Public pressure as good (or better) at bringing about change
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the outrage of the day was whether the star of a redneck reality TV show should lose his gig over expressing an opinion that homosexuality (and heterosexual promiscuity, and lying to boot) are sinful.
He didn’t lose his job, although the comment sparked a national shouting match. He was suspended from “Duck Dynasty” for a time and a national restaurant chain stopped selling associated products. Still, the show lasted until March 2017.
At the time, the debate went like this:
“He is entitled to his opinion. Plus, the First Amendment.”
Conversely: “The First Amendment is about government interference with speech; it has no power over the public’s right to denunciation. Plus: He’s entitled to his opinion, but not to be free of consequences.”
Ah, 2013 was a simpler time.
The “Duck Dynasty” dust-up was a relatively minor one compared to other times when public — not political — pressure was put on a business or organization to change.
It happened in the 1990s when the Boy Scouts of America struggled with its history of disallowing gay members and leaders and suffered the loss of donations and some supporters. It has happened when countless TV shows ran afoul of audience interest groups and suffered advertiser boycotts. It happens when small investors seek out mutual funds that don’t run afoul of their personal ethics.
Every time it happens, some folks on the side of the embattled business or organization cry foul. You can’t do that, they say. Or, you shouldn’t do that. Even, it’s un-American.
As the nation takes sides (again) over our national gun policies and politics (again) and interest groups put pressure (again) on gun retailers, the National Rifle Association and businesses associated with it, here we are. (Again.)
Airlines, including Delta and United, have cut ties to the NRA. Car rental companies — including Enterprise, Hertz, Alamo, Avis, Budget and National — said they’ll stop offering discounts to NRA members. MetLife, Symantec, First National Bank of Omaha (the bank behind NRA-branded credit cards), SimpliSafe, Paramount RX and Starkey (the hearing aid company) have all announced they’ll be ending discount and benefit programs for NRA members.
We name them here for a reason, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, this editorial board wants to go on the record:
This kind of social and economic pressure is exactly what people with strong beliefs should do. It’s the most American thing we can do, short of voting.
In a nation that has built its economic consciousness on free market mythology and tells itself that we — Americans — stand up for what we believe it, this is exactly how it’s supposed to work. When we codify money as speech in the context of campaign donations, we cannot be surprised when economic pressure comes to bear on political and social questions.
This is just another way — and an extremely powerful one — for people to be heard.
Back to companies that have pulled away from the NRA so far. Why do we name them? So consumers who disagree with those decisions have a chance to let their money do some debating, too.
When the people are savvy enough to use all peaceful means of protest at their disposal — including economic — to make societal change, we avoid the messy conspiracy theories and campaign-donation fueled doubt that can come from purely legislative solutions.