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.