things to think about

Today I am thinking about: BUYING THINGS IS NOT ACTIVISM
February 11, 2012, 3:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Look, guys, it needs to be said. Buying things is not activism.

I dig that some crackpot group on the far right decided to boycott JC Penney for having Ellen DeGeneres be the new spokesmodel. I dig that it is disrespectful to gay people everywhere, myself included, and pretty effed up given that Ellen is a) a married paragon of family values b) a national star c) about as non offensive and unthreatening as you can get on every dimension possible. And I get it: it is ridiculous to condemn Ellen as inappropriate just because she is a homo. But the way to fight this has nothing to do with buying things!

We are not being discriminated against because of where we like to shop, and we are not being somehow kept from shopping at JC Penney’s for being homos. If we were, then shopping might be a big deal or some kind of statement (see: the fierce activists challenging Jim Crow laws in the South.) But this is not what is going on – Penney’s is actually being supportive. So what is the point of any of this? Saying thank you for doing the right thing, aka continuing with their planned campaign? How is that activism?

It isn’t. The idea that I am going to thank a giant corporation for having the basic decency to not be douchey makes me sad. Penney’s already decided that they were up to have Ellen, and they are standing by her, and that is how it should be. Sure, write a letter or something, but there is no proof that Penney’s somehow is in danger from this boycott or that there are actual rights to be gained from this. Penney’s is the wrong place to be focusing our energy.

You know what would be activism? Going to the American Family Association – the sponsors and energy behind One Million Moms – and inundating them with calls asking why they are so homophobic. (hey, try 800-326-4543×206 to start – be polite but be persistent!) Ignoring crackpot right wingers who use giant political organizations to pretend to be grassroots is another good suggestion. What about protesting the AFA by taking them to court for obscenity charges – I sure find their message indecent and against the morals of our community. There are so many ways to actually fight homophobia, and counter One Million Fake Moms, rather than throw some party about buying things at a company that gave no indication they deserved any kind of special attention.

I don’t object to the idea of rewarding companies for doing the right thing. If, for example, Penney’s announced they were giving health care to all their employees, or if they endorsed the Retail Action Project’s campaign for a living retail wage, I’d be into that. The HRC indicates that they are pretty gay-friendly, so that’s something. But really? What is this actually doing for anyone who is actually a homosexual? 

As far as I can tell, this was started by two people who aren’t homos, and I assume that part of the reason it has gotten so much attention is that two of the people write for blogs that are owned in part by ABC (per the link above.) I guess makes me feel better, because I like to think our people would be more creative and interesting than this. How can we actually bring down the AFA? How do we think of ourselves as change agents rather than consumers? I suggest you start with the phone number above.* Let’s start giving them something else to deal with.

* The only phone number on the whole site that I could find was for Diane O’Neal, Director of Planned Giving. So don’t be too mean to her. Just call and ask who you can register a complaint with, or who you can ask about family appropriateness. Good questions include: is it ok to let your kids watch Ellen to help them learn what to avoid, your daughter wants to wear Kedz but Ellen wears them and does that make her gay, or the good old fashioned “I think you are homophobic and contributing to the deaths of gay teenagers. Do you feel comfortable knowing you are assisting in murder?”


4 Comments so far
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I don’t necessarily think the Shop in is about activism. It’s more about a) showing support to Ellen, and b) showing support to a company who chose to stand by her even though they’re being attacked for doing so. It’s not hurting anyone, so why not? I don’t think people who chose to “attend” need to be looked down on, called unimaginative. It’s just a small way for people to show their support. And saying things like “our people” kind of puts this separation between those who are gay and those who are not. That’s sort of what these OMM women are doing, just in a much more forceful and ignorant way. But to me, there is no difference between us and there should be no separation. We’re all the same, all of us deserve to have the same rights, we all deserve to have the same choices. I digress though. If a bunch of people wanna shop as a way to show their support, let them. Trust me, it’ll go a long way to show the women of OMM and all the other haters just how many people support Ellen and equal rights in general.

Comment by Mimi

He makes a point about the shop-in not being activism (though I hadn’t heard anyone refer to is as, either). I think people just wanted to send a big, sloppy, thank you kiss to JCPenney for doing the right thing- not exactly an impolitic gesture. You KNOW those numbers will be posted- especially is they are at ALL sizable. Perhaps making it just a littlle bit harder for another crazed, right-wing group with a small-minded agenda to try the same thing.

Comment by Travis

I am just not sure that it does make it harder for another crazed, right-wing group with a small-minded agenda to try the same thing. At best, it reminds some corporations that there is resistance to this ideology, but it isn’t going to actually stop homophobia in any way shape or form. Is Penney’s doing anything other than saying it is willing to accept gay dollars? THAT, to me, is the real question. The legislators they support are certainly socially conservative in other ways (anti-choice, etc) in a way that makes me imagine their contributions are not all that pro-gay. I am unconvinced that this one choice is in any way something to feel great about.

Comment by arielariel

Hi, Ariel. Interesting article. Don’t really agree with what you are saying. Corporations have a sort of dumb intelligence. I think of it kind of like a dog. You need to punish bad behaviour and reward the good. I believe boycotts are VERY effective. Money influences behaviour. And what we are trying to affect on one side of the activism coin is behaviour. We want equal rights. The side you are discussing, “The idea that I am going to thank a giant corporation for having the basic decency to not be douchey makes me sad,” is dealing with Corporate Psyche. You can change Corporate Behaviour. Corporate Psyche needs to evolve like new emotional dynamics in human brains do. I am jumbling everything up as I tend to do, but being decent and behaving decently are not the same thing. But both are gains, though. I don’t blame any company for trying to promote their version of moral standards. If I had a large company I would like it to reflect my ideology. That is why we must attempt to neuter financially the institutions that seek inequality. The companies that support us deserve our support. Stop shopping at Target and Best Buy for example. AND write them and let them know why. Most folks out there do not consider themselves activists. Those non-activists are probably the most influential people in this whole struggle. Americans tend to not want to sacrifice convenience for marginal gains. When people I care greatly about continue to shop at Target and drink Coca-Cola products it hurts down to my soul. If I knew how to get them to make small adjustments to their behaviour that would mean giant ripples in society… oh well. Boiling it down, which do you think is easier for the Average JoJo? Switching to RC Cola or taking 15 minutes a day to call an organization and question them on their moral values? I think both are incredibly difficult to achieve. And both are necessary.

Anyhooo, on a less confusing topic. I’m totally linking you on my blog. :oP and I am adding this response to the facebook post, because people are to lazy to leave facebook.

Much love,


Comment by Memo

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