On the heels of the announcement in Ferguson right before Thanksgiving that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the killing of unarmed Missouri youth Michael Brown, the call was issued for Black Americans to boycott the national day of shopping, Black Friday. The goal was to call attention to the elimination of racial injustice and, especially, an immediate end to police brutality against people of color. The rationale is based on reports that indicate how the combined buying power of Black people in America is expected to be $1.1 trillion by 2015. This means that African Americans across the board are very influential when it comes to how and where their dollars are spent and, therefore, are a tremendous financial asset to the United States (which, let’s face it, has always been the case). When you compare this fact with the reality that Blacks across the U.S. earn less than Whites and are unemployed at more than double the national average, it puts into context the insult that is being added to injury with ongoing injustices that African Americans, and other people of color, face within the legal system and institutions. Therefore, a boycott has been declared.
But, let’s talk about BOYCOTTS for a moment. How about we start with some facts, lest we forget just how strategic and organized economic boycotts have historically been in the past. To look at the major campaigns of the historic civil rights movement is to recognize the very organized and coherent three-pronged strategy that led to achieving their goals: (1) Civil disobedience; (2) Grass-roots organizing and voter registration; and, (3) Boycotts and economic withdrawal.
Economic withdrawal by the Black American community was said to be the most powerful single weapon in the nonviolent arsenal according to civil rights leaders of the time. We have all heard of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began in December of 1955, but we don’t talk about the fact that it lasted for 381 days with the support of 50,000 local African Americans who also boycotted downtown stores. By setting up systems within the Black community that enabled the boycott to be sustained for over a year, victory could be declared with negotiations between leaders and the Birmingham political establishment. The effectiveness of boycotts spread across the United States by targeting lunch counters, movie theaters, hotels and amusement parks, with the goal of equal treatment of Blacks as consumers in this country. And going back to the current buying power of Black Americans, our dollars are certainly welcomed as consumers these days. But, the time has come to revisit the strategy of long-term economic boycotting to create ongoing pressure on the justice system, whose institutional racism impacts all people of color. Attending a town hall meeting on Ferguson, just days before the announcement that NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo also would not be indicted in the killing of Staten Island’s unarmed Eric Garner, the point was made that the system is actually not broken–it is working in the oppressive way that it has been designed to work against people of color and the lower class.
As the country has sprung into full civil disobedience mode, there is a necessity for long-term, strategic economic boycotts towards an achievable end. Which corporations can the supporters of #BoycottBlackFriday, #NotOneDime and #BlackDecember actually target to get the message across? Where CAN money be spent in local communities or on the national level? How can we influence our friends, families and neighbors to redirect our dollars to Black-owned and businesses owned by people of color for the long hall? Though the bus boycott was initially expected to last a couple of months, it lasted for over a year. What systems are in place to make up for the difference of goods and services we are planning to boycott? The concepts of long-term and strategy must be reiterated so that people realize how this will be effective in the goal of achieving a measurable change in the system.
Many people don’t get the correlation between long-term, indefinite boycotting and police officers being held accountable for misconduct, or simply how boycotting impacts politics. They were willing to boycott the anticipated biggest shopping day of the year out of frustration of feeling helpless in the struggle and out of solidarity with Ferguson, but did not understand the strategy or what was to come of it. Black Friday came and went, and by Cyber Monday it had been announced that national sales were down 11%, though there were no mainstream reports that tied the deficit to #BoycottBlackFriday. From the media’s perspective, a one-time 11% decrease can be attributed to any host of things, from pre-Thanksgiving sales to ongoing internet discounts that have caused what’s been called “Black Friday fatigue.” While some reports are willing to question whether or not there is a correlation, corporations refuse to acknowledge that a one-day boycott against racial injustice had anything to do with the 11% disappointment in retail sales this year. THAT, apparently, was a coincidence in their eyes.
But a strategic boycott that yields, for example, an 11% decrease in spending over an extended length of time in 2015 will get the mainstream press talking about how Black communities with their $1.1 trillion buying power are, in fact, still boycotting racial injustice across the country. And ongoing reporting of the boycott for change in the justice system can impact the way policymakers feel pressured to mobilize and push new legislation through as a result. One-day or even short-term boycotts cannot achieve the type of change people are desperate for, which in this case is to repeal policies and laws regarding police misconduct and accountability. I imagine that big corporations have the influence to lobby for social justice initiatives that benefit the very same consumers who are spending money on their products and services. How about targeting some of these influential companies with the tactic of boycott? Just a thought in the way of strategy.
The current protests in Ferguson, New York City and across the nation illustrate just how fed up the democratic people are with police misconduct and a biased/racial judicial system. The people from coast to coast mobilizing via social media towards action represent our American Spring. Disrupting the city traffic and shopping malls physically demonstrates the “NO PEACE!” in the “No justice, no peace!” rally cry. But everyone is not going to hit the streets and risk the consequences of civil disobedience. Therefore, “No justice, no peace!” has been tag teamed with, “No justice, no PROFITS!”
By Mai Perkins