Friday, March 21, 2014

of hearts and minds and money

There are many ways to enact change. Some change upends centuries worth of thinking, forging a new paradigm that saturates the next generation with their new normal.  Whenever I hear the phrase ‘winning the hearts and minds’, it’s this type of change  that I think of.  More tangibly, this type of change is the promise my father made to himself when I was born, that whatever unjust biases he grew up with, his daughter would not share them; a promise he has kept for the entirety of my 20 years.

In the past few weeks I’ve been witnessing a very different path towards change- an approach targeting not the individuals who make up our society, but the pocketbooks which control it. I’m talking about enacting boycotts, pulling sponsors, and cutting funding- all the techniques that threaten to impede business as usual.

Economic manipulation for LGBTQ community goals first came on my personal radar with the vetoed Arizona bill SB 1062. The bill would have legalized a business’ decision not to serve members of the LBGTQ community on religious grounds (synopsis and bill text here). It passed both the Arizona house and senate and was awaiting either the governor’s signature or veto. One major stakeholder spoke up. The NFL, who was planning to hold the next Super Bowl in Glendale Arizona threatened to move elsewhere because of the bill, a loss of about $500 million for the state (ESPN). Unsurprisingly, the bill was vetoed, the Super Bowl stayed in Arizona, and the LGBTQ community lived happily ever after, or so the media portrayed. What the media missed (among other things) were the hordes of angry Arizonans who still believed that the bill was essential in protecting their religious freedom. No, the bill did not become law, but the attitudes that created and passed it through Arizona’s legal system remain a legitimate reality.

Turn to the recent NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade. When LGBTQ identified Irish Americans wanted to openly march in the parade and were denied the beer company Guinness announced that they would no longer sponsor it. Guinness’ decision was a statement aiming to strong arm the parade into changing their policies, but the policies remained and the act incited tweets complaining that Guinness was “bullied by gay orgs” (Newsweek). This kind of backlash doesn’t really give me hope that the policies will change next year.

Then it moved closer to home. I began to receive similiar feedback during my facilitations. My monologue deals with a clinic without a nondiscrimination policy that refuses service to LGBTQ identified patients. Quite frequently I’ve been getting solutions that tell me to inform someone how much money the clinic is losing when these patients leave, or that I should tell the press because then people will boycott and the resulting dip in profits will bring the clinic around. I’ve been struggling with how to respond to these suggestions because technically, they could work. My character could repeat these statements to her supervisor and I can almost see all the color drain out of him as he contemplates his financial future. But these suggestions never totally sat right with me. Because even if the immediate problem is ‘solved’ and the clinic no longer refuses anyone, the doctor will most certainly still want to. 

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending an event with a keynote speech by Mia Mingus, an organizer working for disability justice and transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse (about Mia). In her speech she emphasized the need to plan what happens after the revolution. Economic manipulation may work to give us the revolutionary results we need, but it will never give us the post-revolution world we desire. Forcing people to change the evidence of their beliefs does not alter, does not even touch, those ideas themselves. In fact, I would argue that in the America we live in today it wounds deeply enough to make those ideas fester, impelling those who hold them to clutch their views even closer to their chest.

In conclusion, economic manipulation can be a useful tool, but without the accompanying education, connection, and communication it doesn't accomplish much. A father will never vow to raise his child differently because it hurt his pocketbook. If we buy into the media's claim that impeding profits is all it takes, then we won't ever change the heart or mind of anyone.