Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Target Flashmob protest

In January of this year, the US Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts cannot be limited under the First Amendment. Recently, consumers mounted a protest of Target Corporation for its donation in July of $150,000 to the campaign of conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposes same-sex marriage and abortion and favors Arizona's anti-immigration law. Best Buy also made a $100,000 contribution to Emmer campaign and protesters vowed to take action against them too.

One of the more creative responses is the flashmob action on Aug. 17 at a Target store in West Seattle. (See video above.) While some 250,000 people signed a petition to boycott Target, this video, which went viral, both for and against, arguably had a higher profile. YouTube records more than 1.2 million views since the video was posted two weeks ago.

As Monroe Friedman notes, in his classic study Consumer Boycotts: Effecting Change Through the Marketplace and Media, boycotts are one of the most frequently used tools of political action of the disenfranchised. And certainly the average consumer no doubt is feeling increasingly disenfranchised after the Citizens United decision, which overwhelmingly tilts the share of voice in political dialog to those who can afford to buy the biggest megaphone.

There are two types of boycotts in Friedman's analysis. The first are those which attempt to regulate the "target" by economic sanction, the classic boycott strategy as most people understand it. The second seeks to tarnish the target's reputation, drawing sanction from negative public opinion typically through the media. Friedman further notes that the latter strategies have become increasingly popular with the rise of so-called new social movements.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel apologized to employees for any distress the donation may have caused in a message posted on the company's website on Aug. 5 (before the flashmob action), although it didn't rescind the decision.

The conflation of citizenship and consumption is direct in this case. The question is how effective it will be. One of the findings in Friedman's study, which more than ten years after publication remains definitive, is that consumer boycotts unfortunately have limited success over the long term. A major reason is the difficulty of maintaining the action when relying on individual attention and dedication. At some point, the formal political process must engaged.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another reason Elizabeth Warren is the one to lead the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

This article by William Grieder is another reason for naming Elizabeth Warren to head the newly legislated Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The Grieder story basically outlines the history of the financial industry meltdown and subsequent taxpayer bailout and the overwhelming influence of insiders in the whole mess. A key statement Grieder makes is that throughout it all the people footing the bill (i.e., us) had no representative at the table. What's happened has affected citizen-consumers at a broad level. Credit is less freely available and, in the case credit cards at least, far more expensive. Most devastating has been the loss of equity in retirement savings and property values. People work and buy as part of a social contract Lizabeth Cohen terms the "Consumers Republic." Warren has studied the erosion of that contract for years. She isn't beholden to the special interests that created the disaster. Her work as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel is how all of this information is seeing the light of day. Most of all, vested interests don't want her. That seems like the best reason of all to give her the gig.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Solidarity Economics in the Erstwhile Motor City

Yesterday, The New York Times Art & Design blog carried a story about artists working among the ruins of postindustrial Detroit. One of the featured items was a monthly artist-run dinner/community funding project called "Soup."

Basically, what happens is someone volunteers to make the main course and others then donate side dishes and such. People pay $5 each to attend and then vote on proposals submitted in advance for using the proceeds from the evening. More than 100 people attended the event last Sunday, which took place above a bakery in the southwest Detroit neighborhood known as Mexicantown. (Pictured right: Voting booths @ Soup. Photo credit: Louis Aguilar via iPhone.)

This is an excellent example of the merging of citizenship and consumption. The proposal selected for funding was a plan to improve a small park located in one of Detroit's rebounding residential communities, Woodbridge, which dates back to the 19th century. Volunteers will use the money to buy materials for repairing playground equipment, upgrading the site, and other clean-up consumables.

Click here to read a more extended post on the evening published on another blog I edit, Motown Review of Art.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grace Lee Boggs & Immanuel Wallerstein @ USSF 2010

In case you weren't there, one of the highlights of the 2010 US Social Forum was the dialog between longtime Detroit community activist Grace Lee Boggs and world-system theorist Immanuel Wallerstein.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Conscientious Consumption Comes to OU

Received an announcement through the campus email that one of schools at which I teach, Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, has two Altagracia items for sale. (See my previous post on anti-sweatshop victories for the production facility, which is located in the Domican Republic.) Pictured left is a hoodie (available in Oxford gray and black). A t-shirt is also available. The items are priced in line with other similar merchandise but produced under conditions in which workers receive living-wage compensation. It'll be interesting to see if altruism has any value added in this case. Research published in Labor Studies Journal suggests that there is actually a premium associated with conscientious production and consumption.