The Equinox and SoulCycle boycotts, explained
August 11, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

What happens when progressive-seeming brands have Trump-supporting investors? Some brands have an immediate association with a political stance. Chick-fil-A, for instance, has long had a contentious reputation when it comes to LGBTQ issues — the company’s foundation and its CEO’s family have donated millions to anti-gay groups. But it can be particularly surprising to consumers when brands that have cultivated progressive and inclusive images are found to be associated with campaigns or causes that stand for the opposite.

Stephen Ross is a billionaire real estate developer (reported net worth: $7.7 billion) and owner of a private investment firm that has backed many of the latter kind of brands. He’s also hosting a fundraiser for the Trump 2020 campaign at his Hamptons mansion...among the brands Ross has invested in are Equinox, which has supported LGBTQ charities in the past; the spinning behemoth SoulCycle; the organic tampon brand Lola; and the budget gym Blink Fitness, as well as food chains like Momofuku and its pastry offshoot Milk Bar, and the fast-casual pizza spot &pizza.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (73 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here's an easy rule of thumb: If there's investor money involved, it's supporting the right wing.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:49 AM on August 11 [88 favorites]


Equinox, which has supported LGBTQ charities in the past; the spinning behemoth SoulCycle; the organic tampon brand Lola; and the budget gym Blink Fitness, as well as food chains like Momofuku and its pastry offshoot Milk Bar, and the fast-casual pizza spot &pizza.

He sounds basic af
posted by captain afab at 9:07 AM on August 11 [29 favorites]


I love being poor. I'm pre-emptively boycotting everything.
posted by captain afab at 9:11 AM on August 11 [127 favorites]


Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People suffer from this same phenomenon.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:16 AM on August 11 [12 favorites]


The founders of these companies probably knew in their hearts they weren't taking the cleanest of money when they sold out to Ross. Some, like the women who started SoulCycle, are long gone, but David Chang for instance is very much still a part of his business. He came out with a "I hate Trump and Ross should reconsider the fundraiser, but also he believed in me when no one else would" statement.
posted by gwint at 9:16 AM on August 11 [6 favorites]


It’s just good business to take your opponent’s money by any means possible. That you can look like their ally while doing so is the cherry on top.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:32 AM on August 11 [7 favorites]


This dude does not give a single fuck if you don't go to SoulCycle. He cares if he gets taxed and investigated.

Let's do the latter.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:05 AM on August 11 [85 favorites]


[We've had several agriculture threads this year and could totally have another, but this isn't one of them.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:50 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Raise your hand if you are boycotting SoulCycle but still shop at Amazon.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:51 AM on August 11 [5 favorites]


From Bill Eichner in the Vox article:
There are a handful of billionaires who own everything and many support Trump. Practically speaking, it’s probably impossible to completely avoid them. But considering @Equinox’s clientele and how they’ve pandered to us, this one feels particularly hypocritical and shameful.
This makes sense to me. The fact that some billionaire somewhere is going to get your money anyway might mean the boycott as a means of effecting change is pretty limited, but there are perfectly good personal reasons for doing it.

And I'd add these gyms seem like they are signalling a lifestyle choice in a way that shopping at Amazon isn't.
posted by mark k at 11:05 AM on August 11 [16 favorites]


I've made my peace with the fact that I can't really justify my choices about conscious consumerism or whatever you want to call it. I can't bring myself to shop at Hobby Lobby. (And I live near a Hobby Lobby and buy things from big box craft stores, so Hobby Lobby is a place that I can effectively boycott, unlike SoulCycle.) I don't know that Hobby Lobby is objectively worse than stores that I still patronize, but it feels gross to go to a place that expresses such open contempt for me. And I've decided that I don't need to defend my feelings about this. I'm not claiming to be consistent, and I don't have any illusions that boycotting Hobby Lobby is a substitute for actual political action.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:43 AM on August 11 [80 favorites]


Nobody needs to justify their choices when it comes to conscious consumerism. I tend to hold long grudges as a consumer. To this day I have never been in a Cracker Barrel because of their policy about firing LGBT workers back in the 90s. Carl's Jr. 20-odd years ago served me a dressed bun with no burger in the drive through -- I don't go there anymore either. There are a lot of others for me, too. Editing places out of what I regard as "a business" is easy as pie for me, and once I've made up my mind, they simply don't exist.

