A Path to Passing Build Back Better: a National Boycott

Reacting to two recent Retake blogs, readers have offered suggestions as to how to address the increasingly perilous gridlock in D.C. Are we forever to be denied policies popular with the vast majority of Americans but opposed by industry lobbyists who are driven by an unquenchable thirst for profit, whatever the cost to the rest of us? Today we explore one viable strategy proposed by Retake supporter and friend, Bruce Berlin. Read on!

Before passing the baton to Bruce, a volunteer request and a few framing comments:

Retake Volunteer Needed

One of our supporters pointed out that our contact list for our NM state legislators is out of date. We could use a volunteer to update that list for us. We would provide an easy to follow format and links to the info. We may have a few other quick administrative tasks as well. If you can help with this, write to us at RetakeResponse@gmail.com Thanks mucho!

Framing Comments to Bruce’s Call for a Boycott

The gridlock in D.C. leaves us all wondering who our representatives really represent — voters who elected them or those suited lobbyists whose donations appear to be valued more by legislators than our votes? Two of our recent posts, “Trump Organizing a Slow Moving Coup” and “Terrifying Washington Post Op-Ed: First, Trump Resurrection, then Insurrection Unless We Get Serious Now!” described the degree to which our democracy may well be at stake in 2022 and 2024 if Congress doesn’t pass legislation to protect the election process itself from the nefarious vote suppression bills being passed in one red or purple state after another. These Trump-inspired voter suppression bills will make it more difficult for communities of color to vote and will make it possible for the GOP to steal the House in 2022 and the White House in 2024.

These posts didn’t really end with an action readers could take to try to protect our democracy. So today we present a strategy from Bruce Berlin in blogs he posted in successive weeks this past month. When I first read his idea, I thought, “damn, this just might work,” but only if the strategy were embraced and advanced by a highly credible national organization with a vast audience, not little old Retake Our Democracy and Bruce Berlin. But in speaking with Bruce, we both acknowledged that there is precious little grassroots work being done, just a good deal of hand wringing. We also felt/hoped that perhaps one of our readers may have a relationship with someone with a national media presence or a leader of an organization that might find this compelling enough to take on.

So with no further adieu, Bruce….Part I:

It’s Time to Take on Corporate America

The Democrats are in a bind. If Congressional Democrats don’t come together and pass President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, they will almost assuredly lose both houses of Congress in the 2022 mid-term elections. Every Democratic member of Congress must understand that not only is their congressional majority at stake, but also the success of the Biden presidency, his ability to win re-election in 2024 and democracy itself. It’s that simple.

And yet, the Democrats are finding it difficult to reach an agreement. A major stumbling block is the $3.5 trillion cost of Biden’s social and economic reconciliation bill. Progressives argue they have already reduced the legislation from its original $6 trillion and, after all, the expenditure is over a ten-year period. Nevertheless, Sens. Manchin and Sinema plus some moderate House Democrats strongly object that the price is still way too high. But are they truly concerned with the price tag, or are they just doing the bidding of their corporate sponsors?

One of Sinema’s main objections to the legislation is its Medicare prescription drug proposal to lower the cost of medications.[1] It’s no surprise that Sinema has taken this position. She has received approximately $750,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. During her 2018 Senate campaign she repeatedly promised to work on lowering the cost of prescription drugs. But after Sinema received the industry’s generous donations, she reversed her position and opposed the plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.[2]

Manchin and several House Democrats who oppose the bill’s Medicare drug proposal also garnered very large contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.[3] The fact that 88% of all Americans support the Democratic plan to allow the federal government to negotiate lower prices on medications tells you whose interests these moderate congresspeople really represent.[4]

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. According to a new report, Behind the Curtain: The Corporate Plot to Upend Democracy, 20 corporations or industry groups have spent more than $201 million in lobbying so far this year that is mostly aimed at derailing progressive provisions in Bidens’ popular tax reform and spending package. They include Amazon, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Comcast, Facebook, FedEx and Pfizer, companies many of us patronize.[5]

The report issued by People’s Action, a nationwide network of groups organizing for social justice, and Dēmos, a progressive think tank, exposes Big Money’s crippling grip on our government:

“Rich corporations are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the American people from getting what they want: a government that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few. Their massive use of corporate power to frustrate the will of the people on an issue-by-issue basis is part of a larger anti-democracy effort backed by corporate America.

