It’s just not easy.

Meantime, Chick Fil A has lost a shot at putting a restaurant in Northeastern UniversityBoston Mayor Tom Menino has announced his intent to keep the restaurant out of his city.  The Muppets have severed ties with the restaurant chain.  And a number of celebrities (remember celebrities) have endorsed the boycott.  The early list includes:  Ed Helms, Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, and the Kardashians.

Does that list affect your attitude?

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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One Response to Boycott politics

  1. Pingback: Markets, movements, and municipalities: Who’s chicken? Whose chicken? | Politics Outdoors

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