Businesses, Boycotts and Bullies

August 15th, 2013

A few years ago, a group organized a boycott of Taco Bell because they felt that the corporation wasn’t paying a fair price for tomatoes. They maintained that this was contributing to poverty conditions for the farm workers who picked the tomatoes. Many jumped on the boycott bandwagon, including my own denomination, The United Methodist Church. I was against the boycott from the beginning because I felt it hurt franchise owners and restaurant employees much more than it hurt the corporation itself. Besides, many local franchises didn’t even buy their tomatoes from the same source as the corporate-owned restaurants. At the time, I felt that this boycott was progressive hysteria at its worst.

But that was tame compared to the kind of stuff that’s happening these days.

You probably remember the great Chick-Fil-A controversy of 2012 when company COO Dan Cathy publicly shared his views on same-sex marriage and called down the wrath of progressives everywhere. (Not the fair-minded ones, however. I suspect most of them continued to enjoy their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries uninterrupted.) On the other end of the spectrum, JCPenney was boycotted by a conservative group for hiring lesbian Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson. Even right-leaning Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly called them out for it. And he was right. These kind of bullying tactics against businesses are witch hunts at best and legalized extortion at worst.

All my examples so far have involved corporations. But what happens when a mom and pop shop finds itself in the crosshairs of these political bullies? Well, just take a look at what’s going on right now in my beloved Austin, Texas.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, an extreme abortion rights lobbying group, recently asked Summermoon Coffee Bar in South Austin to make a donation to its silent auction fundraiser. The pro-life owner of the business declined, and included in her email a controversial video to help explain her pro-life views. NARAL was offended, and posted this on their Facebook page:

Hey Austin,
Did you know that Summermoon Coffee Bar is an anti-choice coffee shop in south Austin? When asked to make a donation to our silent auction, they sent us a disturbing video comparing abortion to the Holocaust claiming to be "pro-life." We all might want to think twice before walking into this place.

NARAL hasn’t broken any laws here, but don’t you think it’s bad taste to try to punish a small business solely because you’re offended by the owner’s political views or how they express them?

It gets worse. A progressive online publication ran with the story:

Long story short: if you're looking for a caffeine fix in the South Austin area and you aren't interested in supporting a business that is fervently anti-choice and actively involved in spreading offensive propaganda, find another coffee shop.

In the last couple of days, Summermoon’s page on the review website Yelp has received an inordinate amount of one star reviews, most of which explicity cite the owner’s pro-life views as reasons for the low scores. I flagged the reviews on Yelp, and appealed to Yelp to remove reviews that are based on a political agenda and not on the quality of the business itself. We’ll see what happens, but I’m not holding my breath.

Summermoon’s website has also crashed, which may or may not be related to the current controversy.

Is this the kind of society we want? It’s bad enough that we label our states blue and red—do we have to do the same to our businesses? I have a favorite coffee shop here in Nashville, and I have no idea what the owners think about abortion or any other social or political issue. They're nice people and have great coffee, so I support them when I can.

I don’t want the United States to be a country where people don’t share their views on controversial issues because they’re afraid of losing their jobs or their businesses. And frankly, I don’t want to support only businesses that see eye to eye with me on everything. What happened to “agreeing to disagree” and actually interacting with and learning from people with different points-of-view? How can you persuade anyone to see the other side of anything if you only surround yourself with and do business with like-minded people?

No thanks. There are too many echo chambers in the world already.

The next time I’m in Austin, I’m going to make it a point to stop by Summermoon. And when their website is back up, I’m going to see if they’ll ship coffee beans to Tennessee.

I also plan to keep shopping at JCPenney and eating at Chick-Fil-A and Taco Bell. Voting with your wallet is one thing. Using it to intimidate others is something else.

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