So, it’s come to this in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Private corporations are so running our politics that we have to direct our political energy to boycotting and supporting large businesses in order to change anything.
Our national values are now promoted to elected leaders by multi-million-dollar, trans-national corporations, and our effort will be attempting to force them to dictate right values to our politicians. They’ve become the most influential go-betweens between our government and citizens.
To the extent that we like being defined primarily as consumers, I guess this makes total sense. This definition now affects how Americans think about life and their own lives.
In the USA, a good citizen is a good consumer — we’d prefer to call them “wise” consumers. Our country is therefore built upon “consumer confidence” and faith in the retailing that that in fact supports.
Our media has as its goal to provide the consumers of any demographic most likely to buy products to its funders, the advertisers, anyway it can. Forget other demographics less likely to buy things.
Our healthcare system promotes buying drugs and procedures so it can continue to build all those additions you see on medical complexes. Pills and surgeries are, according to numerous analysts, over-sold and over-bought.
Our educational system is awash in the early and persistent branding of our children. And the businesses most likely to be in control of national policy are the ones that sell products to the richest among us (stocks, hedge funds, armaments, you name it).
There are, however, those big multi-national retailers profiting from common folk, like Target. Many of us want to believe that Target is somehow better than the big bad Wal-Mart. There’s even some prestige in “better” circles about shopping in one over the other.
Now we learn that Target is also helping dictate the future of the country by its political giving. Recently it came to light that the Minnesota-based retailer donated $150,000 to MN Forward, a right-wing political group that ran ads backing Minnesota’s conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer.
They weren’t alone, of course. Electronics retailer, Best Buy, for example, donated another $100,000. MN Forward was, after all, established by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Among other things, Emmer opposes the marriage equality of LGBT people and supports a constitutional amendment to forbid it. He’s also for government interference in women’s reproduction, every National Rifle Association initiative, more tax cuts, and, well, you can guess the rest.
Oops. Caught. Damage control began with Target’s CEO, Gregg Steinhafel saying the company is “genuinely sorry,” though also declining to say whether it would withdraw the donation.
Then, so as not to lose a segment of its customers: “Target’s support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company,” Steinhafel said.
But the facts tell us of a company regularly giving to right-wing, anti-LGBT politicians. Probably the least offensive of those was George W. Bush.
Steinhafel himself personally donated money to extreme right-wing Rep. Michele Bachmann whose comments regularly become jokes of the left, while Target’s top corporate officers have funded anti-LGBT candidates throughout the country. And, in the last Minnesota senate race, Republican Norm Coleman received donations from Target executives while Al Franken received nothing.
So Target is now a target of boycotts beginning with that organized by MoveOn.org. A group, “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” has sprung up on Facebook.
In consumer-oriented, profit-driven societies, how we spend our money becomes the standard way to express our values. Just as the person who has the most and priciest things is to be the most admired, the person who shops in correct places is the most valued by activists on any side of an issue.
Where we shop and what we buy becomes more important than why we shop at all. The moral thing to do, as Bush said after 9/11, is to head to the Mall.
Shopping as therapy. Shopping to prove our worth. Shopping to entertain us when we’re bored or lonely. And the things we get to display as a result of shopping impress others. Buying is as easy as the click of a mouse.
But the current state of the economy won’t let this continue.
The old guard wants us to believe it’s just another economic “downturn” as if basic structures haven’t changed since the last one. It wants us to build our hope on moving corporate giants to support our agenda by buying their support.
But any “return” to the past won’t be the same. And we can’t be thinking the same way about our consumption and ourselves as we did before this collapse.
With a real unemployment rate between 20 and 30% and a growing gap between the haves and have-nots, with more and more economic similarities between the US and “third world” countries, with the shrinking of a “middle class,” more people will have to look elsewhere for all that consuming once provided. Things can’t go back.
The top 10% is doing fine and might not want the kind of recovery most of us need. But the rest of us are all in this together no matter what skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other category now used to divide working people.
So, we’ll have to go beyond boycotts and directing corporate dollars. We need deeper change.
We cannot take care of ourselves alone or with single-issue thinking, and corporate America isn’t interested in taking care of us either. We’ll have to think in terms of working together by valuing community.
We must rethink our individual place in the world, but we must build coalitions that support each other. Going it alone is isolating and disempowering.
We have to do the inner work to examine our values. But that also means we’re going to have to be a part of ending what’s hurting most of us, and that takes working together.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.