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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Boycotts, Protests Needed to Energize Progressive Politics

At Daily Kos Meteor Blades flags an interesting Alternet post by Robert Becker. The title and subtitle alone merits a “hell, yeah!”: “Whatever Happened to Using Boycotts and Constant Protests in the People’s Fight Against Govt. and Corporate Power?: Never before have so many activists commanded so many technological tools to corral like-minded millions into cohesive action.” As Becker explains,

Where are the momentous, consciousness-raising boycotts of yesteryear that rose up against injustice, bigotry, or plain stupidity, to advance legal, civil and workers’ rights? Once upon a time high-profile uproars, some lasting years, brought down presidents, ended major wars, and remade national American priorities and values. Is such spirited activism, vs. the more legalistic modes now notching gains for marriage equality, as obsolete as quill pens?
With few exceptions, say Monsanto, the paucity here of policy-changing anti-corporate uprisings is all the more astonishing considering the moneyed octopus swells. And this dominance seems undeterred by challengers having, at our very fingertips, a limitless, low-cost communication network. Never before have so many activists commanded so many technological tools to corral like-minded millions into cohesive action. And yet, while trivial, celebrity inanities go viral, serious class and economic “viruses” endure uncontested.
What calamities remain that could trigger direct protests, by American consumers or street insurgents alike? Did tactical repression of Occupy scare off activists? Is corporate media ownership a reform death knell? Are we held captive, isolated, equating online petitions with defiant action?

Becker has a lot more to say and he may have hit on the missing ingredient in progressive politics, the long-neglected strategy and tactics that have become limp from disuse, but which are still powerful levers for compelling political change. Becker flags a nifty website, “Boycott Owl,” which lists dozens of boycotts, and adds,

Why not boycott obnoxious zealots who worship at the Citizens United altar, like rightwing casino magnet Sheldon Adelson (Las Vegas Sands or Venetian Macau Ltd.)? Why not singe the villainous Koch Bros. by not consuming Brawny towels or Angel Soft paper goods, Lycra clothing or Stainmaster rugs? When does Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy get stung for condemning gay rights as unnatural and immoral, inviting fire and brimstone from an angry God? How long would BP’s Arco stations thrive (or its Castrol, Aral, am/pm, Amoco, or Wild Bean Café brands) were enough consumers to drive, bike, or walk another block – and just say no?

Good questions all. Becker also notes an excellent how-to post at Community Tool Box on “Organizing a Boycott.” Of course, boycotts should always be coordinated with the appropriate labor unions to insure that workers’ concerns are properly addressed. But Becker is clearly right that, in this post-Citizens United era, the Koch brothers and other powerful corporate interests which are lavishing money on right-wing causes and candidates need to pay a price — and organized progressive consumers are in a position to make it happen.

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