For the last few days, there has been justified anger and disgust with Target Corporation's, and in particular, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel's, support of MN Forward, a pro-business/anti-tax political action committee in Minnesota, which is supporting the rabidly anti-gay GOP candidate for governor Tom Emmer. Tom Emmer not only opposed same sex marriage but also he admires and is in close cahoots with the lead singer of the Christian band You Can Run But You Can Not Hide, which promotes the killing of queer folks.
Make no mistake, to use the vernacular, that is FUCKED UP.
The reaction, though from the queer community has been varied but, overall, has been without nuance, without tactic, and without any clear objectives or a path to reaching those objectives. Understandably, people are pissed off. I am pissed off. Target is based in my home town of Minneapolis. My first job was at a Target in a black working class neighborhood in North Minneapolis. I worked in the Target Corporation Legal Department in high school, and my Mother has worked in various Target stores for more than 20 years. Steinhafel's donation is a direct slap in the face to all of the queer corporate employees (and I promise you that Target's corporate staff is at least 25% openly queer), and the thousands of queer employees in Target stores across the country.
But the rush to call for a general boycott of Target stores is not only going to be ineffective and will not create the result that is wanted (an apology from Target and either a retraction of the donation or an offsetting donation to an LGBT human rights group), but a boycott will directly HARM the overwhelming majority of Target employees: the working class/below living wage workers that are the core of the Target workforce.
Even if the United States were not in the grip of a massive recession. Even if jobs, in general, were plentiful, to craft a response that targets an oppressed class of people in order to vindicate another class of oppressed people does nothing for justice and guarantees that systemic oppression wins in the end.
Here are the facts.
* Target is a huge company with an annual revenue exceeding $65 billion dollars with more than $2.5 billion dollars in annual profits.
* Target is a single corporation but its stores operate as if they were franchises. This means that each individual store is judged on its own merits and not by the company as a whole. When a single store under performs the losses at that store are passed on DIRECTLY to the employees AT THAT STORE by way of reduced work hours. Target has in the past simply closed under performing stores, displaced those workers, and opened a new store in generally more lucrative and more conservative markets within the same geographical area.
* The workers of Target are not our, well, target. The CEO of Target is, and it is the CEO, not the hourly wage workers that should be the focus of any protest action. I repeat working class people/low wage workers/and the underemployed are our allies not our enemies.
* And, in addition to the issues outlined above, Target is the single largest nongovernmental supporter of homeless and precariously housed youth programs in Minnesota. A drop in revenue will, directly, impact these most vulnerable in our community.
(Side note: There is a reason why corporate philanthropy exists. It is for JUST this sort of situation when a company tries to pull some shady business. It makes decision making around tactics harder. The community, therefore, must beat them at their own game WITHOUT using their tools)
In order for a boycott to truly be effective, it would need a mass movement in all 50 states over a sustained period of time that resulted in at least a 10% drop in overall revenue. That is not a possibility, therefore the energy could be and should be exercised in other more effective arenas.
A boycott of individual stores will directly result in hardships for low wage workers, some of whom will be queer, which will further a divide between queer folks and working class folks AND CONTINUE THE PERPETUATION of the myth that queer folks ARE NOT working class and are privileged and have ideals that are out of sync with working people. Thank God Queers for Economic Justice exists to support working class queer folks, and thank the creator that there are organizers like Susan Raffo, editor of Queerly Classed, that understand the connections between class and sexual orientation.
For these reasons...for reasons of unity with working class folks and queer working class folks an organized boycott of Target is WRONG and unjust. I do, however, support the right of individuals to express their personal outrage through making different shopping choices. This woman has made a personal and courageous decision to not shop at Target, and I support her specifically because of the tactic she chose to use: the media.
The media, viral or otherwise, is how this fight is going to be won. While it is nigh on impossible for queer folks to impact the bottom line of Target through a protest, we can win the fight in the court of public opinion. Frankly, Target prides itself on being a community based venture that CARES about the people it serves and provides artistic and social justice funding to ensure that the least have access. The way to get Target to pay attention is to slap their reputation directly in the face through creative use of the media.
Here's what I suggest:
1) If you choose to boycott target personally, use the model of UpTake.org, record your direct action and make it available widely on the web with a cogent discussion of why you are choosing to shop elsewhere.
2) In most major cities, particularly Minneapolis and New York, Target sponsors large artistic ventures--museums in particular. In New York, almost all of the major museums (Whitney, Guggenheim, MoMA, The Met) have free Target evenings at the museum. Organize a peaceful yet colorful and loud protest each week on the FREE NIGHT in each of these locales. Keep the protests loud and lively on these evenings. I guarantee this will generate personal buzz and garner media attention.
3) Perform direct actions outside of your local Target stores. Send canvassers from your local/state-wide LGBT rights organization to collect donations outside of your local Target. Create local media buzz around this issue.
The only thing that separates Target from Wal-Mart is Target's reputation. Attack the reputation, and you will, I promise get the results that five years of boycott will not win.
It is BEYOND TIME that our movement mature. Whether we are talking about war, poverty, racism, or religious intolerance, it is time that our movement, which includes individuals in all these other spaces/places/ and identities, to create bridges and recognize significant organizing and building moments and then UTILIZE those moments for justice instead of a temporary catharsis.