I know it's not political action like maybe the transit boycotts in the 60s or whatever but it's just small choices I make that helps me navigate the world.
posted by hippybear at 12:07 PM on August 11 [27 favorites]


A lot of the people who are upset by this kind of thing are already marginalized on at least one axis. If those people make their lives more difficult for the sake of making a point that doesn't get made, then what you have is queer/trans/POC/etc people who have made themselves slightly worse off while the people hurting them stay exactly the same. I've only got so many spoons, here.

I'll take what I can get on these boycotts for now, or at least supporting them even if I don't use the product/service. I'll give up Amazon, on the other hand, when I have alternatives or when it seems like it's actually going to make something happen. Giving up a craft store or a fast food restaurant, those are easy, even if they don't necessarily change anybody's behavior; I do those things on principle. People who use gyms like these, they probably have other alternatives available in their local area, and they may in fact number enough compared to those gyms' total clientele to be noticeable when they cancel. Completely different dynamic.
posted by Sequence at 12:09 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I love being poor. I'm pre-emptively boycotting everything.

A friend with an Equinox membership is leaving NYC shortly. She was giving it up anyway, but is now contemplating sending a letter resigning it in disgust.
posted by hoyland at 12:11 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


I read a thing that pointed out that gyms make a lot of their money on people who pay for memberships and never show up. If some of those people are pushed to cancel their memberships, then Equinox could lose a lot of revenue without anyone making a real sacrifice. SoulCycle works on a pay-per-class model, not a membership model, so they're a lot less vulnerable, since their revenue comes from people who actually use (and would presumably miss) their services.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:22 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


I can tell you that conservatives are cramming their faces with Chick Fil A and washing it down with gulps of Yuengling. Moreso than before 2016.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:26 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


Anyone getting upset over your choosing to boycott some corporation for political reasons though they supposedly don't disagree with your political position--ask yourself why they care so much. Sometimes there may be some meaningful unintended consequence. And, as I've said here before, I personally don't care for overfreighting individual purchase choices with connotations of political virtue, in the sense that outside of specific campaigns in which it is but one tool it can seem to be more significant a tactic than it actually is (and can put unfair blame on people whose choices are constrained for other reasons beyond their control). So I'm not saying there are no good reasons to have doubts. Nonetheless, we have somehow generated this incredibly, exceptionally, unbelievably useless horde of professed liberals and centrist and liberal intellectuals who will whine about how a tactic like this is bad because you can't boycott all corporations that do harm!!!! or you're already rich so anything you do is just performative!!! or who-even-knows-what, largely because it's easier to believe that you're smarter than both sides than to do anything other than tweet sagely, and frankly if all those people fucked off to the Moon we on the left would be better off. Why should anyone press you to justify not patronizing one business whose profits openly serve to make the world worse? Your choices in life should reflect your values as far as it's at all possible. That's all.
posted by praemunire at 12:26 PM on August 11 [20 favorites]


I have a feeling the SoulCycle boycott could be really effective, as so much of their brand value is in a perceived coolness/social awareness aura, and once you chip away at that, what's left?
posted by Gin and Broadband at 12:31 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


I have a feeling the SoulCycle boycott could be really effective, as so much of their brand value is in a perceived coolness/social awareness aura, and once you chip away at that, what's left?