“As corporations seek to undermine the Biden plan’s much-needed tax provisions, historic investments in drug pricing reform, healthcare, housing, climate, and immigration reform, they are also attacking our freedom to vote. Many of the same companies combating elements of the Build Back Better proposal are also bankrolling voter suppression legislation.”[6]

We, the people need to fight back by attacking the root of the problem, corporate America. A massive boycott of a couple of these corporations just might get them off our representatives’ backs. These congresspeople must represent us, their constituents, not their corporate donors. Can we organize a large enough boycott of Amazon or FedEx to force them to stop lobbying against the public good?

Let’s give it our best shot. Spread the word. Send this blog to your email lists and your friends on social media. Encourage everyone you know to stop buying from Amazon or using FedEx. Working together, we can make a difference. It’s time to stand up for what’s right and in our best interests before it’s too late!

A week later, Bruce responded to comments and questions about his call for a boycott with the post that follows.

Bruce Berlin and The Urgency of Boycotting Corporate America

In last week’s blog, “It’s Time We Take on Corporate America,”[1] I called for a massive boycott against the corporations and business associations lobbying to derail President Biden’s tax reform and spending package, Build Back Better (BBB).

The $3.5 trillion program these corporations oppose includes many provisions[2] that are very popular[3] with Americans:

  • lowering the cost of childcare and providing two years of universal pre-K for 3 and 4-year-olds
  • expanding Medicare to include coverage of dental, hearing and vision services
  • extending the child tax credit through 2025
  • cutting prescription drug prices
  • providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave
  • combating climate change
  • raising taxes on corporations and the very wealth

My blog stressed that corporate America is at the root of our country’s problem, Big Money’s control of government policy. A few years ago, I even wrote a book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America,[4] focused on this very issue.

Last week I pointed out how moderate Democrats like Sen. Manchin and Sinema are unwilling to support the $3.5 trillion BBB plan, in large part, because their very big contributors, for example, the pharmaceutical industry and the national realtors’ association, oppose it. While progressives and the Democratic leadership have strongly urged these moderates to unite with the rest of the party and pass the Biden agenda, they have stood firm in their opposition.

Unfortunately, the only ones who have the muscle to convince these Democrats to change their position on the BBB program are their major corporate donors. (A recent report, Behind the Curtain,[5] exposed the connections between Congress and their corporate sponsors.) And the only ones who have the power to stop the corporate lobbying against the BBB agenda and voting rights are American consumers. By refusing to patronize these companies, we can conduct a nationwide boycott forcing them to change the lobbying practices that protect their bottom line while jeopardizing our democracy.

But there’s yet another critical reason to boycott these companies. Following the January 6th insurrection, many corporate PACs suspended their political donations and promised to re-evaluate them in light of the attack on the Capitol and our democracy. However, just six months later these PACs (including American Airlines, GM and UPS) were back providing funding to members of Congress who opposed certification of the electoral college results and hindered the peaceful transition of power.[6] In effect, some of America’s largest corporations have given a “pass” to supporters of the insurrection as long as they continue to provide legislation beneficial to their companies.

Ultimately, an effective boycott must make it in a corporation’s interest to support what is in the public interest. That is, American consumers must make it perfectly clear that we will only use our purchasing power to patronize companies that promote our country’s core values and the common good.

For too long corporate America has been calling the shots in Congress as well as in state legislatures. If we want to hold onto our democracy and build a better future for all Americans, we must take control of government policies away from corporate America.

While there are valid objections to a nationwide boycott, here is how to address them:

  1. I’m in, but we’ll never get enough people to participate for it to be effective.

Well, if we don’t try, we’ll never know. The boycott will certainly need some well-known national sponsors like the AFL-CIO and other unions, Black Lives Matter, Common Cause, the Democracy Initiative, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Indivisible, the League of Women Voters, MoveOn and many others. With the right message and numerous large organizations behind it, millions of people could join a national boycott.

2. I really depend on Amazon, FedEx, etc. I need them and can’t give them up.

Practically all goods and services that these corporations provide can be obtained from other sources. While it may take some effort on our part, the stakes are too high to fail to act. The future of our democracy is at risk. If we want to save our country from authoritarian rule, we must be willing to sacrifice.

3. What about the workers who will lose their jobs when their companies are boycotted and can’t keep employing them?

As the boycott builds, a fund to supplement unemployment benefits for those laid off workers must be created by the participating organizations and individuals. They cannot become casualties of a national boycott.

