Boyscouts and Boycotts: why activism makes a difference

The Boyscouts of America received some well deserved harsh criticism from Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and other notable figures, after announcing in July its ban on openly gay members.

It is difficult to accept that such hate is being spread, especially through an association that is meant to contribute to the community. However, change is hopefully on its way, as a spokesman has announced that there is a discussion to potentially remove the “national membership restriction regarding sexual orientation.” A step forward, yes. But I thought this was the year 2013?

Everyone has the power to say NO ©Public Domain ; Image credit: WikimediaCommons

It is incredibly frustrating that the spokesman’s words are considered satisfactory. Not being homophobic doesn't deserve a pat on the back – it just means you are a decent human being. But what can bring a smile to one’s face about this whole story is the boycott that took place after the ban. Obama speaking out helped, no doubt. But the kids that handed in their badges demanding change as a form of protest are arguably even bigger heroes.

Personally, any picture of Sarah Palin is enough to make me feel sick. So waking up last summer to find a picture of her and her husband at Chik-fil-a “Supporting a wonderful business” takes feeling sick to new levels. But perhaps what ruined my day even more was reading what many people have to say about the whole Chik-fil-a scenario that has formed. I had to actually read Facebook statuses such as “Boycotts haven’t worked since MLK” and “Chik-fil-a hating gay people doesn’t make their food any less delicious” just to name a few.

If you are still reading this and have never heard about Chik-fil-a or the whole homophobic issue at hand, here is a quick explanation. Chik-fil-a is defined as a “Christian” fast food restaurant. So Christian that it stays closed on a Sunday. As you may have guessed, their specialty is chicken and as someone who lived in South Carolina for five years, I can assure you that my experience was always positive – their waffle fries are wonderful and honey mustard sauce very tasty, as are their sweet tea refills (pronounced tay).

However, the CEO Dan Cathy happens to be openly homophobic: “we are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives,” “ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such prideful, arrogant attitude to think we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

Boycotts aren’t useless – they make history and they make a difference

Many argue that such opinions shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Chik-fil-a is a “Christian” business. But that isn’t fair. Christian does not in any way mean anti-gay. But, really? Anti-gay marriage? Anti-gay in any shape or form? You deserve to lose business. So people boycotted, wrote letters and protested.

The first companies I boycotted in my early teens were those that I discovered performed tests on animals. That meant giving up on buying some of my favourite shampoos, conditioners and mascaras (there is a very long list and you can read up on what sort of unnecessary and horrific things go on). I soon enough stopped buying Coca-Cola products (that means Dr. Pepper too in most countries) McDonalds (no Wagamamas, arguably a bit of a bummer) and Nestlé for its baby murdering and wildlife destroying (Nescafé, Kit Kats, Smarties and a huge amount of other foods, but also no Body Shop or L’Oréal products). I am particularly passionate about boycotting the latter. Kit Kat may have a fair trade label, but don’t believe it for a second. Though buying something with a Fair Trade label may be reassuring, it is still Nestlé and therefore the same company - making it far from ethical as there is still child slavery involved in their chocolate business.

Boycotts aren’t useless – they make history and they make a difference. With all the time we spend on the internet, there’s no excuse for not being up to date or researching on current issues. There just isn’t. And if you find something you think is wrong – an advert, a product, a company - you should be proud of yourself for making the decision to refuse to help them make money. You do not have to make the commitment of boycotting every multinational – there are other forms of protest too. Spread the word about things you believe in and sign petitions. Sure, we aren’t making an instant or visible difference, but you are contributing to change.

I would be a hypocrite if I said that I lived a strictly ethical life. I don’t buy from certain companies and I try to get most of my clothes second hand, but I still occasionally buy things from Topshop – it’s hard to not flinch at a tag that explicitly tells you what you have bought is definitely made in a sweatshop.

We shouldn’t fund anything we do not believe in. I am sure many think I am naïve but how can anyone argue that a group of pre-teen boys handing in their boy scout badges as a form of protest isn’t powerful? Can you truly argue that they didn’t make a point and especially, make a difference?


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