Pagans and the flustercluck over Chik-fil-a: Many of the same organizations that are responsible for anti-LGBT hate speech are involved in anti-Pagan propaganda and continue to stoke the fires of potential Satanic Panics. How do Pagans make economic choices in response to this? I advocate boycotts as a magical action in defense of our own rights.

Boycott is a strong word. People hesitate to use it and will disagree with each other over whether or not a certain decision is a boycott. To me, a boycott is a choice not to buy certain goods or services as part of an effort to get a seller to change its behavior in a certain way. This is very specific: it is much more than simply not buying something.

You can only boycott a seller in order to get them to change a behavior. To me, a boycott includes both a carrot and a stick: the actual damage to the company of lost sales is accompanied by the inherent promise that those sales can return if they reform the specifically targeted part of their operation. It's possible to boycott a clothing chain that uses sweatshop labor to produce its goods; they can hire free workers at a living wage and go on selling clothes, and you are willing to buy non-sweatshop-produced clothes - possibly even at a higher price. On the other hand, if you are philosophically opposed to clothing, and you refuse to buy any, then you're not trying to get the company to change an ancillary behavior. There's nothing the clothing company can do to regain your business. In my book that's not a boycott.

This understanding also implies that you can't boycott someone for something you wouldn't be buying anyway on non-philosophical grounds; people who don't have menstrual cycles can't boycott a tampon company, because there's neither the possibility of getting the company's attention by withdrawing business nor the implicit promise that business will return if appropriate action is taken.

That aspect of getting the company's attention matters. To be effective, boycotts also have to have an element of publicity. For me, a personal action becomes part of a boycott only if you are at least willing to tell others why you're refusing to buy something. You need to tell the company in some way exactly why you've withdrawn your business and precisely what they have to do to get it back. If you won't tell the company, then the company has to guess at your intentions, and for most companies the first response is probably going to be another ad campaign, not a deep ethical self-examination. Ideally, of course, you'll also tell other people why you're choosing to spend your dollars the way you are.

Intention - and the willingness to communicate that intent - differentiates a boycott from simply not buying something. As a way of enacting a focused intention, a boycott can be a piece of magic.

I think we should use this kind of magic in self-defense, and that we should be doing it a lot more often than we are.

Pagans are swamped by the sea of misinformation surrounding our religions, and anti-Pagan propaganda has consequences. That's not just a relic of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s; there are plenty of groups today that actively spread hate speech against Paganism. We're making progress in a lot of areas, and that's wonderful. But we're still swimming upstream against a current of lies. If we're willing to go to the effort of having Pagan Pride Days, maybe we should also avoid providing material support to people who advocate for outlawing our beliefs and practices.

Of course, it's hard for Pagans to mount an effective boycott alone because we're such a small part of the population that companies can easily write us off. But it's no accident that the same groups who are most virulently against rights for QUILTBAG* people are also responsible for a lot of the organized anti-Pagan hatred. I suggest that Pagans ally with the QUILTBAG community to boycott specific companies that are funding the hatemongers who hurt us all.

For starters, Pagans should boycott Chik-fil-a.

Refuse to eat at Chik-fil-a. Tell the company that you're not eating there because they donate to anti-gay and anti-Pagan hate groups, notably the Family Research Council, and that if they stop donating to FRC, you'll consider eating there again. If you're willing to, tell others that you won't eat at Chik-fil-a for three reasons:

  • They support anti-gay hate groups, which is wrong on any level. Conservative Christians can oppose marriage equality all they want, but they shouldn't lie about QUILTBAG people and defend bullying and other forms of violence against QUILTBAG people.
  • Their bigotry is against your own religion: I believe "all acts of love and pleasure" means exactly that. Neither the Goddess nor Doreen Valiente felt it necessary to include a hetero-only clarification, and I'm not going to start now.
  • And moreover, the people they're funding spread hatred against your religion as well.

I started to write this piece at the end of last week. I was really hoping it was a story of success that we could use as roadmap and motivation for future action. But it looks like the initial reports were false, and Chik-fil-a is still funding hatred just as much as ever. This is extremely disappointing, but it doesn't mean I'm giving up. 

It means we have to think about this in larger terms, both settling in for the long haul in this specific case and examining the consequences of our economic actions in a wider context. I still think that's worth doing.

It's not easy. I think that our economic choices are some of the most ethically fraught things we do on a daily basis. We can't really avoid it, it's hard to be sufficiently informed, and there are many, many times when pragmatism trumps ideals. Even if this isn't a massive boycott that prompts a quick response from the company, even if this evolves from a publicity-focused boycott to more of a long-term personal ethical choice about what my money is supporting, I think it is an important part of putting my values into practice.

As part of that wider context, I want to think beyond Chik-fil-a. Personally, my food allergies mean that I can't eat there to begin with, so I can't personally boycott them. But this made me wonder: what other companies am I buying from that are using my dollars to support messages of hatred against me? I'd like to try to identify other major donors to FRC and similar hatemongers so that I can start making better-informed choices about the impact of our economic support. I'm certainly going to be more active about identifying and participating in boycotts and other economic actions in support of QUILTBAG rights, and am going to start using the above three-part explanation on a regular basis.

Boycott is a strong word. It's also potentially a strong magical tool. It's time we started using it.

 


*QUILTBAG is an acronym that attempts to be both more inclusive and easily pronounced. It represents Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Inter-, Lesbian, Trans-, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay people. If you have an opinion on it as an acronym, feel free to comment; I'm open to change on this usage.