Effective at what? I believe it could damage or even destroy SoulCycle. But it will not hurt Ross's fortunes or make him less likely to donate to Trump. Like, let's say Ross is forced to sell his shares to a more politically palatable investor, and the company publishes a heartfelt rejection of Trumpism and swears to Do Better. OK, so what? How does any of this result in Trump getting less money or power?
posted by andrewpcone at 12:50 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


it is good to boycott the worst of the companies. this is the best we can do in most cases.

but whenever possible it's better to try to frequent worker-owned co-ops. there aren't many of them — most of the ones i know are in food services — but anything that keeps lucre in the hands of humans and keeps billionaires from immediately vacuuming it all up is good. co-ops aren't the revolution, but they're not nothing either.

and yeah amazon is the bastard company that's most difficult to avoid. figuring out how to use library ebook loan systems is, like, important. as is figuring out how to get things one needs well in advance, without having to depend on a last-minute amazon order.

i took great pleasure in canceling my wapo subscription after it became clear that bezos's paper is part of the darkness in which democracy dies.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:54 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


The first boycott didn't end English power over the land in Ireland either. But it was a step towards showing that tenants were going to push back as a group.

And at least maybe with this the next person thinks twice about accepting money from the devil to expand their business. It's better than shrugging and saying 'well what can you do!' and just going on about your life, I feel.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:55 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


Effective at what? I believe it could damage or even destroy SoulCycle. But it will not hurt Ross's fortunes or make him less likely to donate to Trump.

Effective at getting SoulCycle (and possibly other companies now in existence and in the future) to pay attention to something more than just the check being written before accepting the financial assistance from an investor, if you have a brand which is pitching itself specifically has being about more than just making money?

I'm not googling about it for this comment, but it seems to me, as a consumer, that Ben & Jerry's has managed to be both a successful ice cream brand and a company that is trying to do more in the world in ways that extend beyond ice cream, and has managed to do this without ending up with crossed streams.

Seems like SoulCycle should not have much problem doing this if they just pay attention.
posted by hippybear at 12:58 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


I feel like conscious consumerism is an illusion. I mean, to live in the modern world we all have to shop somewhere, but it seems like it’s a Hobson’s Choice between Home Depot which has a Trump-supporting founder or Lowe’s which treats its workers more poorly. Even a B corp like Ben & Jerry’s is owned by Unilever. I mean we should try to make the best choices we can, but rampant global scale capitalism just doesn’t seem to mesh well with humanist values.

Like I hate Hobby Lobby, but they’ve also bought a ton of goth jewelry designs from my weird friend (a progressive woman of color). She wasn’t about to turn down the ability to make a living.
posted by rikschell at 1:03 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Also, SoulCycle has only 88 locations across the entire US and Canada. They aren't giant.
posted by hippybear at 1:04 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


it seems like it’s a Hobson’s Choice between Home Depot which has a Trump-supporting founder or Lowe’s which treats its workers more poorly

I have an Ace hardware store in my little town of 10,000 people which has basically everything needed for most projects that require a trip to a hardware store. Also a BiMart which has a different selection of things that compliments the Ace. Ace is a locally owned franchise store, and BiMart is employee-owned.

I could get to Home Depot or Lowes easily, 30 minutes away (they're literally across the street from each other, with a Walmart and a Costco also right there), but I try to avoid the drive and shop locally if I can.

Maybe there are other choices where you live but you haven't noticed because the Orange or the Blue was drowning it out.
posted by hippybear at 1:08 PM on August 11 [10 favorites]


Raise your hand if you are boycotting SoulCycle but still shop at Amazon.

I own an indoor trainer that I only use when the sky is gray with wildfire smoke. I do boycott Amazon to the extent I can, but just like trying to boycott uline it's almost impossible not to buy from businesses that use it. I took some pleasure in using an Amazon gift card someone gave me to buy an ereader that works with non-kindle books.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:14 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I go to Ace Hardware for smaller stuff, but they don't have much in the way of building materials. Lumber, drywall, molding, etc. seem like they've been ceded to the Big Boxes. There used to be a lumber place that mainly sold to contractors but was willing to sell to consumers but they went out of business.

And Bezos owns the evil Amazon but also the Washington Post which has maybe been the best American news source during this whole mess. Everything is problematic.

