Boycotts – The Original Slacktivist Hideout

Today is the one year anniversary of the great marketing ploy “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day“. Designed to raise awareness of CFA’s commitment to biblical values and increase the profitability of the company, August 1st of last year saw every CFA in Oklahoma full to bursting with god-fearing, chicken-loving activists out to prove how much they support the belief of CFA’s founder Dave Cathy that marriage equality invites “God’s wrath“. It was very successful.

Back then I actually wrote a bit about it and encouraged everyone to join my procott. See, I don’t think boycotts against beliefs are particularly effective. If they are targeted to raise awareness about and put pressure on government actions that offend morality, they can work, assuming of course you’re patient (it usually takes decades) and you can get tremendous international attention. This is because governments are supposed to bend to the will of the people. But making PEOPLE bend to the will of people is another story entirely. Are your beliefs for sale? Mine aren’t, and I don’t understand how withholding money from someone is supposed to make them change their mind about a belief. No one has ever been able to explain that one to me.

But beyond the efficacy argument, I’ve come to view boycotts as immoral, and boycotts against the individual beliefs of business owners are particularly immoral. The idea is to withhold money from a business owner by boycotting their business as a statement of your disapproval of their beliefs, right? So that means you’ve put your own desire to be free from offense above the business owner’s human right to make a living. You are attempting to deny them the opportunity to support themselves and their families because you simply have a different opinion than they do. This doesn’t seem like an egalitarian or progressive stance. An individual’s right to an opportunity to make a living is higher on my personal morality code than any supposed “right” to be free from exposure to differing opinions. An employer does not have moral justification to fire someone just because they have a different opinion, if that happened to an atheist friend of ours we’d raise holy hell about it. How does it become morally justified to do so as a consumer, who is ultimately a business owner’s boss.

Understand that boycotts like this are only effective against minority opinion holders. As a minority opinion holder in rural Oklahoma who also happens to own a business, I’m keenly aware that an organized boycott against my cafe by the majority religious conservatives in my neighborhood would close us for good. But this is only true because I possess minority viewpoints among my customer base. Business owners who enjoy majority status among their potential customers need not fear a boycott over a difference of opinion. As a matter of fact, as we see with CFA, such a boycott can have the opposite effect of increasing their business and further strengthening the business owner, despite his abhorrent viewpoints. Protecting minority viewpoints is usually considered moral and just cause, especially in a socially progressive community.

Additionally, boycotts of the CFA and Hobby Lobby variety harm way more people than just the business owner. Owners will react to any loss of profit by cutting expenses, and the most obvious expense that can be cut is labor. Hourly workers are the first and hardest hit when a company sees a loss of profit. Some people are laid off, others have their hours and benefits cut. This can go on for months or years before the company owner ever sees any harm from a boycott. They will protect their own cut at the expense of their employees. Assuming your boycott is effective, you will harm many more workers before you ever harm the company owner whose opinions so offended you.  You can not consider actions moral if they harm more innocent people than guilty. Also, take into account that the majority of CFA’s are franchises, i.e. owned by someone other than Dan Cathy. By boycotting them you are effectively saying “We’re going to try to harm you and your employees because you bought some signs from a guy we disagree with.” Someone will have to explain the morality of that to me some day.

So, on this first anniversary of “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” I encourage you all to go out and buy a chicken sandwich. Then donate an equal amount of whatever you spent on that sandwich to your local Pride group, PFLAG, The Human Rights Campaign, the It Get’s Better Project, GLAAD, or any other group fighting the good fight for equal protection for all our citizens. It really is more effective than doing nothing, which is, in the end, what boycotting really is. Doing nothing.