boycott or not

Is MoveOn.org’s Boycott Target Ad a Waste of Time, Money and Tactics?

MoveOn.org’s Target Boycott ad, while terrible, has a purpose. Too bad the editorial board at the Los Angeles Times completely misses the importance of holding corporations’ feet to the fire on issues more important than one-day sales.

So “controversial” is the spot that MSNBC isn’t going to air it (which, of course, just generates more buzz about the boycott) — but perhaps that’s because MSNBC’s owner GE, much like the News Corp., regularly makes contributions to political groups and would hate to see that practice criticized.

But the LAT thinks the entire idea of a boycott is stupid, because what Target did — hand $150k to a PAC that wants to elect governor an anti-gay candidate in Minnesota — is a “small error of judgment.”

For MoveOn, the fight is at least as much about corporate money as it is about gay rights. The Target contribution is a high-profile result of an overreaching January decision by the Supreme Court that opens the door for more corporate donations to political campaigns. But by pointing out Target’s involvement in Emmer’s campaign and obtaining an apology, MoveOn and Human Rights Campaign had already won; their calls for a boycott and attempt to strong-arm money from the company are deeply counterproductive.

The boycott is a tried-and-true tool of nonviolent resistance, used to powerful effect during the civil rights era. But it is cheapened and ultimately rendered ineffective when it becomes a hair-trigger response by activists irked by minor political transgressions. Target’s contribution to MN Forward was at worst a small error of judgment, and should matter far less than the company’s ongoing and long-term commitment to workplace equal rights and its sponsorship of pro-gay events. Moreover, the attempt to wrangle an in-kind contribution from Target is reminiscent of a tactic that appalled gay rights advocates when it was used against them during the campaign for Proposition 8, California’s 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 supporters sent letters to big contributors for the opposite side, threatening to expose them unless they sent an equal donation to their campaign. It was a distasteful move then, and now.

No, these groups haven’t already won. In fact, if anyone is “winning,” it is Target and Emmer, who have managed to avoid serious repercussions for their belief that same-sex partnerships are less valid than others. If these groups were to force Target to hand $150k to pro-gay candidates, it would be less about the cash windfall than the symbolic notion that these companies — including Best Buy — truly realize they erred, they are sorry, and they won’t do it again. Target has promised none of these things, and corporate apologies are almost as worthless as Dr. Laura’s.

What’s most amusing, however, is that when Doug Manchester, the San Diego hotel owner, offered to donate $125,000 to gay groups as a make good for his $125,000 contribution to support Prop 8, gay groups balked. Now, they want Target to do that very thing, and somehow don’t believe it to be blood money.