Sunday, May 1, 2011

Making Sense of Social Media and Activism

Originally Posted on August 17, 2010. WARNING: The following post has strong politically-based opinions not normally expressed on this blog. If you do not wish to read such material, you are free to skip this post. Otherwise, please read with care. Thank you!

You know what…

William Brown of The Inappropriate Couch said that when he starts a sentence with that phrase, he’s pissed off. He’s right – I do that, too. I’m not sure if it’s an American thing or a Midwest thing, but it doesn’t matter. Things lately have been just tugging at my sensibilities and needs to let out on the surface…

I want to start with a history lesson. On the matter of boycotts – they worked before for us. In the mid-1970s Harvey Milk got all of gay bars in San Francisco to stop selling Coors products until they recanted on their support of anti-gay causes. This was groundbreaking since only a few entities gave us equal footing as citizens, employees or customers – therefore, there were no accusations of hypocrisy to be thrown around. The boycott worked because the Adolph Coors Company was not just hit by the gay community – many other local entities, including the Teamsters Union, also joined in the boycott.

So, why are these calls for boycotting Target Corporation, Best Buy, Inc. and other Minnesota businesses supporting causes related to Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer different than the Milk-led boycott against Coors? For years, most of these particular firms had incorporated policies related to human resources and corporate giving towards the GLBT community. By its executives using corporate funds to donate to causes supporting ideals counter to their policies created these accusations of hypocrisy towards organizing boycotts against these businesses.

Now, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, decided to thwart the calls by the GLBT community and associated Political Action Committees to not “make it right” by donating an equal or greater amount of money to causes pertaining to the GLBT community. The reactions have been swift and furious. Looks like the boycott’s on. Yes, but…I’m still perplexed. Can a corporation have it both ways – supporting both diversity amongst all citizens, both employees and customers, and a political fund supporting candidates who disagree with extended full rights to all of its citizens? When did we give power to a corporation, especially when they cannot vote as a collective? Why must we make choices and set lines in the sand if we incorrectly? And, since when is it OK to shove wedges between friends over politics – especially within a culture?

It’s not just Target I’m talking about. It’s about building a mosque near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. It’s about holding off on allowing same-gender marriages in California until the Federal Appeals Court makes a ruling on Proposition 8. It’s about being angry at criminals who continue to threaten the harmony of Minneapolis’ North Side…and every community across the planet trying to rebuild from a bad reputation. It’s about Tom Emmer and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN/6) and equating them with such evil figures as Pinochet, TerreBlanche, and Haider - or, equating the Tea Party movement as America's Voortrekkers.

It’s also about how to resolve our personal lives with an economy still not stable enough for jobs to continue to be lost.

There’s plenty to worry about. There’s plenty to be “mad as hell” not to take it anymore. It’s quite stressful having to make a decision not to shop at a store because it feigns tolerance towards its customers, employers and suppliers alike. It’s quite stressful having to shake a fist at someone or something because it hates us. It’s easier to throw a stone at someone we disagree with – even if its one of our own!

I have no conclusions here. Just parsing out thoughts here. Be my guest and use social media and networking as a battlefield or a rallying point to stir up emotions. Some people would rather play Farmville, while others refuse to heed Malcolm of Friday Night Furlosophy's message about not using Facebook as a dating pool for gay men.

Facebook and other social media and networking tools can be used for good when the message is clear, inviting, engaging and designed for a positive result – at least that’s my first lesson in my Residency.

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