Tag: Whole Foods
Just now in my inbox from Food Democracy Now!:
Michael Pollan, [has] argued that a boycott could have disastrous unintended consequences, as Whole Foods is one of the largest accounts for a number of small and midsized natural and organic farms. This is especially concerning to some in a year when farmer income is down 38%.
Unintended consequences are a risk of any political action. You weigh the risks against your desired goal and make your decision.
But if you don’t have any clear intended consequences, you’re just being a ween.
Yesterday, several dozen people in my Facebook feed changed their status updates to read:
No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the next 24 hours.
Because I’m an asshole, I changed mine to read “No one should die, etc.” My favorite variation was “Everybody should get sick go broke die,” and J.H.P. babelfished in with “Nobody must die because they cannot allow well-taken care of doctor, and nobody must break because patients obtain. If you agree, you satisfy fix this like its state for the rest of the day.” In Soviet Russia, Facebook updates you!
What have we really done when we “donate” our status update to a cause? While certainly tempting, I think it’s wrong to say we’ve done nothing — at the very least, we’ve taken a public stand, we’ve added our number to a count — and yet it’s very hard to pin exactly what the something we’ve done is.
It’s a question, I think, that takes us to the heart of digital identity. What is at stake in this sort of signaling behavior? What status does your status update have?
It’s easy to be crabby about this sort of thing. My friend V. complained that “if you care so deeply about the health care issue you should do something more than put a blurb on your FB page about it”, to which one of her friends responded:
Because the politicians seem to have forgotten their promises (as usual) at a critical moment in the debate, any action that helps remind people this is a topic worthy of attention and solidarity is one I consider worth pursuing.
This is a typical defense of decentralized activism: any little thing helps. I heard it a lot in response to my Whole Foods boycott-bashing. And I was guilty of it myself in this blog’s very comments. Let’s be clear about at least one thing: there’s plenty of things you can do on your own that, while nice, aren’t the slightest bit helpful. And the vague hope that one action will beget another, while not wrong, is almost always unfalsifiable. So let’s evaluate digital activism for what it is, not for what it might inspire.
Additionally, though it’s hard to make an argument that slacktivism will change the world, the arguments in favor of more accepted forms of politics, such as voting, aren’t a hell of a lot stronger. Short of owning an insurance company, a news network, or a United States Senator, there’s no guaranteed method for effective participation in politics. So why not take this one seriously?
I’ve noticed that liberal-sentimented people of a certain caste get unbearably twitchy around collective action. Raised on 1984 and Brave New World, we’re reflexively suspicious of lock-step action and automatic agreement. We overestimate our own agency and indulge in a fatuous civics of individuality. As a result, we can be very bad at politics.
So status-update “signaling” resists that tendency (though it also brings it out in assholes like me). It’s less than collective action, but I think it can be understood as cultivating solidarity, a precondition for successful collective action. It’s an emotional warm-up.
It still leaves the question, “what is to be done?” But by allowing it to be asked in (otherwise creepy) unison, I think it makes the question less academic.
Libertarian, anti-union body-purity obsessive Whole Foods founder John Mackey, who has laughed himself all the way to the bank on the endive cash of soi-disant liberals, announced his opposition to health care reform in the Wall Street Journal this week. His article has prompted a convulsion of “Boycott Whole Foods!” across my Facebook feed, and blog posts like Why a Whole Foods Boycott Might Actually Work to Spur Real Health Care Reform at OpenLeft. I take the rousing keywords “Might” and “Actually” to mean that author doesn’t, at heart, think anyone should take this idea too seriously. The rest of the post is in keeping with this, with a lot of “my impression is” and “if such a plan works”.
This enthusiasm will soon wash away into the great ocean of ADD outrage, but since such a boycott has been encouraged by people who ought to know better, like the great Russell Mokhiber, I’ll address some of its flaws.
A successful boycott isn’t just a punishment for a transgression. It requires a clear goal. The Forever 21 boycott, organized by immigrant-rights advocates in Los Angeles, sought the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to workers who made their products. The fair-trade Nike and Starbucks boycotts of the mid-to-late 90′s resulted in monitoring regimes and improved conditions for many of those companies’ suppliers in Southeast Asia and Central America.
A successful boycott needs to be run by an organization with resources to devote to it. The Forever 21 boycott was run out of the Garment Workers Center by labor organizers, immigrant advocates, student activists and the workers themselves. Famously, the grape boycott was run by the United FoodFarm Workers. A great deal of momentum was added by neighbor-to-neighbor conversations, but it wasn’t started by them.
What would be the goal of a health care reform Whole Foods boycott? To get John Mackey to renounce his editorial? Put down the Ayn Rand? Quit blogging? All are worthy as idle hopes. None would move health care reform a day closer.
What organization would run it? Please believe me when I tell you that Whole Foods is not afraid of your Twitter feed, especially because half of the retweeters will feel that they’ve done their part by spreading the news so it’s all right if they duck in for a quick Odawalla. You’ll need to plan direct actions, picket lines in the parking lot, leaflet drops. Is this how Organizing for America should spend its resources? Is it how you should spend yours?
There are plenty of reasons not to shop at Whole Foods, and I encourage everyone to choose not to shop there out of pique or thrift. There are plenty of good reasons to boycott Whole Foods, and if you want to help your local Whole Foods employees join the United Food and Commercial Workers, have at it!
But if health care reform is your goal, take a page from the crazies. They’re not showing up at meetings of the leading health care reform bloggers. They’re not boycotting Wal-Mart, even though that company has nominally joined the side of reform. They’re bring direct pressure on the decision-makers: their elected representatives.
Bonus: the trailer for Made In L.A., a documentary film about the Garment Workers Center and Forever 21.
Rather than confront the extreme right wing of the Republican Party — which is who constitutes the crowds at these town hall events — it might be more useful to target protests at the giant insurance companies and the huge campaign contributions they are handing out , especially to moderate Democrats. Compare the insurance companies’ big profits and outrageous corporate compensation to the tens of millions of Americans who can’t afford health insurance, who can’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, or who have policies that don’t cover the things they need. Then challenge the waffling blue-dog Democrats to answer a simple question: which side are you on?