Erin Petersen

Do this, don’t do that

By - Aug 7th, 2010 04:00 am
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I’ve never really been the type to vehemently boycott any particular product or retail outfit, or at least not the type to be pushy about it. I try to follow a “live and let live” philosophy, and could care less if you buy your groceries from Wal-Mart instead of the local co-op or regional chain, or if you eat meat, or if your jewelery is conflict free.

I try not to align myself with soap-box bleeding hearts who fight those self-serving battles to save the world by pushing their own personal values on the rest of us.

I’m also not the average consumer either. I also don’t have kids to feed or clothe or pacify with toys. I don’t own a home and my roller skate of a car (mid 90s Hondas rule!) is paid for, and I have no desire to own a new one.

Image by Oath Sniffers via Alto Arizona

In this vein, my personal boycott of any one product/company probably wouldn’t amount to much. But I do believe that cumulatively, it might. It makes me think of a hilariously apt headline I saw in an issue of the Onion: “‘How Bad for the Environment can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder.” (On a semi-related note, I heard the other day that last year, the U.S. threw away enough plastic water bottles to circle the Earth three times.)

That being said, I think everyone can benefit, or at least learn something, from a good old-fashioned collective boycott. And this summer, we bloated Americans have a lot to abstain from.

On May Day, at Voces de la Frontera’s peaceful rally in Walker’s Point, pamphlets were circulated listing various Arizona-based companies to boycott in the wake of SB1070, hoping that business owner would feel the burn and use whatever pull they had with local government to halt the draconian immigration bill.

U-Haul, Henkel (makers of Dial Soap, Right Guard, Soft & Dry), Best Western Hotels, PetSmart and Cold Stone Creamery all made the list. This was easy, considering that U-Haul is an expensive racket, I don’t wear deodorant or have a pet, am lactose intolerant and have no reason to stay at a hotel in the near future. Done and done.

And anything I can do to make racists mad is fine by me, even if it is in a roundabout manner. And yes, I’m calling SB1070 and its authors racist.

Next it was BP, which is nearly impossible to escape. They have their grimy fingers in a lot of U.S. pots and simply not filling up at a BP station doesn’t ensure that you’re not consuming their product. Though most gas stations in our area wear the BP name tag, if you can find an Arco or Amoco station around here, don’t be fooled. BP bought them a few years ago. Use Castrol motor oil? That’s BP too.

The argument has been made that boycotting BP hurts local franchise owners more than anything — driving their sales way down while the inexplicably baffled executives at British Petroleum play “aww shucks” on television in their fancy suits. And that’s an unfortunate side effect.

The Deepwater Horizon. Photo by uscglantarea via Flickr

But the spill succeeded at making the entire nation feel a crushing sense of outrage mixed with helplessness, and lobbed another disaster at a barely-recovering Gulf.

It’s overwhelming to think of the magnitude of it all. I will go miles out of the way to steer clear of a BP station. Sorry, local franchise owners. Can’t do it.

A few weeks ago, I got a notification from Adbusters  about a viral campaign to begin a worldwide boycott of Starbucks and Gloria Jeans. It seemed like old news. Does anyone need to be reminded that the once-great purveyor of coffee beans had morphed into a giant corporate squid — reaching it’s syrupy tentacles around the globe and devouring local shops in the process?

“Wish you were here?” by Laura Keeble

Considering that stores are still popping up all over the world and continuously reaching into untapped corners of rural America, replacing farmland with beige strip malls, a significant portion of the Earth’s population doesn’t see a problem with it.

Once you’ve got a Starbucks in your town, you’ve made it. No longer some podunk village, now you have access to mainstream culture, via the conduit of overpriced coffee. It’s only a matter of time before the first Qdoba and Panera Bread comes along.

Adbusters’ campaign is more of a reminder than anything, about market saturation, consumer’s willingness to acquiesce to manufactured culture and the corporation’s lack of environmental responsibility — the only recyclable part of a Starbucks cup is the paper sleeve, and the insides are coated with a non-recyclable plastic ( plastic).

It’s the first of many quiet boycotts, culminating on Buy Nothing Day, aka “Black Friday,” when everyone is encouraged to eschew the ravenous holiday crowds (they’re deadly) in favor of — you guessed it– buying nothing.

And then this week, the call went out to stay far, far away from Target stores, lest your hard-earned dollars be funneled into the campaign fund for a man who thinks that servers are making six figures and that executing gays and lesbians is “moral.”

Aw, hell.

It began in Minnesota, after Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel made a $150,000 donation to MN Forward, a group that publicly endorses Tom Emmer, a farright republican candidate in Minnesota’s gubernatorial race. Emmer first popped up on the radar for his ludicrous claim that waitstaff at certain restaurants make a whopping $100,000 per year, using anecdotal tripe from the owners of 4-star restaurants as impetus to push his agenda to cut back minimum wage.

Photo courtesy of

But that’s not what incited the boycott. In addition to his obviously firm grasp on reality and deep connection the folks who make up Minnesota’s economy, he’s also got a sweet spot for gays. Just ask any same-sex couple in Minnesota trying to conceive via a surrogate.

His website uses nice euphemisms like “traditional” to describe his position on marriage, but his affiliation with butt-rock christian ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (it’s like Wyld Stallynsmeets Jars of Clay meets Rush Limbaugh) hints at Emmer’s ties to a terrifying brand of fundamentalism.

YCR’s leader Bradlee Dean refers to homosexuality as a “crime against nature,” and also said on his radio show that Muslim countries calling for the execution of homosexuals are “more moral than even American christians.”

Target went into CYA mode , apologizing to its staff and affirming that the donation was based on Emmer’s economic platforms and commitment to business owners, not his views on social or moral issues. Considering Target’s pristine 100 percent rating with the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index plus their repeated sponsorship of the Twin Cities Pride Parade, it would appear that Target is more than likely NOT on some secret anti-gay rampage, but the damage is done. No matter what his motivation was, Steinhafel has aligned himself and his company with a candidate pushing a racist and homophobic agenda.

Until further notice, I will personally abstain from the goods and services supplied by these companies. I do think that others should do the same, if for no other reason than to analyze the way we consume. But it’s all about choice. If you want to drive a U-Haul straight to the nearest BP whilst sipping on a venti Caramel Macchiato on your way to Target to buy Dial Soap, right on.  I won’t try to stop you.

*On another note, I will also cease purchasing anything from American Apparel. I never bought anything from the store directly, but have inadvertently purchased their t-shirts in the past. It’s enough that the CEO is skeez, the advertising is abhorrently sexist and that t-shirts, no matter how deep the V, should never cost $20 or more. Then I found these rules of decorum. Last straw, man. *

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