March 30, 2015

The #BoycottIndiana Campaign

Indiana quarter, reverse side, 2002.jpg
Indiana quarter, via Wikimedia Commons.
If you support basic civil rights and live in a state like Indiana (or Mississippi), you might have mixed feelings about seeing legions of people take to social media to call for a boycott of your state. That they are doing so is understandable. After all, your elected officials decided that protecting Christian bigotry was more important than working to protect the rights of all their constituents. This sort of thing deserves attention and certainly warrants widespread outrage. And when enough celebrities join in, attention and outrage are sure to follow. Perhaps the threat of economic consequences to the state would be an effective deterrent to such legislation.

On the other hand, an effective boycott is unlikely to hurt everyone in the state equally or in ways we might regard as fair. Some of those who worked tirelessly to prevent the law from passing would undoubtedly be affected by an economic downturn. When conservative politicians in most states see a decrease in their tax revenue, they tend to cut education and mental health services before almost anything else. So it is at least possible that some well-meaning boycotts could adversely affect those in need in a disproportionate manner.

There is also the pragmatic question of whether boycotts like this can work at the state level. I recall some brief grumblings about a possible boycott of Mississippi when our Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed. Nothing ever came of it, and I suspect the reason is that the rest of the country was already boycotting Mississippi at least in some sense. There were more sustained grumblings the last time our state flag was discussed. This was more serious, longer lasting, and seemed to generate some real concern about the possible economic impact on the state. Even some conservative politicians seemed willing to consider the possibility that changing the flag could be good for business. And yet, these efforts gained no real traction. We still refuse to change our flag.

I'm not sure whether something like boycotting a state can work, but I tend to be rather skeptical of the idea. And yet, I do think that continuing to talk about something like Indiana's new law, Mississippi's old law, and the fact that many other states have adopted similar legislation can have positive effects. Perhaps we will eventually learn how to turn this sort of collective outrage into real political consequences for those who vote in favor of such legislation.

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