From the Chair

Could the boycott be our biggest ally against Trump? 

Boycott against Safeway until they employed African Americans, 1941. Photo: Washington Area Spark 

Boycott against Safeway until they employed African Americans, 1941. Photo: Washington Area Spark 

The news of the constant stream of burning garbage emanating from Trump's dumpster fire of a cabinet has been equal parts disgusting and inspiring. 

Disgusting for that administration's gross lack of respect for the rule of law and the institutions that are designed to maintain our country's balance of power. Disgusting for their blatant disregard for Democratic processes. For their trampling of equal rights. For their lack of basic human decency. 

But I am deeply moved and inspired by the way so many Americans have stood up and said "NO." I am inspired by the people who flooded the streets of nearly every major American city during the Women's March on January 21. I am inspired by the governors and mayors who boldly told Trump they would not comply with his executive order to bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries even if it meant their cities or states could denied federal funding. By our state Attorney General who successfully sued Trump and made Washington State the forerunner in resistance movement.

And I was definitely inspired by the thousands protesters who flooded airports in major American cities demanding sane immigration policies last week. And finally by the Americans who boycotted the ride share app Uber using the Twitter hashtag #DeleteUber after the company sent drivers to break a one-hour taxi cab strike at New York's JFK International Airport. 

The plan worked; #DeleteUber went viral and meanwhile their business rival, Lyft, pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union. In less than a week, the Lyft app saw more downloads than Uber in the U.S. for the first time ever, according to App Annie, a San Francisco-based analytics firm. In fact, the app now ranks #4 (up from #37 last week) in iPhone downloads, ahead of even Instagram and Facebook. In response, Uber pledged to triple that amount and donate $3 million to families of their employees adversely affected by Trump's order. Boom. That's a total of $4 million in donations for socially progressive causes pledged almost overnight.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to stick it to Wells Fargo Bank by divesting $3 billion in an effort to defund the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ordinance amends the city's contracting policies to favor working with companies without histories of unscrupulous business practices. It also directs the city to notify the bank they will not be renewing their contract in 2018. 

And just last week the Seattle-based department store Nordstrom stopped carrying Ivanka Trump's brand, which sells women's clothing, shoes, and handbags. In all, the "anti-Trump" movement calls for the boycott of more than 70 retailers and companies. In October, Shannon Coulter, a brand and digital strategist, started the #GrabYourWallet hashtag to encourage people to boycott companies selling any of Trump's products. In the months since the election, she and other anti-Trump Twitter users have circulated a spreadsheet with retailers that do business with the Trump family including AmazonWalmartMacy's and Bloomingdales.

Boycotts have a long history of successfully bringing about social change and more progressive policies. Two of the most famous boycotts include the Delano Grape Strike of 1960 led by Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers (UFW) and the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. At its height, the Delano grape strike led to more than 14 million Americans refusing to buy grapes and the Delano growers eventually signing new contracts with the UFW in 1969. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, meanwhile, eventually led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Montgomery, GA laws requiring segregated buses were unconstitutional (Browder v. Gayle). More on the history of boycotts here.

We currently have an obstructionist Republican party that controls our government at every level, has rigged the game in their favor through gerrymandering, and is woefully disconnected from a citizenry that increasingly favors of progressive policies such as marriage equality, minimum wage increases, and universal health care. With all those odds stacked against us, it is easy to feel defeated. But even if all our institutional checks and balances are rendered ineffective, the boycott would still be an effective mechanism for resistance.

As #DeleteUber boycott, the #GrabYourWallet movement and the Wells Fargo Bank divestment has shown us, a mindful citizenry can put pressure on companies to do the right thing by withholding their dollars or choosing to purchase goods and services from companies that employ practice socially responsible business practices. In turn, those companies send a clear signal to those in power. 

People really do have the power–we just need to grab them by the wallet and start acting like it.