That's not saying we should give up! We should celebrate when Cheerios runs a commercial with a multiracial family and the conservatives have an aneurysm. But we shouldn't fall under the corporate spell of General Mills because megacorporations will always milshake duck.
posted by rikschell at 1:31 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


I admit I've weighed my own humanity against the golden deliciousness of chik-fil-a chicken often enough to conclude that top-down structural change to the economy is necessary and they must be putting cocaine in those nuggets
posted by captain afab at 1:36 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Naomi Klein tried to warn about this kind of thing in No Logo. AdBusters and the Battle of Seattle were rife with problems, but I miss the deep cynicism against corporation rhetoric writ large that punctuated a lot of the progressive discourse 20 years ago. A lot of the ideology around Buy Nothing Day was directly connected to the idea that you can't buy your way to a better world.
posted by mostly vowels at 1:40 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


The biggest problem with trying to boycott right-wing CEOs, other than the fact that few people seem to understand that just not buying isn’t a boycott unless you bother to let the corporation in question know that you are a potential customer choosing not to do business and why, is that people are still insanely fixated on nonsense concepts like karma and the just-world fallacy and thus, anyone attaining the heights of wealth and power, no matter how dedicated they once were to a notion of the collective good, is going to have an epiphany that they did it all on their own and turn into a giant twitching crusty weeping carbuncular asshole. That’s not to say it’s not a nice feeling to spend your funds where you feel comfortable, but rich assholes gonna rich asshole, so we’re stuck with ‘em until people realize that torches and pitchforks are open source.

Gyms are horrible places, though. Easy boycott.
posted by sonascope at 1:43 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


> I admit I've weighed my own humanity against the golden deliciousness of chik-fil-a chicken often enough to conclude that top-down structural change to the economy is necessary and they must be putting cocaine in those nuggets

there’s a bit in the third season of The Good Place where Maya Rudolph (playing a semi-all-powerful figure within the legal system of the afterlife) visits earth, finds it more complicated than she expected, returns to the afterlife, and exclaims:
“Did you know there’s a chicken sandwich where if you eat it you hate gay people? and it’s a really good chicken sandwich!
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:51 PM on August 11 [37 favorites]


I do have to laugh a rueful self-hating laugh whenever I have had a weak moment and found myself buying Chick-Fil-A, because if the cashier trips my gaydar, I feel instantly filled with sputtering outrage that they’re a part of the empire of evil misery despite their being similarly LGBT to me...and then I remember that I, too, am a stupid ass tangled up in the stupidity of everything. Then, when no one’s looking, I fill my bag all the way to the brim with buffalo sauce dippy tubs and get the fuck outta there because this injustice shall not stand. Take that, corporate profit margin!

Being human is a challenge.
posted by sonascope at 1:52 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


Not going to a Chick-Fil-A is literally one of the easiest things to do. It's something you have to choose to actually do. There is nothing in anyone's life that forces them to go to a Chick-Fil-A against their will unless it's that they work at Chick-Fil-A.
posted by hippybear at 1:56 PM on August 11 [34 favorites]


No one likes giving up things they like. But possibly it would be more honest to admit that is why you are not giving it up than insisting that as an individual your effort will not end capitalism and overthrow the ruling classes and that is why you are not giving it up?

In Ireland supermarket workers risked their jobs because they wouldn't handle fruit from apartheid South Africa. Did that bring about the fall of apartheid? No it didn't, but the fact that women with everything to lose took this step was very meaningful for raisibg the issue countrywide and also meant something to those fighting the system in South Africa when they heard about it.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:00 PM on August 11 [45 favorites]


The Rainbow Boot, folks.
posted by constantinescharity at 2:01 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I feel like boycotts ARE important, because even if this doesn't damage Ross's money, it's a reminder to everyone looking on that Trump's donations come from somewhere. Like...I guarantee you that by shopping at Amazon, your money is not going to Trump.

It's also a reminder that the stigma of Trump's name is such that people don't want to be associated with it even indirectly, and are willing to skip favored brands to prove it. That isn't nothing, and with enough of it, we can and will hurt Trump's donors, brand, and business. Constantly having "associating in any way with Trump earns public shunning" is definitely the kind of thing we need to see more.

