To be a consumer in today’s world is to navigate endless contradictions. Vote with your dollar, yes, but voting with your dollar is not so simple when dollars are limited and principle often doesn’t match pragmatism. It has been said before but it’s worth the reminder; we can’t all buy organic, non-GMO, fair-trade, gold-labor-standard, all-natural, handmade products when each adjective corresponds to an increase in price. We have to pick our battles. All the while, advertisements sway our perceptions, business practices are often withheld from the public, and the truth is hard to discern. To buy or not to buy? Where do we draw the line?
The past few weeks have featured a slew of articles, headlines, and conversations urging consumers to boycott a variety of businesses affiliated with Donald Trump.
There was a quick denunciation of the L.L. Bean brand by liberal consumers after Trump tweeted thank you at Linda Bean, a descendent of the company’s founder, for her support.
The Grab Your Wallet campaign has attempted to encourage anti-Trump consumers to boycott brands selling Trump products. There was even discussion regarding Wooglin’s Deli, whose owners support Trump, which discouraged many CC students and professors from visiting.
The intent behind each of those examples is largely the same: to leverage consumer influence over a company’s economic success, such that a company behaves in closer accordance with the consumers’ political or moral views. But to view the three examples above, or all boycotting as a single category, would be misunderstanding the process. Take L.L. Bean for example.
Boycotting L.L. Bean would mean boycotting a company in response to the actions of one person within its structure. Linda Bean did, in fact, donate thousands of dollars to Trump, but they were her own thousands of dollars, not L.L. Bean’s. Her support for Trump on Twitter came from her personal account, not the company’s official page. That is different from boycotting a brand which, as a business, officially endorsed or donated money to Trump. It is also different from boycotting a business whose company policies—where they source their products from, working conditions, wages, benefits, etc.—conflict with the consumers’ political ideals. The Grab Your Wallet campaign aims to hurt the Trump brand indirectly by threatening other businesses choosing to sell it, which is not the same as simply refusing to buy the Trump brand. Wooglin’s presents yet another take. Boycotting Wooglin’s is a refusal to support a business whose owners support Trump, yet the deli’s small size means the effect of boycotting is concentrated on a few individuals, rather than on the brand’s profit or reputation.
Thus, what begins as a quest for ethical purity—or a pragmatic means of influence, depending on how you look at it—can have questionable consequences. Is it okay to hurt local businesses over political disagreements? If boycotting Wooglin’s is successful, it could theoretically drive the restaurant out of business. Then what? A community space is lost; a family is left unemployed, struggling financially, and feeling disenfranchised and angrier than ever at their political opposition. An opportunity for interaction between CC students, largely liberal, and other Wooglin’s regulars, largely conservative, is lost as each retreats to their respective cafés, and the gap in understanding only widens. Polarization demands increased contact, not decreased.
Who would get Wooglin’s business in return? Would it be another local deli or would it be a chain that fills its place? Likewise, with L.L. Bean, the company’s actual policies strive for environmental sustainability, to support the Maine economy, and to maintain high labor standards.
Boycotting L.L. Bean simultaneously boycotts all those positive aspects of the company. I do not agree with Linda Bean, nor the owners of Wooglin’s in their political views. Some of their opinions I do not even respect, but both businesses provide important contributions to their respective communities; the actions of both seem to promote progressive ideals more so than Trump. That, I respect.
It’s easy to disagree with an opinion, but boycotting an opinion that is truly just that—an opinion—is counterproductive. Argue with opinions; boycott actions. Boycott companies with unjust labor standards or discriminatory policies; boycott companies that donate money to politicians, organizations, or campaigns you oppose. Threaten a company’s reputation when it can force others to follow suit, or when it can force real changes in how it operates. Make sure that boycotting is not just a fancy method to avoid engaging with the opposing side. We don’t always have to agree with opinions, but we do have to try to understand and engage with them.