When Representative Steve King (R-IA) tweeted “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” on March 12, it raised a lot of questions.
Given America’s makeup as a nation of mostly immigrants and descendants of immigrants, which babies does King consider to be “ours” and which babies does he think are “someone else’s”? What does King believe has happened to civilization that requires it to be restored? Why do babies have to do the restoration? And most importantly, how should Americans who believe in equality respond to this sort of commentary from a politician? For some, the answer to this last question is to vote with their dollars and boycott Blue Bunny brand ice cream.
Blue Bunny was King’s biggest campaign contributor last year, according to the Center For Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign contributions. As a result of Blue Bunny’s support for the candidate, a Change.org petition calling for them to stop donating to King’s campaigns has gotten over 500 signatures. There are also dozens of tweets calling for a boycott and many of the Facebook comments on articles about King’s tweet also mention Blue Bunny’s contribution to his campaign and call for a boycott.
This is, of course, not the first boycott against a company because of their support for a politician. Specifically boycotting companies that support Trump is so popular there’s now a Boycott Trump app, which tells its over 300,000 users which companies are pro-Trump, so they can boycott those companies. This isn’t even the first politically-motivated boycott of Blue Bunny. In 2011, a boycott of the company was initiated because members of the Wells family, which owns Blue Bunny, had made contributions to the far right political organization, The Family Leader. The 2011 Blue Bunny boycott was initiated because of the anti-LGBT activities of The Family Leader, but the Boycott Blue Bunny Facebook page started then has seen a flurry of new activity in the last week related to Rep. King’s tweet.
It speaks highly of the level of political engagement in this country that even the decision to buy or not buy certain ice cream can be a morally-significant political stand. But what is the cost when we vote with our dollars? With the country so politically-polarized, any company that takes a stand on any issue is subject to a boycott by either those on the right or those on the left who disagree with their stance. In this system, the companies that win are those that take no public stand at all. Not taking a political stand may be reasonable for a business, but is probably not the outcome boycotters are trying to promote. Boycotts also can have a disproportionately-negative impact on smaller companies and/or those that rely on customers in a certain location and support a candidate or political stance that is not popular in that area.
Boycotts also don’t necessarily impact those that they’re intended to as much as we may hope. In order for the Blue Bunny boycott to negatively impact Steve King, the boycott would have to be big enough for Blue Bunny to decide not to give King a contribution for his next campaign. That would probably require boycotting not just Blue Bunny but also the other brands made by the company, like Bomb Pops and Weight Watchers ice creams. Also, Blue Bunny was not King’s only contributor, so even without their help, he could probably still get enough funds to run and win from his other contributors, including College Loan Corp. and AT&T, which gave almost as much as Blue Bunny. This media attention may also attract new far-right donors to King, so the Blue Bunny boycott alone is almost definitely not going to result in King failing to get reelected.
None of this is to suggest that people should not participate in boycotts, even without the hope of effecting change, a boycott is a means to ensure that our dollars spent on ice cream, or anything else, will not end up in the campaign coffer of a candidate who wouldn’t get our vote. Those who are concerned with King’s anti-immigration rhetoric and who want to promote equality and fair immigration practices will have to do more than forgo Blue Bunny ice cream. In order to have an impact on this issue, people will also need to do things like contact their own elected officials and ask them to oppose Trump’s immigration ban and other policy that promotes King’s negative “us and them” view of America. Letting companies know how we feel about politics and politicians should not take the place of letting our politicians know how we feel about policy. Voting with our dollars is important, but only if we’re also voting with our votes.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm and you can find her on Twitter @AlexisAPChapman.