Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The End of Dissent or When the FB Target Boycotters Went Neo-Con

Over the last few days, I believe I have offered proactive solutions that would help build a stronger justice movement through organizing around the Target (and Best Buy) donations to Minnesota Forward. While many folks have expressed appreciation and support of the points I have offered in the three blogs that I have posted about the Target Boycott and the Citizens United ruling there are many that have disagreed. Overwhelmingly, people that hold that a boycott is the right strategy have disagreed respectfully and expressed their reasons why they believe that it is a good response. A large few, but still the minority, have had various levels of virulent response from dismissal to outright hostility and shaming tactics. That all comes with the territory.

Over the last few days I have, and other folks have, posted some of my blogs on the Facebook page "Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics." In fact, I wasn't aware of the group until my partner, after posting my initial blog "Why Not to Boycott Target," to the group brought the group to my attention. Since then, I have posted my last three essays to the group, and I have engaged in respectful yet dissenting conversation with several of the members of the group, including the gentleman that founded the group.

Today, I went back to the site and saw that there was a conversation going on around the political donation by Target and its connection to the Citizens United v FEC decision, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought it would be appropriate to post a link to yesterday's essay in the context of the conversation taking place. It was then that I discovered that my right to post links to the site had been revoked by the site administrator.

At first I thought, or hoped, that it was a glitch with the system. So I tried posting the link, instead of within an existing conversation thread, as its own stand alone link. I was, once again, told that I was not allowed to take that action.

For the first time in this dialogue around strategy I shifted from disappointed to very angry.

Restricting or eliminating dissent, quieting opposition, and removing the ability of individuals to participate in community dialogues are tools of the Right and not the Left. Or, better to say, those are tools of the far right fascists and the far left Stalinist/Maoist communists. In community dialogues, where there are feelings and offerings of multiple strategies, as long as the dialogue stays respectful, the community can only come out stronger on the other side of the work to hear, synthesize, and craft a measured and intelligent response or proactive engagement with a justice issue. Utilizing ones personal power to silence someone with whom you disagree for the simple fact that you disagree with that person is shameful.

When I served as the chair of the National Lavender Green Caucus of the Green Party of the United States, there was a member of the caucus that, on a regular basis, posted ridiculous, harmful, and rabid emails to our list serve concerning his belief, and the pseudo-science behind it, that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. As an HIV positive person I was deeply offended. His postings, which also included personal attacks on positive people that held the belief that HIV does, indeed, cause AIDS callws us deluded at best and stupid at worst. Yet, after reprimanding this individual for the tone of his emails and the ad hominem attacks, I took no further action on his ability to participate in dialogues as long as decorum was maintained. Though I HATED the things he was saying, and though I felt viscerally that they were wrong and hurtful, and though I had the power to remove him from the dialogue altogether, I didn't. That is the measure of how committed one is to building community and not directing it. It takes more courage to listen to ideas with which you don't agree then to remove those ideas from the conversation.

In the end, I understand that there are those that feel so strongly about the Steinhafel donation to Minnesota Forward that they are unable or unwilling to consider the collateral damage, strategic damage, and human damage of a boycott. If those same people are unable or unwilling to see this as a PRIME organizing opportunity to build, sustain, and strengthen cross community and multi-issue organizing, then perhaps posting anything to a group occupied by those folks is a fruitless enterprise.

We demand as a community the right to exercise the First Amendment, and, yet, too often we don't apply that right to those around us. Sad sad day.


  1. I had a similar experience with the organizers of the NYC Dyke March. They said they banned me to "protect" their members from reading "misleading" and "false" information. That information was my opinion. I, too, was extremely angry that when my community was challenged to think critically about their approach, they shut down the conversation and silenced any dissenters.

  2. I appreciate your openness and willingness to exchange in such lively dialogue with those whom represent an opposing point of view. Your ability to do so speaks to your heightened awareness and strong character and highlights the opposing party's ignorance. Continue doing what you do. Many are intimidated by an educated, informed, well-articulated opponent and choose not to engage for fear of their ignorance being exposed.


  3. That is just no fun Ethan. I am sorry you had that experience.

  4. Sigh... engaging in echo chamber politics is never going to get our movement anywhere. If we can't talk to each other when we disagree, how the heck are we going to talk to the rest of the country (and world)?!?

  5. Oh Thomas. How I miss having daily conversations and interactions with you.

  6. I'm doing the boycott, but you are RIGHT. They should not have banned you. Unacceptable. It takes all voices, and I respectfully disagree with you, as you do me, but I would not censure you. It's called being mature and fosters open dialogue.

    On a side note, have you read for yourself that Target also donated to YES on Prop 8 - $3,250.00 as well as the No on Prop 8 $750.00, both sides of the fence, but clearly favoring those that would take civil rights from people in their choice of marriage. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this? And in the interest of FULL disclosure, no, I've not read any of your other blogs, YET. I will do that, now as a matter of fact. My personal stance is that individual rights are intended for human beings, not for corporate America. I wish you well, and will say something about your censureship...Peace to you,

  7. Hi Brandon,

    I just started reading your blog today, and I really respect how thoughtful each of the posts I've seen have been. I'm left with a couple questions:

    1) In the comment thread in your first Target post, you mentioned that a friend of yours was meeting with the LGBTQ Target worker group, and that she would bring up the boycott. Did that happen, and if so, what came out of it? I think getting that group on board with the boycott (or not) would be a really, really critical development.

    2) While your argument makes sense in light of Target's business practices, I'm having trouble reconciling it with my own decisions on where I choose to shop and what I choose to buy. (A head's up: I realize this conversation could get more abstract than what would be reasonable for a comment thread.) I guess I could take that in multiple directions -- like, a) choosing to be vegan, in part as a boycott of industries that harm both animals and human workers; or b) choosing to buy products made in the United States when possible, in order not to support poorer labor conditions; or c) choosing not to buy products from multinational corporations at all when I can help it, because on some level I think buying from places like Target just contributes to a gap between the underpaid working class and overpaid executives and shareholders in the first place.

    I realize that there are times when operating on any of those ideals requires some privilege. When money's not the most obvious issue, then time sure can be -- like, with making one's own food or clothing -- and having the time to do those things means you have the money to spend doing them. However, some products aside (non-dairy milk, bread), living on a vegan diet doesn't have to be any more expensive or time-consuming than living on an omnivorous one, and buying secondhand at Goodwill or Savers/Value Village is an expensive way to get around directly supporting Gap or Nike, etc.

    So, regardless of whether I shop organic and co-op or conventional and Safeway, American Apparel (which has its own issues) or Goodwill, my decision to do so is still pretty political. I'm not making YouTube videos about it; my form of activism is either private or fairly local, taking the form of conversations with friends. You could argue that in the process, I'm hurting Tyson employees in the U.S., underpaid and overworked Nike employees in China, or Starbucks employees anywhere. But when my end goal is that entities like these or Target shouldn't have the means to overpower working class people in electoral politics -- in fact, shouldn't even exist in the first place -- then what do I do?

    I'm worried that your position here is tantamount to saying not just keep shopping at Target, but *start shopping there if you don't already* -- for the good of workers. But how else can we work toward some kind of non-corporate future, if not through individual actions like choosing not to boycott Target if we have the power to do so? How do we effect structural change in a way that actually respects the interests of workers in the here and now?

    I'm sorry I wrote you a book. Even if you don't get back to me, thanks for blogging about this!

  8. Hey Mike! Thanks for reading and your thoughtful response. I have some definite thoughts, and I have some clarifications, as I think we are much on the same page in many ways. More to come tomorrow when I am not exhausted ;-)


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!