Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Citizens United and the Target Boycott

In 2006, I was named by the Minneapolis Star and Tribune as one of the top policy wonks to watch under 30. For most people, the idea of analyzing public policy and attempting to apply newly passed legislation to the operation of daily life sounds about as fun as giving oneself a circumcision with a dull, rusty plastic spork. I was born with an odd ball gene that sends internally produced opiates directly to my favorite pleasure centers whenever a Supreme Court ruling comes down.

I am pretty sure that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a previous job, I served as the Associate Director and Democratizing Elections Fellow at the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution. In my late 20s, when many of my queer contemporaries were planning their next mimosa brunch, I was working with a cadre of like-minded lefties trying to figure out how to make the American democracy into an actual democracy. Three years ago, with leadership from Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap from Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) and former Green Party presidential nominee and DUHC staffer David Cobb, Liberty Tree was already engaged with trying to figure out how to fight back against a string of Supreme Court rulings over the last hundred years that established the idea of "corporate personhood." Before January 2010, there were actual limits on the abilities of corporations and unions to participate in the electoral process. Indeed, the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 had established some of the more stringent restrictions on campaign finance and corporate spending in elections in several decades.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 split decision, gutted almost a century of legislation and judicial precedence by removing any and all barriers to the participation of corporations in the electoral process, establishing definitively that a corporation (and unions), which are basically no more and no less than a conglomeration of special interests with a particular economic goal in mind, has, indeed, all the rights (and sometimes more) than living, breathing, voting individuals.

When that decision came down, wonk heads like me had multiple heart palpitations and started chewing Roll-Aids as if they were Flintstone vitamins, and many of my friends began discreet inquiries into the immigration requirements for Canada. For most people, they understood vaguely that something not so fun had happened, but Joe the Plumber and the everyday person, gripped in the deadly claws of this ridiculous Great Recession, were too worried about how to pay their bills to puzzle through an 183 page ruling that, in the end, used a lot of paper to say, "Demcoracy....SCREW YOU!"

But, when Target CEO Greg Steinhafel choose to direct $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, which then gave the cash to rabidly anti-queer GOP candidate for governor of Minnesota Tom Emmer, the reality of the Citizens United decision came crashing home.

While the community should be angry at Target and should address their concerns and utilize strategies to hit Steinhafel where it hurts, we should all recognize that this is but the first salvo in a new cultural and corporate war that, unless an amendment to the Constitution is passed, or unless the balance of the Supreme Court shifts to the left, we are looking at a long, slow war of attrition in which not only the people but democracy itself will be the losers. Though the ruling was nigh on 200 pages long, the short of it is that the Supreme Court removed any restrictions on the amount of money that corporations can provide to political action committees during elections. PACs, then, can use that money to support the candidate of his or her choice. As Target's CEO said in a very lame (pardon the ableism here) statement, "As you know, Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives, such as job creation and economic growth." Let me translate, that statement says, "While we happily extract the maximum effectiveness, creativity, and commitment from our queer employees, we could really give a shit about you as long as we can maximize our profits. Love you. Mean it."

While I encourage direct action that will result in a change in the way that Target makes decisions around political contributions, I warn you all that this is simply the first such strike by a major corporation during a significant election year. God help us come the 2012 presidential election. It is time that we all get behind organizations such as Move To Amend and demand from any of our political candidates that are asking for our support in upcoming elections to sign onto a Constitutional amendment that will revoke corporate personhood and once again limit the ability of corporate collectives from dominating and marginalizing our democracy.


  1. God I wish I would have had you diagnose me a few years ago. I truly feel that Im the only one here that really gives a shit about some of these things that are happening locally, nationally and internationally as of late. I actually had 2 different instances recently where I almost offed myself due to some young twiglets speaking idiocy (according to my pov), and another book smart psychology student, recently graduated, no experience yet, state something that almost caused me to have a myocardial infarction and at my age girl I think i even pooped a little.
    So the first incident happened when I spoke loudly and frequently about Target and someone said "I work there and my friends work there and they have great benefits for gay people and their partners.", and the psych student wanted to know why I was acting like Hitler. HELP. Someone please introduce me to people I can talk to irrationally and rationally and work these things out...Or I might just end up on the late night news as a headline that reads "GLBT supporter involved in many organizations wsa walking down Nicollet when his body exhibited spontaneous human combustion and all that is left is an outline of where he stood, a melted Iphone and Nike Shoes. Passersby stated that he was speaking to someone regarding Conservative politics and the Supreme court rulings regarding Target and Best buy when someone asked why it was such a big issue and then it happened..., He was overheard at the last moment mentioning something about Bachmann and Palin, "Darmok, and Jalad... at Tanagra!" We reference the comment here: http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Darmok_(episode) He will be missed dearly. For WCCO news, Goodnight.
    Really? Really Girl? HELP!

  2. I am still going through my emails and have gotten down to 444 messages. So my overloaded brain has these questions for you: 1. Can a plastic spork get rusty? and 2. If I wasn't shopping at Target before, should I start shopping there now? 3. what do you get when you cross a geek with a wonk? a gonk? luv Betty


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