I urge you to spread the idea of a national boycott to your friends and colleagues. If you are a member or contributor to a national organization, please send this blog to them and implore them to get involved. Together we can take back our government and save our democracy.

Who is Bruce?

 A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

Subscribe to his blog at https://breakingbigmoneysgrip.com/my-blog-3/. Join the movement to revive our democracy. Together we can save the soul of America.

I am interested in your reactions to Bruce’s idea and especially interested in identifying anyone out there with close ties to the kind of people needed to advance this kind of effort. Frankly, I’m out of ideas. Sending $25 or $50 a month to an endangered Dem Senate candidate seems inadequate, but without national leadership advancing this kind of boycott, I fear this kind of action would never garner the level of support needed to achieve the desired impact. Your reaction?

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne

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7 replies

  1. I don’t see Manchin or Sinema responding to external pressure. See, for example, https://electoral-vote.com/evp2021/Senate/Maps/Oct25.html#item-1. Further down in the same post is this piece, which has some interesting if disturbing data about independents vs dems — https://electoral-vote.com/evp2021/Senate/Maps/Oct25.html#item-3. To deal with my frustration, I guess I’ll work hard on GotV issues, especially southern NM and AZ.

  2. I suspect that the momentum needed would have t come from an alliance of a variety of of established lobbying groups. The difficulty is in having them see that we are all in this together, rather than competing for primary attention. Perhaps groups like “Search for Common Ground” could be enrolled? I will reach out to them with this issue of Retake & hope it captures someone’s interest.

  3. great idea! Is the NM Democratic Party in on this? Do they urge their members to join the boycott?

  4. First, we must all boycott any corporations or institutions that are anti-democracy. They stay in business to make big money. Second, I too believe with Roxanne and Paul, that we need national leadership. Today, I got an email from the People’s Party who have taken on sociocracy – a very collaborate, collective wisdom process – who are on in a webinar at 10 am MTN time tomorrow. It might be great for NM – maybe even Retake Our Democracy. https://www.sociocracyforall.org/event/a-sociocratic-peoples-party-in-washington/

  5. This reminds me of the grape boycotts of the 60s which did work sort of. I also believe we need to do everything we can think of so I will forward and urge. Everyone I know is addicted to Amazon, especially since the pandemic–I think it would make a difference if only 5-10% of profits dropped. Also shopping Whole Foods as it’s Amazon. Ostensibly one could protest in front of Whole Foods or across the street in the park, again like we took to the Safeway parking lots during the grape boycott. Lastly, it is something almost everyone can do immediately which is worth something when one feels powerless .
    BTW it’s ‘ado’ not ‘adieu’ as in ‘fuss’ not ‘goodbye’ i.e. “Much Ado About Nothing”

  6. One of the things I project about an effective boycott movement is launching a national balkanization of businesses into red ones and blue ones. Chick-fil-A comes to mind. The controversy over the CEO’s personal disapproval of gay marriage launched a “kiss-in” followed by a leftist boycott followed by a right-wing “Christian” embrace of the franchise. To this day, when I see a Chick-fil-A, I don’t see a fast food chicken joint, I see a red business that I will not support. ATT (I was surprised not to see it on your or Bruce’s list) is very much the same way. I see ATT as red; Once I realized who and what they were supporting, we switched to Credo, a “blue” carrier.) I’m also familiar with a small town in Vermont that has two coffee shops, one red, one blue, that happened after Trump became President. I’m not sure this would ultimately be either effective or desirable.

    There is also this. We have to work a lot harder to turn out Democratic voters than the Republicans do to turn out their base. I’m guessing we’d have a very difficult time persuading anyone who’s not as politically committed as the folks in Retake or Indivisible to give up their entertainments and conveniences. I know someone who for years has been saying about her Wells Fargo account, “I know, I know, but they’re always so nice and helpful when I need help.” (I feel that way about Apple, and I’m aware of the reasons not all that long ago we were asked to consider boycotting Apple over their labor practices in China. That didn’t do so well.)

    So either there’s not enough of us really willing to make it work, or, if we’re successful, we’re just going to divide business into offsetting sponsors of red and blue initiatives and values.

  7. Then there’s those of us low-income folks who almost never buy from Amazon or any of the other big corporations mentioned. (Ooops, I did get the Pfizer Covid shot.)

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