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A new wave of protest

POSTED March 27, 2012 11:17 p.m.

I remember growing up in the 1980s and having my elders say things like, “Kids nowadays don’t care about anything.” After commenting on the apparent apathy of my peers, I would then be treated to a detailed recounting of epic protests against the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation and segregation that took place in the 1960s and 70s.

Maybe America just needed a 30-year hiatus to perfect its chanting and sign painting, because the past few years have seen a boom in protesting.

From the Occupy Movement — which started as a reality check for the 1 percent of the nation that was bringing financial Armageddon upon the 99 percent, but turned into a costly economic standstill for many cities — to the outcry from students and faculty at the California college and university systems in response to drastic budget cuts, this has been a time for protest.

Even here in Turlock there have been quite a few protests. In March 2008, about 100 protesters lined up outside City Hall to deliver a message of support for an extension of the city-run Emergency Cold Weather Shelter.

In March 2010, Turlock Unified School District teachers donned the color pink and stood outside school campuses vehemently stating their opposition to continuing state budget cuts to education funding.

There have been multiple protests against cuts made at California State University, Stanislaus and the local Head Start preschool program.

In a role reversal, our local elected officials held their own protest on the steps of Modesto’s courthouse in opposition of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones in the state budget.

While the traditional protest model of occupying or marching at a particular site — usually a metropolitan area, courthouse steps or college quad — makes a visual impact, does it really make a difference?

If history is any indicator, then at least locally, the answer is no. The city-run Emergency Cold Weather Shelter was shutdown and the property sold. Gov. Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies, and cuts to education funding just keep on coming.

There is another type of protest — the boycott. This is not a new strategy in the protest world; in fact, America uses a variation called embargos to economically sanction misbehaving countries.

The rationale is simple: affect an organization’s ability to make money and it will acquiesce to your demands. In a consumer-based economy, this can be a valuable tool in protesting. It is also non-violent and doesn’t bring all commerce to a standstill, like the Occupy Movement did in Oakland.

Spending your hard-earned money in a socially-conscious way is a laudable use of First Amendment rights. However…if I get another Dump Starbucks form letter in my inbox, I’m going to scream.

I encourage local residents to send me their letters; in fact, I don’t think I receive enough letters to the editor. But there’s a difference between an authentic opinion written by a concerned citizen and a form letter.

The National Organization for Marriage began a boycott and letter writing campaign last week aimed at Starbucks after the company supported a Washington state gay marriage law. Just on Tuesday, I received seven e-mails of the same protest letter, signed by different local residents.

While I do not agree with NOM’s position on same-sex marriage, I believe boycotting and letter-writing to be one of the most effective means of making a business or organization think twice about their policies. If it affects their bottom line, they will probably listen.

In this particular situation, however, Starbucks is doing something corporations rarely do — stick to their moral beliefs.

“From the earliest days of the company, the partners decided to promote equality and inclusion,” said Starbucks spokesperson Zack Hutson. “The company is proud to be one of the leading employers in the Northwest to support the Washington law.”

Starbucks’ unwavering support of equality for same-sex couples is its own form of protest —a protest against abandoning core principles for the sake of profit. Wall Street needs to learn a lesson from this Seattle original.

This column is the opinion of Kristina Hacker, Journal editor, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Turlock Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  She can be reached at khacker@turlockjournal.com.

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