It's also important because this is the rare case of boycotting based on values branding, and the world needs a lot more of that. If companies profess to stand for something, they need to be shown there are consequences for not meaning it. Like, I don't know who Costco donates to, but I also can't say I'd feel betrayed to find out they've put money in Republican coffers. Strategically frustrated, yes, but they stand for one or two very specific things, which are working with suppliers to lower prices and staff retention. You can accuse them of not living up to those values, or of living up to them unethically, but those are pretty much all they do and all they claim to do. Nobody shops at Costco to support progressive activism or liberal values (I grant their treatment of their staff is definitely what I'd like to see more of, but they claim it's self-serving). More companies should be like Costco and sell a thing they do really well, rather than a lifestyle.
posted by saysthis at 2:02 PM on August 11 [18 favorites]


One of the things that got me to completely stop going years ago was seeing Chik-fil-a experience a meteoric rise in popularity in my area after the negative press, as if people were going to "pwn the libs" or "support a Christian business" more charitably, creating a literal spiral of cars around the location.
posted by Selena777 at 2:02 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Doing something is usually still marginally better than doing nothing.

I can’t say I’m boycotting Soul Cycle because I never had the money for it and never would have the desire to go. Yes, I buy dog food at Amazon to save myself having to schlep it but this year so far I’ve been able to reduce my purchases there a ton in favor of my local grocery chain, farmer’s market, and hardware store. I deleted my Facebook but not my Instagram. 95% of my clothing purchases have been from secondhand stores. Etc.

I could be doing so much more (I could give all my money away!), but taking the first small step to do something has made me feel more confident in doing more and more. Boycotts are a really good form of nonviolent protest that is widely accessible, especially for inexperienced protestors.
posted by sallybrown at 2:19 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


One of the things that got me to completely stop going years ago was seeing Chik-fil-a experience a meteoric rise in popularity in my area after the negative press

Yes! That's what stood out to me about CFA's actions. The normal big business would at least mumble out an apology, and do some half-assed diversity training. But no, CFA totally leaned into the controversy, doubled down even. And people loved them for it and still do!

They are now the 3rd largest fast food chain in the US, behind McD's and Starbucks.

Looking back now, I feel like that was at least one early indicator of 2016.
posted by FJT at 2:24 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


To clarify, I haven't been able to afford chik-fil-a in years, and even before that I faithfully maintained the boycott, but I felt like I should be honest about the chicken.

I don't know where Dominion power's money goes, but if I did, I can't boycott them. It's a simple thing to give up luxuries as a way to compensate for the money you can't help but funnel into the evil machinery of capitalist fascism. Totally agreed. 100%.

I've given up a lot to be out and proud. Economic precarity, personal sense of safety, friends, family, basic shit. But. That chicken? It haunts me. To this day.

In conclusion, land of contrasts, etc.
posted by captain afab at 2:30 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


Also, obligatory Jerrod Carmichael on Chick-Fil-A.
posted by saysthis at 2:37 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Free People suffer from this same phenomenon.

As do the Chicago Cubs.
posted by srboisvert at 2:58 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Popeye's spicy chicken sandwich, extra pickles.

Problem solved.
posted by mikelieman at 3:26 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


Did you know that the founder of Little Caesars paid Rosa Parks rent quietly for years and years?
posted by hippybear at 3:33 PM on August 11 [36 favorites]


Like, I just learned that today.
posted by hippybear at 3:33 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


How to avoid Chick-fil-A:

Buy other chicken.
Add MSG. Seriously.
posted by Monochrome at 4:03 PM on August 11 [11 favorites]


So I don't do a lot of "Consumer Activism" (partially because I believe boycotts if they're to work require massive massive work and the payoff is minimal).

That said there are some places I refuse to do business with, primarily Chik-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby, and Hardees.

Sadly, I feel we're all captive to the capitalist marketplace, and while consumer choice is important and from a moral standpoint we should make moral choices in our purchasing decisions, the fact is, in the end, we are bound by capitalism, and I would be a hypocrite to demand anyone not shop anywhere so long as I, for example, buy from Amazon (which only happens due to my laziness - no other reason. Which means, those workers who suffer are by my hand -- And now that I get to the end and read upthread, I amend this at the end - it's even worse, and I'm complicit and guilty much more than even I was admitting).

The best we can do is try to be as honest with ourselves where those divisions and choices lie. Because there can be no 100% moral consumption in our current society.

