It seems a lot of people have received and sent on the same SMS I got the other day, that requests a boycott of US goods – there was a discussion about it on the radio yesterday, and they did a vox pop thing where apparently random people on the street were saying they’d received it.

I think it’s a terrible idea. For one thing, boycotts only work if everyone does it, like with South Africa during the apartheid regime. That is apparently (according to the radio yesterday) the only boycott that’s ever actually worked – and it was massive, global, on the level of government, and it included sports and cultural events. Scattered people not going to MacDonalds is not going to change Bush’s mind.

But my main objection to the idea is that it will only fire up the hatred that’s already brewing between the US and other Western countries. The last thing we need is to increase the gap between us. If a boycott of American goods actually worked (which it won’t, but that is the aim of it), real, living, breathing Americans would lose their jobs. They’d hate the people who’d caused that, escalating the cycle of hatred. Most people round here think that the semi-boycott of French goods many Americans have started on is ridiculous. Why is boycotting America any better?

If a full boycott had any hope of actually changing Bush’s mind I might think otherwise, and conclude that the goal makes the means acceptable. As it is, the increase in mutual hatred and lack of knowledge of each other that a boycott will create is simply not worth it.

And in case anyone was wondering (these days it seems people do) my suggestions in that SMS post about boycotting American websites were deeply ironic. Oh dear.

8 thoughts on “no to a boycott

  1. Stephanie

    I agree that boycotts only work when everyone does them, but the South Africa boycott is not the only boycott that ever worked. Although small in comparison, during the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans boycotted the public bus system in protest to the treatment of Rosa Parks. They were able to successfully rally and win the right to integrated busses. Although a small achievement, boycotts can work, but only is everyone is “on board”, as you said. This boycott (of American products) would be doomed to failure without great organization and effort on the part of protesters.

    Eleanor Roosevelt stated this about the movement:

    “I think December 5th is an important date for all of us in the U.S. to remember. The bus protest carried on by the colored people of Montgomery, Alabama, without violence, has been one of the most remarkable achievements of people fighting for their own rights but doing so without bloodshed and with the most remarkable restraint and discipline, that we have ever witnessed in this country. It is something all of us should be extremely proud of for its achievemnt by Americans which has rarely before been seen.”

  2. i1277

    “…the only boycott that’s ever actually worked”….now that’s a dubious statement. I don’t have the examples lined up right now, but of course there has been countless cases of successful “smaller-scale” boycotts against companies and organisations. Boycotts have been a means of protest just like demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience have.

    People boycotting McDonald’s certainly haven’t brought the company down, but some might say such actions has contributed to McDonald’s adjusting their policies at least slightly?

    You probably had another kind of boycott in mind though, and I agree this “campaign” won’t serve any practical purpose (beyond that it might contribute to an even greater sense of “we’re against this together” in the population). For one, we’re so tied up with US cultural and technological products that it doesn’t make sense. A lot of us likes to say “the Americans are so hypocritical” etc. But I guess people aren’t that critical anymore when it comes to suffering the tuesday night fiest of a Friends episode…

    Secondly, Boycotting a whole country always makes the wrong people suffer. The UN embargo of Iraq is responsible for a lot more more casualties than this war is likely to (One has got to ask where all the protesters of now has been during the last ten years).

    And I agree with you it’s quite unconstructive in respect to that ¸ber-important task that is bridging the gap between people. Surely trying to take the viewpoint of “the other side” is a lot more important than strengthening fence mentality.

  3. Jill

    Thanks for the examples of cases where boycotts have worked. That’s really interesting. And yes, boycotting a brand or something specific like the buses Stephanie wrote about seems more productive. I personally boycott MacDonalds because I don’t like the way they treat their employees or the imperialism of the concern or the way they produce the meat, but that makes more immediate sense than a blanket boycott of everything American. What, stop drinking my favourite orange juice because the oranges come from Florida?

    ii277’s point about the embargo of Iraq having caused more causalities than the war is likely to do is important, too.

  4. Cassandra

    While it’s true that from the 1880 victory in Ireland on, most successes have been with “local” matters. The American colonies’ boycott over the Stamp Act and Gandhi’s passive resistance, however, are two large scale boycott operations whose ultimate outcomes showed them to have been quite successful.

  5. Jill

    Does Gandhi’s passive resistance quite count as a boycott, though? I suppose that was part of it.

  6. Tali

    There’s no boycott, or even “semi-boycott” of French goods going on here in Seattle.

    There are a small number of blowhards dumping French wine into the streets and re-naming assorted foodstuffs. They get a lot of media attention because they are very loud…but the vast majority of Americans (regardles of their views on the war) find these people silly. No matter what one thinks of the war, concentrating on breakfast-food nomenclature in the face of violence is just stupid.

    The only sad thing is that these idiots have the ability to make French visitors in the US very uncomfortable by sheer volume. : (

  7. Cassandra

    Don’t worry. It’s been far more embarrassing for my French acquaintances to be reminded about France’s previous failures to act, such as the Rhineland in 1936 & the Sudetenland in 1938.

  8. s

    Most U.S. products in Europe are manufactured in Europe the U.S. having realized years ago it’s cheaper to build companies and produce products overseas than to manufacture products in the U.S. and ship them overseas. So a European boycott of U.S. goods in Europe costs European jobs. As for McDonalds do you think U.S. citizens own or work in European McDonalds or Starbucks, hardly they’re owned by and produce jobs for European citizens.

    On the other hand most all European products are manufactured in Europe and shipped to the U.S., so in a boycott war who do you think wins.

    The same is true with all world trade.

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