Prop 8, Target and the politics of shopping

The decision by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco yesterday afternoon in favor of the plaintiffs in Perry v. Schwarzenegger — the ruling that decisively overturned Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage — is indeed a happy occasion. Not unexpected — after all, the defense in this case was as weak as a Pop Warner secondary trying to cover the Saints’ receivers — but still, potentially a landmark moment in American civil rights.

Unless, of course, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — or, worse yet, the Roberts Supreme Court — decides to reverse it.

But there’s a lot of work to be done. Walker stayed his own ruling until at least Friday to decide whether to suspend his ruling while it’s being appealed. Further up the line, the “protectors” of marriage will most probably come up with a better set of lawyers to argue their case against the bipartisan tag team of David Boies and Ted Olson. The case stands the chance of winding through the legal system for a year or two more.

And yesterday’s decision dovetails nicely with a story that has taken a week in some quarters — surprisingly — to gain traction: a story about the right of same-sex couples to marry, the right of a corporation to use our money to oppose it, and our right to stop supporting such corporations.

If you haven’t heard much about the Target boycott yet, read on.

Last week, a video made its way through the Web world. Randi Reitan, a grandmother from Eden Prairie, Minn., had herself videotaped buying $226 worth of items at a Target in nearby Chanhassen, then returning the items, cutting up her Target charge card and explaining to a manager why she would no longer shop at the chain, based in nearby Minneapolis.

Mrs. Reitan, you see, is a gay-rights activist of the most basic grass-roots type — a mother defending the rights of her son Jake, who’s gay. And she found out that Target gave $150,000 to MN Forward, a pro-business political group that’s running an ad supporting the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, State Rep. Tom Emmer. Emmer is against gay marriage. (He’s also against abortion and for Arizona’s immigration law, BTW.)

Turns out another Twin Cities-area-based megachain, Best Buy, contributed $100K to MN Forward as well. But as far as we know, Best Buy hasn’t had a regular customer, grandmotherly or otherwise, come in and cut up his or her credit card.

The bullseye was Target. And with good reason. Aside from being one of the world’s largest retailers, Target has a history of marketing to — and very visibly doing business with — the gay communities. Isaac Mizrahi had a clothing line there for years, for crying out loud! Alexander McQueen was one of Target’s featured designers last year. How could this company say yes to gays on one hand and no on the other? It really makes no sense.

The story broke a week ago, but it didn’t gain traction in the media at large until Tuesday, when moveon.org announced it was threatening a nationwide boycott. (While The Huffington Post ran Reitan’s first-person Target story last Thursday, the supposedly liberal Salon didn’t even mention it until yesterday — and even then, it was a pickup of a MinnPost story, and it was relatively underplayed. The cynic asks: Could it have something to do with all those Target styleboutique banner ads that have been running in Salon lately?)

Target’s decision to contribute a huge sum to a candidate whose views alienate a significant segment of both its customer and business bases reeks of mindless corporate stupidity at its least and flat-out hypocrisy at its worst. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle: a company hedging its bets in a political campaign, the way Wall Street does every presidential race.

The company CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, tried to pawn the contribution off as a pro-business decision in an open letter to employees:

As you know, Target has a history of supporting organizations and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, who seek to advance policies aligned with our business objectives, such as job creation and economic growth. MN Forward is focused specifically on those issues and is committed to supporting candidates from any party who will work to improve the state’s job climate.

Maybe it was a pro-biz choice on Steinhafel’s part. And the Minnesota gubernatorial race definitely won’t have a major impact on my life. But I’m someone who lives in a state where many of my gay friends (at least the ones not lucky enough to get hitched before Prop 8 went into effect) can’t marry the person they love. And as someone open to a woman of either sex, I, too, stand the chance as well of not being able to marry the one I love if the time comes (not that anyone’s been lining up to ask me out or anything, mind you).

And I live in a place that has six Targets (four in Fresno, two in Clovis). I’ve spent a couple hundred bucks a month with the company for years — mostly on phone cards and toiletries, occasionally a cheap ($6) pair of leggings, a pair of shoes or (very rarely these days) an occasional Hot Wheels car. Most recently, I bought my father’s 80th birthday videos there.

But not now. I can’t, with a conscience, give my business to a company that endorses a candidate who is overtly prejudiced.