But we SHOULD strive to do what we can within our limits and when we don't, be honest with ourselves about why we make those trade-offs with our moral stances.

For instance, the claim above:
"I guarantee you that by shopping at Amazon, your money is not going to Trump. "

Depends how you define "Going to Trump"... Personally to get elected? Maybe not. But are they lusting after the money from the very system Trump is building and offering their technology? (Answer: Check out the links below):

To quote Rage Against the Machine:
"What we don't know keeps the contracts alive and movin'"

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/06/22/amazon-employees-demand-company-cut-ties-with-ice/
https://www.engadget.com/2018/10/23/amazon-pitched-ice-rekognition-facial-recognition-technology/
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/08/amazon-is-developing-high-tech-surveillance-tools-for-police.html
posted by symbioid at 4:06 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Well, if it helps anything, at least Stephen Ross’s Miami Dolphins look like they’ll be boycotting the win column this year.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:23 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Popeye's spicy chicken sandwich, extra pickles.

Problem solved.


For me it's Popeye's naked chicken strips.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:37 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Bad WOM (word of mouth) can kill a brand in an instant. Look at how Wilma managed to kneecap Frantic Freddy's musical career in a single evening just by passing around the false rumour that Freddy was 'square'.
posted by Flashman at 5:10 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


There's no Equinox or SoulCycle within five hours of my city so this boycott is going to be pretty easy.
posted by octothorpe at 5:27 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Why should anyone press you to justify not patronizing one business whose profits openly serve to make the world worse?

I'm not flashy with my boycotts, mostly because that's tedious, but if and when it comes up -- usually when I say low-key, "Hey, I can't eat at Chik-Fil-A, can we go somewhere else?" -- the most hostility I've encountered comes from people who:

A. Profess to endorse the same principle that my boycott is about upholding, and
B. Are unwilling to walk their talk because it's moderately inconvenient or means giving up something they like

So then it's easier for them to attack my approach with "You're doing [X] but what about [Y]." By pointing out that a boycott is flawed, they can console themselves by thinking that not doing anything is better than doing something imperfect and I'm the sucker for embracing an intentional action.

It's 2019, I'm tired of whataboutism being used to justify not doing a goddamned thing, and since one of the few things billionaires care about is whether or not they get my money, one of the few things I can do to push back against the plutocrats is say "no" with great frequency and enthusiasm.
posted by sobell at 6:21 PM on August 11 [54 favorites]


Raise your hand if you are boycotting SoulCycle but still shop at Amazon.

Yeah but it keeps the Washington Post afloat.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:28 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's pretty much what I was trying to say, sobell.
posted by praemunire at 6:46 PM on August 11


Telling people that individual actions don't change anything is a great way to prevent an aggregation of those actions ever occurring.
posted by sarahw at 7:45 PM on August 11 [34 favorites]


Did you know that the founder of Little Caesars paid Rosa Parks rent quietly for years and years?

He also made the Tigers into a good baseball team for quite a few years there. Man, I miss those days.

I mean boycott SoulCycle or whatever if you want, but it's super hard to be consistent about that kind of thing. Like, if you need to wipe your ass, you will be surprised to find out how many toilet paper brands are owned by the Koch Brothers. Boycotts of the businesses owned by super wealthy people seem kind of pointless. Like, all the cows are gone, what's the point of closing the gate now? What we need is some kind of asshole list for small businesses where conscientious buyers might actually have an impact.

For the super rich I suggest progressive taxation but probably guillotines are more likely.
posted by axiom at 9:13 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I don't think I understand the arguments being presented here for why boycotting businesses owned by people who you don't like how they use their wealth isn't actually effective. Boycotting the business makes the business marginally less powerful, and worth less money. That means the owners are marginally less powerful, and have access to less money.

I mean, it's only a tiny bit effective, because you are only a tiny bit of the customer base of the business, and the ownership of the business may only be a portion of the owners' wealth, but it seems like it should be having a small effect which is in proportion to those things.

