I've taken some heat recently (and in the past) because of my belief that boycotts, while having their place in society, are now the lazy man's tool of political action. I've stated several times that I feel like in most cases boycotts are all for show, a way for us to feel and look like we care about civil rights causes without actually doing anything about it. I'm doubling down on that statement now. I now think boycotts are becoming detrimental to social and political change movements.
For starters, I can't find any evidence that boycotts work unless there is a very high join rate (the Boston Tea Party and the boycott of South Africa over Apartheid are two examples). Last week I was lambasted by people in the comments section of a Facebook post by Joe Jervis (who writes the blog JoeMyGod) for my views. One commenter (I don't remember his name and wouldn't name him even if I did care enough to comb through and find it) took a condescending tone with me and threw out AIDS and Coors (which I thought an odd couplet) to try to tell me I had no sense of gay history.
Hold it right there -- and someone please back me up here -- what ACT UP did in the 80s to help people with HIV and AIDS was about as much a boycott as the demonstrations and protests of the Vietnam War were. It was a very aggressive political action that they repeated over and over and over, getting beaten up and arrested in the process, until people started listening. And then, when people finally did start to listen, they continued. And continued. They continued to the point that many gay and lesbian people, not to mention straight people, thought they were being too militant and going too far. Thank god they were too militant and went too far. Because every time they pissed people off by demanding something completely impossible, it made the lesser requests of other HIV/AIDS advocates appear even more reasonable than they might have under normal circumstances. If there was some sort of boycott back then that had something to do with HIV and AIDS, I don't remember it. And I highly doubt it had any significant impact on the situation. So, commenter that pissed me off, do not insult and demean the actions those incredibly brave people took by lumping them in with buying a different brand of beer.
Speaking of beer, let's talk about Coors. Commenter called it the most successful boycott in gay and lesbian history (or something like that, I may be remembering hyperbolically just because he irritated me so much). But was it really? Gay and lesbian bars and clubs started boycotting Coors in 1977. The boycott did, indeed, hurt Coors enough that they adopted anti-discrimination policies that included discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1995, Coors became the 21st major corporation in America to provide benefits to same-sex partners of employees. So it was a grand success, right?
In 2004, the Coors family was still donating large sums of money to anti-gay organizations. It was enough to cause many gay bars across the country to either re-institute or continue (because some had never stopped) the boycott. It seems that even when you can make people do the right thing publicly, it's really hard to stop them from doing whatever they want privately. Since all those donations were coming directly from beer profits, it doesn't seem to me like Coors did anything more than paint over the cracks.
All that would be reason enough for me to be down on boycotts. However, that's not all there is. There is also the completely misguided and haphazard way boycotts are organized. After the law making the distribution of any gay and lesbian propaganda a felony passed in Russia, two boycotts were called for all over Facebook. One was a boycott of Stoli vodka, which hurts next to no one. The other was a boycott of the Winter Olympics being held in Russia in February, 2014, which mostly just hurts all the athletes who have been training their whole lives for this.