As of a week ago, I’m no longer shopping at Target for the foreseeable future.

Economically, it’s not an easy choice. Things can be more expensive elsewhere (say, Walgreens). There’s always Wal-Mart, of course. But I’ve never liked the company from Arkansas, either — because of its long history of anti-labor and anti-employee activities, and because shopping there is often like shopping in a fourth-world country. Target was always a store of convenience.

I’m still figuring this out. I can always buy my gifts on Amazon or eBay, as long as I’m not pressed for time or being an instant-gratification American. (Then again, eBay sorta brings up the whole Meg Whitman thing, doesn’t it?) Toiletries and other necessities? We’ll see.

It’s not a convenient decision for me, but then again, withholding people’s civil rights is not convenient to anyone except hatemongers, or people who try to foist their twisted, warped interpretations of God on the rest of us.

This is not my first experience with a corporate boycott. I haven’t bought, or knowingly used, any Nestle products since 1977. That’s when I found out about the boycott against the food giant from Brother Paul, my religion teacher my junior year of high school. (Yes, kids, there was a brief time when the Roman Catholic corporation was relatively liberal and believed in social activism — between Vatican II and the election of Karol Wojtyla.)

Nestle was heavily marketing its expensive baby formula to poor African mothers, telling them it was better than breastfeeding. It didn’t have the nutrition of mother’s milk, mothers were diluting the costly formula so they could stretch it further, and as a result, many babies were dying of malnutrition. After a brief hiatus, the boycott has been in effect again since 1988.

Has it been effective? Who knows? The boycott continues, over three decades later, and I’m sure Nestle has found ways around my puny little social stance, and those of the others who refuse to buy their products, but that isn’t the point.

Joe Mirabella, a Seattle-based LGBT activist, questioned the effectiveness of corporate boycotts in a HuffPo posting.

To me, to an extent it sounds as if he’s saying, “Why even bother? They’re too big and we’re too small to effect change.” But the fight is what matters. And I have no qualms about what I’m doing. My couple hundred bucks a month at Target would add up to the amount the company gave to MN Forward in, hmmm — let me do the math here — just over 66 years. And maybe, with the money Target rakes in on a daily basis, my contribution to Emmer’s campaign would be a fraction of a penny. And I have no illusions that here — in the Central San Joaquin Valley, the redneck/radical-right/Bible Belt capital of the West — my few dollars are swimming against a humongous red tide.

But I would knowingly be giving my tacit support to a hateful person, one whose actions would have consequences on people like my gay and/or trans friends. Or even myself. I prefer to keep my conscience clear whenever possible.

Anyway, I’ll have to see how this plays out. I’m debating on whether to keep up my personal boycott until the elections or for longer.

UPDATE: Just as I finished writing this post, Target CEO Steinhafel publicly apologized to his employees for the contribution to MN Forward. (Bastard! Couldn’t you have waited just a while longer?)

So yes — a boycott, or even a perceived threat of one, can be effective. But I’m not ready to let Target off the hook just yet. I’m not running back with open arms. I have to see the results and the company’s actions down the road — see whether Target is genuinely doing the right thing or just exercising corporate damage control.

UPDATE 8/6: OK, two stories have popped up since yesterday afternoon that show Target really is committed to gay equality totally full of shit.

The first comes from The Awl, which shows that Target’s top executives never did support LGBT causes. Steinhafel and his wife both gave the maximum personal contributions this year to not only Emmer, but whack job Michele Bachmann as well. Other top company execs gave heavily to Republican candidates — some even from outside Minnesota, like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.

It should also be noted that Target’s PAC donated heavily to incumbent Norm Coleman in his heavily contested Senate loss to Al Franken. Franken received not one cent from neither Target’s PAC nor its executives.

But wait — there’s more!

Jason Linkins reports on The Huffington Post that Target gave to California’s Yes on 8 movement as well. Actually, it played both sides, but protectmarriage.com received more than four times more cash than the two No on 8 groups combined.

Target’s got a lot of ‘splainin to do …

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4 Responses to “Prop 8, Target and the politics of shopping”

  1. Rocky Lawrence Says:

    Fran,
    I wrote a song called Katrina and one line in the song is about how the black man can’t count on Mr. President and then a black man get’s elected. Should I change the lyric? Barak ruined a good song.