(However, I definitely don't think anyone should feel bad for declining to make personal sacrifices to make a tiny difference to the bottom line of a company or person they think is evil.)
posted by value of information at 10:28 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I mean boycott SoulCycle or whatever if you want, but it's super hard to be consistent about that kind of thing.
Like, if you need to wipe your ass, you will be surprised to find out how many toilet paper brands are owned by the Koch Brothers.


Because if there's one thing we've learned, it's that if you can't do something comprehensively, you shouldn't do anything at all.

I'm not trying to pick on you personally, you're hardly the only person who's made here or elsewhere one of this genre of comment, but this is such a prime example of the sort of utterly thoughtless conventional-wisdom remark people pass around their peer groups as a vaccination against having to think anything uncomfortable or do anything. Because you cannot possibly think anyone in this conversation is so witless or ignorant as to not be aware how many wrongdoing corporations there are in this world, or that it is not actually possible to opt out of doing business with all of them (if you honestly, honestly think grown people need explained to them what businesses the Koches control, please don't tell me). You must know that this is just a self-soothing thought-terminating cliche.
posted by praemunire at 10:50 PM on August 11 [30 favorites]


I understand that comments like "we've been trained to think that small personal decisions are what's important but they don't really have any real systemic impact" make people upset. Because it's then easy to draw a conclusion that we should stop making those small personal decisions and do nothing. When really the message is we should spend less time worrying about those small personal decisions and more time figuring out how to tackle the systemic problems. We can still boycott Chick-Fil-A, but we shouldn't have any illusions about what kind of change that will bring. Consumer activism is no substitute for political activism. Voting with our dollars is still important, but as we've seen, voting only gets us so far. Voting is just the tip of the iceberg, the bare minimum for being politically involved. Endless committee meetings are no fun, but we can't make progress without them, I'm afraid.
posted by rikschell at 4:55 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


Why does this conversation seem a lot different when the discussion is about buying music or movies instead of other non essential items? Does anyone honestly argue that you can still buy Morrissey records because there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism?
posted by Selena777 at 5:40 AM on August 12


I don't think I understand the arguments being presented here for why boycotting businesses owned by people who you don't like how they use their wealth isn't actually effective.

I think it’s because you get people who might have bought five sandwiches in their life from a place, who now are “boycotting” it, and getting all the moral feel good points, even though the boycotted place is only out 30$.

If you really want to hit these place’s bottom line, unionize their workforce.
posted by corb at 7:13 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Does anyone bother to kind of morally hedge when they have trouble boycotting a place? Like a "for every homophobe chicken sandwich I eat I'm donating $10 to an LGBT advocacy group"?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:11 AM on August 12


I don't know where Dominion power's money goes, but if I did, I can't boycott them.

I don't know how they spend lobbying dollars either, but I can tell you that as a general rule, state public utilities commissions don't allow the utility to use ratepayer funds for political activities. Precisely because you can't boycott them, there are pretty strict controls over what they can charge you and how they can use the money - customer funds are supposed to go for the services provided to customers and that's it.

More specifically with regard to Dominion, they're doing some pretty exciting stuff to advance the development of renewable natural gas, including a quarter-billion-dollar joint venture with Smithfield foods (the largest hog farming company in the US) to capture methane from hog manure at Smithfield's various operations and use it instead of fossil gas. But that's a bit of a derail (and your electric ratepayer dollars should not be going to any of that; it's an unregulated investment using shareholder dollars, not customer funds).
posted by nickmark at 8:33 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Why does this conversation seem a lot different when the discussion is about buying music or movies instead of other non essential items?

I was a little disturbed when I saw that Steve Mnuchin was an executive producer on the LEGO Batman movie. But at the same time, I was kind of like - good! Making LEGO Batman movies is a good thing that I want to encourage and I'm totally fine with people being able to make money from it! Steve Mnuchin is not good and I don't want him to have my money if he's going to continue to do the kinds of political things he's doing, but maybe I want to encourage him to make more LEGO Batman movies and less public policy?
posted by nickmark at 8:38 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Does anyone bother to kind of morally hedge when they have trouble boycotting a place? Like a "for every homophobe chicken sandwich I eat I'm donating $10 to an LGBT advocacy group"?

