Monday, August 2, 2010

Working Class and Working Class Queers v Target Boycotters

When I published my blog "Why Not To Boycott Target," I had no idea the response that it would receive. I have been blogging since 2005, and in a single day more people read that blog entry than any other entry in the last five years.

And, as usual, not everyone agreed with it. I think one of the most beautiful aspects of my blog is that they often generate strong feelings and visceral discussions, and when it does, I know that I have done my work well.

This time however, I have found myself highly disappointed by our LGBT community (again). I posted my blog on the "Boycott Target" page on Facebook, and, understandably, the reactions were all negative. I expected that. What I didn't expect was the blindness and the willingness to disregard and screw over the working class people at Target. Indeed, one gentleman insisted that by not shopping at Target and shopping at their competitors, the movement isn't hurting the economy just supporting other sectors of it. My number one gripe about all the economic talk in this country is that people talk in markets and sectors instead of talking about the real working class people that are impacted by economic decisions. Indeed, the fact that Congress allowed unemployment benefits to expire for almost two months because Republicans wanted to play politics with peoples lives, is the ultimate example of how the privileged choose to engage with the economy.

And, to be clear, this isn't by accident.

In most of the rest of the world, the real divisions that exist in societies are based in class as opposed to race. The progressive dialogue, while including discussions of racism, is focused, and rightly so, on class stratification. In the U.S., the dialogue has focused on race, and largely because for most of our history race was a key factor (and still is) in economic stratification. But it is even more insidious than that...there was and continues to be cultural wars perpetuated by those in power (without regard to political label) that started during slavery, initially, to keep poor whites and slaves from understanding their joint economic reality. Both poor whites and slaves had similar existences for much of our early history, and there was an intentional dialogue as skin colored based slavery was developed that created a cultural gulf between blacks and poor whites. This was to keep them from combining their strength and working for real progressive change (If you want a great discussion about this, read What's the Matter with Kansas). As the U.S. has matured and its systems of oppression have developed, the one tried and true way to keep communities divided against themselves is to create a barrier between the working class/working poor and the middle and upper class sections of their own communities.

The call for a boycott of Target exemplifies this inner community class struggle perfectly. Many queers of means are willing to throw working class queers under the bus and then back up on top of them to make sure that they don't get back up. To me the logic is simple, if Gregg Steinhafel, Target CEO, is the one that is the source of the problem and the one with the power to make it right, why are we not using tactics that would Target him and instead targeting our working class brothers and sisters? How callous has our community become that we are unwilling to add in a class analysis in our decision making?

For me the answer is simple, the knee jerk reactions of a broad segment of our community is directly related to the fact that our movement (and the progressive moment in general) mobilizes but rarely organizes. The Civil Rights Movement understood that marches, boycotts, strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience were TACTICS that helped get the movement to a specific end point. Each civil disobedience or economic disobedience was never seen as an end in and of itself. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a strategic action with a specific end goal in mind and the action was predicated on the outcome. They understood, for example that a letter writing campaign to the local paper wouldn't result in desegregation of the bus system. They had to base their actions on a target that would result in their demands being met. Our movement has forgotten how to do that. When Martin Luther King marched on Washington, which was planned and executed by queer civil rights hero and labor organizer Bayard Rustin, the march wasn't his end goal. The end goal was the passage of the Civil Rights Act and, a year later, it was signed into law. Today, we march for marching's sake, and we boycott without any strategy around how to turn these isolated actions into change. And our community has so bought in to the corporate oligarchy that runs this country that we slap corporate logos on our pride events, and we fail to understand that corporations, no matter how benign, have no interest besides making money, while we expect that they have our best interest at heart.

Wake up people.

How powerful would it be to actually organize WITH the Target store workers? What would it look like to build intentional connections with the wage workers to craft a response that will get us to our end goal AND leave us stronger as a community? We need to strategize not only how to win but also how to come out of the win more organized and with stronger alliances. THAT is what creates sustainable long term change.

Thankfully, there are amazing people such as Kenyon Farrow of Queers for Economic Justice, Mervyn Marcano of the Center for Media Justice, Kim Ford of AALUSC, and so many other leaders of our justice movements that get the connections. If only the rest of the community could put its indignation on hold long enough to have a real conversation about social change and how to get to justice without sacrificing anyone along the way.


