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On Boycotts, Komen, and Political Hope

February 13th, 2012 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Alan Noble over at Christ and Pop Culture takes on conservatives for how they went about the Komen controversy:

Christian activism tends to take two forms, political and economic. The basic method in both cases is the same, though: we work for justice and goodness by using our votes and/or dollars to influence those in power. This is, after all, the way our country, with its free market democracy, works.

While I don’t want to argue that we should totally abandon political action or dismiss money’s influence, I do think that the Komen situation reveals the dangerous nature of attempts to force positive change through coercion. This kind of change is fickle and passing. If we can force Komen to change their policies with our boycott, then what is to stop another, bigger boycott from forcing them to change back? As we have seen with Komen, the answer is “nothing.” Whether it is through votes or dollars, coercing someone to accept our position is nihilistic: it suggests that real change — change of heart and mind — is impossible, or unlikely, and so the safest bet is to make it profitable to adopt our beliefs.

The alternative they mention of sending checks to institutions we’d rather have is one I endorse unhesitatingly.  Find the good, praise it, and then pass the plate on its behalf.  They note that it’s a strategy that fits with its cousin “boycotting,” but it ought to be the louder, more dominant approach.  All well and good, that.

But here’s where I want to quibble:  this “changing hearts and minds” business has simply got to go.  Let us make a pact, Mere-O readers, and promise to do jumping jacks every time we use it during the 2012 political season.  You know, for fitness’s sake.  And for our own.

Changing “hearts and minds”  is well and good, but it’s a mistake to suggest that other forms of change are any less real. Hearts and minds exist in a web of institutions, and if you can reshape the playing field you can change the game.  It may take a generation or two to unwind and work its way through the hearts and minds of those who have come along later, but what you lose in speed you gain in staying power.

And contra Alan, I am skeptical that anyone really believes pressuring Komen is a genuine strategy for changing hearts and minds.  The goal, I think, is rather different:  keep money away from Planned Parenthood so as to erode their ability to provide abortions.  De-nickle and dime the organization to death, as it were, or until they limit themselves to providing genuine health services to women who need it.  And the little human bodies whose lives are at stake are enough reason, I think, to simply send a note and ask folks to forget funding them this time around.

Let me be clear that the long path toward unwinding Planned Parenthood will require patient, thoughtful, rigorous dialectics to persuade those who disagree that the problem is really there.  But in the meantime, ringing up a neighbor to remind them that their money would be better spent on a crisis pregnancy centers than on Planned Parenthood is not an act of political nihilism at all.   It is an act of hope, and even of charity, and one small brick in the countercultural wall that the fellows over at Christ and Pop Culture and we at Mere-O all want.