Dunno, I did that with a Tarantino film when he was defending Harvey Weinstein. I hadn't gotten a chance to see Inglorious Basterds while it was in the theater for various reasons. It was available for cheap rent on some streaming service (can't remember which) so I watched it on one of those occasions where I actually had 2 hours to myself. Then I calculated how much I would have spent (ticket, concessions, etc) if I'd been able to see it in the theater and sent it to RAINN.

Not looking for a cookie or anything, just stating what the outcome was for me: the movie was... okay. Was it worth the extra expense and the bit of sliminess I felt? Debatable. I haven't had any desire to watch any of his films since.

Just to say: if moral hedging means someone is doing some actual critical thinking about the entities they pay, and if (as a bonus) it helps them wean themselves away from something they wish to boycott, so much the better.

No ethical consumption under capitalism but we can at least keep our eyes open, right?
posted by pianoblack at 8:56 AM on August 12 [6 favorites]


I was a little disturbed when I saw that Steve Mnuchin was an executive producer on the LEGO Batman movie.

How I felt about the Wonder Woman movie.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:48 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Consumer activism is no substitute for political activism.

I see it as part and parcel of being an engaged person in the world, the same way I think it's possible for me to recycle whenever possible, reduce my consumption whenever possible, donate to environmental organizations, and still get on the phone with my congresspeople to ask what they're doing for the planet lately. And help register voters in a new district and put in the legwork to flip congressional districts. Every action on every front helps in some way. I hope that for some, knowing they can make a stand with consumer activism emboldens them to ask, "Why not more?"
posted by sobell at 3:38 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Why does this conversation seem a lot different when the discussion is about buying music or movies instead of other non essential items?

As someone who often pushes for more boycotting/avoidance of those things, I can say that there is some logic to this. Many feel a gut-level hesitance towards placing limits on the transmission of information and/or art. I don't think that it's usually well-considered or thought through, I think it's a gut-level thing for most people, but having a different standard for boycotting "information/art" compared to boycotting "generic consumable" is a distinction that makes some sense.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:53 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Because you cannot possibly think anyone in this conversation is so witless or ignorant as to not be aware how many wrongdoing corporations there are in this world, or that it is not actually possible to opt out of doing business with all of them (if you honestly, honestly think grown people need explained to them what businesses the Koches control, please don't tell me). You must know that this is just a self-soothing thought-terminating cliche.

I think that for a lot of people (in general), they can very easily think that boycotting is enough, and that's bad. Put another way, it's psychologically soothing to think that boycotting something wholly unnecessary is job done. It prevents people from taking actions that actually effect change in the world, because it lets them rest on their laurels rather than, say, advocating for progressive taxes or calling their congresscritter. The boycott is the self-soothing thought terminator for many (very well-meaning!) folks -- I should note I am not necessarily including or excluding anyone on MeFi, it takes all kinds. I'd even go so far as to say that when things like consumer boycotts make the news, they actively make it harder for real change because they reframe the conversation around the placebo rather than the cure.

We should be talking about guillotines more, not eating fewer chick-fil-a, though if one wants to that too I have no problem with that, just so long as you don't ONLY do that.
posted by axiom at 4:34 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Axiom: agreed - I am very pro-guillotine.
posted by captain afab at 5:21 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


I boycott Chick-fil-A except in two instances: when I am very sick/unwell physically, in which case it's sometimes the only thing I can think of eating; and when I am at the lowest point of my eating disorder, in which case it's the only thing that can get me to eat anything at all.

I wish that those two scenarios weren't so, but they are and have been for a long time, and at least it does keep me from eating there once a week, which I'd probably do if their politics weren't so fucking awful.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:05 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


OK, forget Amazon, who here is now going to boycott Marvel?
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:05 PM on August 13


“Many feel a gut-level hesitance towards placing limits on the transmission of information and/or art.”

I feel like it’s the reverse - there’s not as much pushback against the personal decision to “cancel” an artist for political reasons as there is about deciding not to do business with a company.
posted by Selena777 at 2:06 PM on August 13


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