  1. Great POST!! Love it!! Thanks!

  2. Point blank: I'm not boycotting Target because I have two family members who've been working there for years. Like you said, there's got to be a better and more thought-out way. These folks obviously don't have family members who depend on Target for their daily bread, like a lot of us working-class and colored folks do.

  3. Word Stephani. My Mom works at Target. I refuse to let my outrage keep her from paying her bills.

  4. There is no organized "left", or "progressive" movement in this country... the absence of a coherent, grassroots counter to the Tea Party movement exemplifies this. Instead, what we have is a mass of single issue organizations and "movements", acting without co-ordination, and often at cross-purposes... and functioning very much as a part of the "establishment", and thus only willing to rock the boat in a narrow sense. The right, by contrast, deliberately and consciously organizes as part of a larger movement, with a broad set of goals.

    This is a classic example... I haven't seen anything about this, but the immediate questions I'd ask are: "Is there a queer employees organization at Target? If so, have they been consulted? If not, why not? Are there union workers at Target? Is there a union trying to organize them? Who can we build alliances with, inside and outside of the company, to support an effective campaign to change things?" Did the organizer ask these questions?

  5. I couldn't agree more, Thomas. And, yes there is a queer employees group at Target. No, Target employees are not unionized. I have asked these exact same questions of boycott supporters repeatedly over the last few days.

  6. I asked these questions as my Facebook status yesterday:

    How powerful would it be to actually organize WITH the Target store workers? What would it look like to build intentional connections with the wage workers to craft a response that will get us to our end goal AND leave us stronger as a community? We need to strategize not only how to win but also how to come out of the win more organized and with stronger alliances. THAT is what creates sustainable long term change.

  7. As usual very insightful analysis, beyond the obvious that could get to a better solution that does not exploit or harm the already vulnerable, low income wage earners that are Target employees. We do have to watch each others backs and watch out for that divide and conquer strategy that you described so well.

  8. on point. thanks for your words, brandon.

  9. Dear Mr. Brandon Lacy Campos! Your words are just the excersice my troubled brain needed this morning! Thank you.
    So, here's my dilema that I would love to get your thoughts on. In my gay-for-pay position, I had a meeting scheduled (for tomorrow) with folks at Target HR and the GLBT employee group to talk about support for GLBTQ youth in the Twin Cities. All of this has come up since that original scheduling. The meeting will still happen tomorrow, but I would love to know how to make the most of this time with Target insiders. What would be "selling out" and what would be productive and challenging to all the forces that be (including the public institution I work for).
    Jessi T.

  10. Hey lovely Jessi T. You know I have mad respect for your work! And, as one of the founders of Out4Good, I deeply value what you have brought to the program.

    I think you have a really unique opportunity. I think you are empowered to ask some good questions: 1) Ask the GLBT employees group what they think is a measured response to this issue that will leave them more empowered and will allow them to build better connections with the larger community.
    2) I would ask the HR department how this donation jives with Target's anti-discrimination policies and how they are managing and providing support to their queer employees that have been directly betrayed by this donation.
    3) I would also ask if HR and the corporation are willing to not allow but protect the rights of its employees to profess a different and divergent opinion from the corporation's on what this donation really means. (That's my round about way of saying would it put employees jobs in jeopardy if they speak out either as individuals or as the LGBT employee group at Target).
    4) I would ask both groups how they feel the donation to Minnesota Forward jives with their corporate philanthropy which is centered around providing housing, shelter, food, and clothing to vulnerable populations including queer youth.
    5) And, I would really have to walk away with an agreement wherein if Target agrees to give a gift to your organization that neither you, your organization or the youth you serve are used in a counter PR campaign to help put a pink veneer over the donation to MN Forward. To be clear, if I were on the Target side I would give you a mighty donation and then advertise it broadly that I had done so as a counterpoint to claims that Target is anti-queer.
    6) And finally I would go into the meeting with some sort of document or statement from the community expressing solidarity with the corporate and in-store workers and expressing an understanding for the difficult place that this decision by Gregg Steinhafel has placed them in.

