The Limited Efficacy of Unplanned Boycotts
I wanted to build on Scott’s post from earlier on boycotting Texas. There are a bunch of problems with the idea of doing that. First, I wanted to link to the scholar of Black food geographies Ashanté Reese:
otherwise many of these public calls feel like self-indulgence, and ain’t nobody got time for that. people can’t sustain their work that way.
— Ashanté M. Reese (@AMReese07) September 4, 2021
Right. The first question about a boycott is who does it help. Is it in solidarity with people on the ground? Are women’s organizations in Texas asking for a boycott? Is there a strategy here? Or is this just something that makes everyone in liberal Portland feel good about themselves? Otherwise, this is just the equivalent of buying thrift store clothing to say you are not supporting sweatshops in Bangladesh while doing absolutely nothing to make a difference.
So there’s the question of what this is supposed to accomplish. Next, there’s the question of whether any Texas Republicans will care. The answer is almost certainly that they will not. It all assumes they are operating on some form of economic rationality. They are not. It’s a localized version of the idea that sanctions against countries with bad leadership will hurt the regime. They never do. They just hurt the poor in those countries. So Portland can do this all they want. It will just lead the Republicans pushing this to campaign on the fact that the libs hate them. And you know damn well that’s going to be very effective for them in most of their districts. Suburban districts, OK maybe not. But there’s always some good voter suppression and cheating too.
A third question to answer here is what happens when 20 states adopt a version of this law in the next few months. This kind of strategy is only tenable when it actually stops other states from taking such an action. But from Mississippi to South Dakota, these laws are coming. If Portland is moving toward really adopting a formal economic alliance with other liberal cities and they act collectively against red states, that might be one thing, but there’s no real evidence of this. Is Portland just not going to do business with half the nation? This seems awfully unlikely to me.
A fourth question that needs answering has to do with the entire world of liberal strategies against the rise of Republican extremism. As we’ve seen repeatedly of late, Republicans are taking ever more radical action, using all sorts of new strategies. Democrats are finally waking up to this, but they are way short of actually having wrapped their heads around just how radical this all is and coming up with strategies to deal with it. Electing a couple more Democrats to the Senate isn’t bringing about the change needed to abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court. Organizing Democrats in Texas is not going to end what is happening there, not with another round of extreme gerrymandering combined with a Supreme Court that is going to let them. What Republicans are doing is too extreme for that. Voting and traditional political organizing are pieces of the puzzle, of course they are. But let’s not fool ourselves–it’s not even close to what is needed. Boycotts and donating to women’s rights organizations are also pieces of the puzzle, but these are 20th century strategies against 21st century radicalism. You think any of this scares Republicans? C’mon.
Now, I’m not scolding here. I also do not have the answer. It’s pretty clear that we need to combine mass action with all the rest of this, but that might not be enough either. People will easily ask questions about what that is going to do and I won’t have the answers to those questions. It seems at the very least, we need a way to get women out of Texas and into New Mexico, where this is not going to become law (it will in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and probably Louisiana). Heck, it might even mean getting women down to Mexico, as the historian Lina-Maria Murillo explores the history of here. People voluntarily going to prison and even flooding the jails might be part of it. Armed resistance of some sort might be part of it. I don’t know.
But the bigger point here is that we are eons behind Republicans in organizing around these things. While they embrace white nationalism, violent extremism, coup attempts, lies about stolen elections, and reactionary views on women, gays, birth control, people of color, environmentalists, liberals, and vaccinations, we are telling people to register to vote and maybe boycott a state. We lack the organizational capacity to do much real at this point. What’s the organization that is making that happen? Sure as heck ain’t the internet. And it sure as heck isn’t individualized action.
I think the difference in effectiveness is obvious to all. What we do about it is the real question.