  2. Al Says:

    I’ve read a couple of posts on this blog, and I have to ask: Can’t someone be a Republican, and yet not give a rat’s ass about other people’s sexuality?

    I ask because I am fairly right-leaning, but I am pro-choice and have absolutely no real stand on gays or gay marriage — none of it is my business to judge, I believe — and when I read a lot of your posts it seems as if an “R” after someone’s name is enough to put them on your shitlist.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I get the impression that you would lump me in with every other Republican, even the real assholes, purely because they and I share some political beliefs.

    BTW, Target really just did what most other big businesses do, and give to all the politicos so they can call in favors later.

    • franoramaworld Says:

      Hi Al. Thanks for the comment. (Didn’t know you were following the blog; thanks for that, too …)

      It’s true that not every Republican is an asshole, the same as not everyone who proclaims to be Christian is bad. (Some of the friends who’ve been most supportive of my wild trip have been Catholics and born-again Christians and self-proclaimed conservatives. Besides, I might be an estranged Catholic, but I still believe in the Jesus who taught us about compassion and love and non-judgmentalism.)

      But ever since the Republican Party started courting the “religious” “right,” the Falwells and Robertsons of the world, in the late ’70s as a strategy to take back the White House, the social discourse in this country has veered far, far to the right, and no one seems to mind that, or have the sense of history to realize that. (By the parameters of the pre-Reagan era, I would be considered a moderate leaning toward the left. By today’s parameters, I would be the cartoon figure of the bearded, derby-wearing, bomb-throwing anarchist.)

      And on top of that, the time-honored abortion/gay/whatever “moral” questions constantly brought up by the right keep diverting us from the major moral problem at hand: the wanton greed of the bankers and their pals bringing all of us, regardless of political affiliation, to the brink of financial and social ruin. The more time we all spend dithering over things that should be no one’s business, the less time we spend addressing the real problem — the 99 percent of the country being robbed blind by the 1 percent. And the robber barons like it that way, of course. (Want to steal some more from the poor? Throw up another manufactured controversy on Fox or Rush as a smoke screen.)

      And the pandering that Republican politicians have had to do to cater to the radical right, even at the denial of their own selves, is appalling. California is not one big, hippy-dippy monolith; geographically and spiritually it’s six separate states in one border, each big enough to be its own American state. I live in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley — one of the reddest of America’s red states and just an entirely different planet from what we know of life in New Haven.

      I don’t know if you heard about this back in the spring, but there’s a California state senator from Bakersfield — just about the reddest of redneck hell, in the south of the Valley — named Roy Ashburn. A Republican. For years, he had been “family values,” vehemently opposed to every single piece of legislation even remotely related to gay rights brought up in Sacramento. Anyway, the cops busted him for DUI in Sacramento this past March — after leaving a gay bar. The jig was up — not just that he’s gay, but was a hypocrite of the highest magnitide. As of now, the emperor has no clothes on either side of the closet; his political friends have deserted him (and he lost his radio gig in Bakersfield, too), while the gay rights folks, of course, treat him as a pariah, as he treated them for so long.

      (And for more about homophobic politicians who’ve been living in the closet, such as Larry Craig and possibly Chuck Crist, see Kirby Dick’s outstanding 2009 documentary, “Outrage”; it was screened at Fresno’s Reel Pride festival last September.)

      So to pull back the tangents, Al — no, not everyone who votes for the elephant is a donkey in my book. (Politically, I’m unaffiliated — I hate both parties.) It’s just that, given the track record of the past three decades, I don’t see much hope coming from the alleged “party of Lincoln.” And you well know, even moderate Republicans are being pushed to the margins of their party. (See McMahon over Simmons, for a current example.) Unless, by some miracle, that changes, I’m gonna look at anyone who says they’re Republican with a little more of a critical eye before I give them any benefit of the doubt. But I won’t automatically throw them aside unless they give me good reason.

  3. Rite of passage: My first bridal shower « Franorama World Says:

    […] with the invite: Target, Macy’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Target, for the time being, is out of the question. Macy’s is a little too expensive for a girl on unemployment. That left BB&B. I drove up […]

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