    I hope that helps.

  11. I want to be clear, I am never in favor of calling for a Boycott until after the Protest effort has been exhausted, and the corporation has been given a chance to respond and make things "right." Even a corporation can make a mistake, as corporations are run by human beings....But make no mistake, Target needs to make it right! In my past efforts against Cirque du Soleil for HIV Discrimination a Boycott was never called for, in my efforts with Rockstar Energy was because of years of anti-Gay comments by it's founder, CEO and CFO! In both cases a favorable end was reached!

    However, as individuals, we have the right to decide where we spend are money! Target has always been a stong LGBT supporter, they should be given the opportunity to make that right; however their current CEO appears to as ill-suited in the area of PR as Tony Hayward from BP!

  12. Brandon:

    I am writing as a working class queer and union member active on labor issues in Minneapolis. I have been contemplating your writings on the issue of boycotting Target for a couple of days and I still find myself needing to write so here goes.

    I think a Boycott of Target around this issue is ineffective at this time. I like the the tactical idea of going to the Target corporate sponsored events and having fun there.

    On these two points I agree and appreciate that you put forward an alternate tactic.

    Wait for it, you knew it was coming.... here it is ....the big but:

    But I disagree with your arguments because as a union organizer I see that the first three are similar to the ones the boss makes to oppose contract campaigns and organizing drives.

    1) It's a huge company, also known as, you can't fight city hall.
    2) If you make too many demands on us the store will close.
    3)Fighting against us endangers your job.

    In fact the first three reasons could be arguments against boycotting Walmart. The only thing Target has to it's advantage is it's clever corporate giving policy. I support the Walmart boycott. It has been very successful at raising the issues of wages and working conditions in the U.S. and making the link to wages, working conditions and workers rights abroad.

    I am not sure what effect it has on the company bottom line, but it it is clear to me that the Walmart boycott is an effective educational tool when at the park I overheard someone say, "can we stop at Walmart for some batteries" and his friend responded, "We can stop somewhere for batteries but I won't take you to Walmart" That opened a conversation and that kind of on the ground conversation is part of what movement building is about.

    So, to the extent that the call to boycott Target is a call to open a conversation about corporate purchasing of candidates and elections and Emmers anti gay bullshit either in the media or on the street I actually think it has elements to it that are good, on this one I am still going to shop at Target but don't disparage the tactic just because the case don't fit.

    Your In Solidarity

  13. Hey Steff love:

    I think you misunderstand me. I have not rejected a boycott as a tactic, but I have called for it to be a tactic. I know you as an organizer and I know that you understand the difference between a tactic and an organizing goal in the context of a larger movement.

    I have said again and again that I am not even against, per se, a Target boycott BUT I am against the way that this one is being called. I have said repeatedly that in order for any boycott to be really just, it needs to at least try to reach out and talk to and work with the workers inside of the corporate beast. There is a queer group at Target, and today is the first time that I know that someone is sitting down directly with them to talk about this issue. Just as when you are organizing a union, you send organizers into the stores, hotels, sweat shops to talk with, education, and work with the workers. You don't destroy their livelihoods before giving them a chance to participate in their own liberation.

    I would be delightfully happy if every Target store in the country shut down IF it was done in a way that got our goal across while also making sure that the workers involved come out the other side better, stronger, and more able to feed their families.

    Wal-Mart is a different creature. There are long term strategies aimed at creating long term change within the corporation. The boycott was well though out, well planned, and has taken a long haul view of the changes that need to be seen. There has been organizing that has taken place with immigrants, rural communities, unions, small business owners, and other constituents to figure out how to tackle the various issues related to Wal-Mart and create the change that is necessary. NONE of that was present with this boycott call. And that is why I am dead set against it as a strategy in THIS circumstance. I have made no judgment on boycotts in any other circumstance, and, indeed, I participated in the grape boycott for years.

    I respect a call for a boycott that is the beginning of a conversation and not the end. Unfortunately, it was the beginning, middle, and end of the conversation with no analysis of what is really at the core of the struggle, which is corporate personhood and corporate engagement in the democratic process.


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