Boycott or Not?
The 50th anniversary of the March at Selma just passed. Many luminaries attended, some spoke and many recreated the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Now, I do not want to get into a discussion on which politicians were there and which ones were not. I simply want to ask a question—was the march worth it? Did those who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge accomplish anything, after they faced a police force determined to keep them from completing their march? When one looks at the state of racial affairs in the United States today, one must wonder if much progress has been made since this day in 1965.
That march in 1965 followed a full decade after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, as she was required to do. December 1, 1955 was the date of her outrageous act. Rosa Parks was arrested and convicted. Four days later, the black community of Montgomery, Alabama engaged in a boycott of the bus transportation system. The boycott lasted 381 days. And it worked! Through a lawsuit filed in federal court, the restrictive system of blacks being forced to give up their seats to whites was overturned.
The whole backstory of the Montgomery bus boycott is fascinating. The headline story of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge is even more riveting. What courageous people united in purpose and mind in those days! And there are even more courageous people today, working on behalf of those who are powerless and downtrodden.
All of this history in civil rights comes to mind as we look ahead to changes taking place across this country in LGBT rights. I have seen many blogs and other articles from various writers that have compared the current LGBT struggle for equal rights as being similar to the struggle to end slavery, then the campaign to end discrimination against the black community. This is the present-day equal rights movement. Are you part of the movement? How is this movement being conducted?
Last year, I saw some “Letters to the Editor” in a local newspaper, in which various readers were debating the pros and cons of boycotting a particular fast food establishment. This local business is a franchise of restaurants that has a corporate owner who is blatantly anti-gay. The discussion centered on whether, as a gay person, one should automatically choose to boycott this restaurant. I was quite surprised to read one letter in which a self-identified gay person stated that he would continue to frequent this fast food place because he liked the food, and was always treated well when he went there. He wrote that a boycott would not accomplish anything other than depriving him of good food and good service.
So at what point do we take action and actively boycott businesses that are engaging in anti-LGBT activity? What prompts us to say, “Enough is enough! I am not going to put my dollars toward this business that is diametrically opposed to who I am.” I don’t have an answer to this question. Do we boycott Chic-fil-A? How about Urban Outfitters? And then there are Exxon, the Salvation Army, Purina, the Boy Scouts of America, and our favorite, Cracker Barrel. All of these businesses have gone on record as being anti-LGBT in some way or another. Do we put a $10 bill in the red kettle?
It seems that there are active and passive ways of boycotting businesses that are in opposition to our values and principles. Active ways involve intentional deprivation of dollars spent at those establishments. Passive ways include writing letters, posting things on Facebook and similar actions. How many people does it take for a boycott to make an impact?
There are few honest-to-goodness boycotts these days. The way to boycott or get things changed today is to create a petition on change.org. There are hundreds of petitions on change.org. Some of them are worthy of our participation, and many are simply the brainchild of some person who needs some direction in their life.
The march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was unique in a very special way. Thanks to Connor Towne O’Neill for his writing about this march. He pointed out in an article on slate.com that the very design of the bridge was a metaphor for the whole equal rights movement. “The bridge, which opened 75 years ago this spring, is a four-lane arch bridge that traverses the Alabama River. Selma is built on a bluff overlooking the Alabama River, so the west side sits higher than the east side. This fact, compounded by the requirement that the bridge leave room for water traffic to pass below its center, means the roadway inclines toward the center of the bridge before descending on either side. So when the marchers walked out of Selma and first started their climb, they could not see the bridge’s end. Only when they reached the crest of the bridge could they finally see what lay in front of them: 150 armed policemen and mercenary segregationists, gathered at bridge’s end. The city’s first black attorney, J.L. Chestnut, opened his memoir with the observation that the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a metaphor for the whole movement: When they started, they could not see the other side, yet they persisted.”
Can you see the other side? What waits for us on the other side of the bridge of LGBT rights?