Let’s be real: A boycott is a nuisance. It has to be, if it’s going to be effective—that is, if it doesn’t involve not doing something you and lot of other people have been doing, it’s not going to have an impact.
Which is not to say that I don’t support boycotting as a nonviolent strategy for persuasion and change. I do, wholeheartedly. When I know about an organized boycott for a cause I believe in—the right of migrant farm workers to organize (in California in the 1960s and ‘70s), the end of two-class systems of rights (in South Africa under apartheid, as in Israel/Palestine today)—I support it. Completely and at whatever cost. For years, I never bought California grapes or wine or lettuce. I refused Oxford University Press of Southern Africa publication rights to a poem of mine. (That one hurt.)
Those boycotts, by the way, worked. Both of them helped bring down their targets, union-busting California agricultural sweatshops and the white-only government of South Africa, respectively. Remembering their effectiveness, I wholly support the boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian self-determination and don’t buy any of the products, from Motorola mobile phones to Ahava and other Dead Sea beauty products (okay, that’s an easy one) currently on the BDS list.
But like the rest of us, I’m living under an oppressive system, or a set of them, and like most of the rest of us—almost all of us—to get through each day, I have to compromise. As the late, great Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (U.S. lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, and feminist, 1916–2000), used to point out, there’s no clean money in a dirty system. So let’s be real about that, too. All of us who get money under this system, from any source, and spend it, on anything, are cooperating to some extent with that system and by definition compromising. My compromises may not be yours, and yours may not be mine, but all of us are doing it.
So here’s one of mine: On the theory that a boycott that nobody knows about isn’t accomplishing anything, I observe boycotts that I know about but am more selective about avoiding the (so far) unboycotted bad guys. And if Whole Foods—and yes, I knew they’re anti-union, but didn’t know most of the other stuff until now (thanks, Malka!)—is the target of an organized boycott, nobody told me. I’ve certainly never seen any signs, tables or demonstrators outside their Columbus Circle store, which I pass by pretty often. So I hardly ever shop there, and certainly don’t rave about it or tell other people which celebrities I saw there, but I do once in a while go in when I’m passing by and hungry.
While putting this response together, I googled “Whole Foods boycott” and saw a bunch of items from 2009 and then nothing. Doesn’t look to me as if it’s got any traction—what’s the story on it?
But in any case, Malka’s implied dichotomy between BDS and boycotting Whole Foods is a false one. There is an organized BDS movement, and I’m part of it. If there’s an organized Whole Foods boycott, I’ll join that, too. (I think there was a stretch of time when we boycotted lettuce and South Africa.) And Malka, of course, can join the BDS movement while boycotting Whole Foods. Please!