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Boycotts won't weaken the NRA's bottom line – but that's not the point

... Although the NRA has called such actions "a shameful display of political and civic cowardice," the boycotters in the United States are engaged in a long, proud and deeply American political tradition.

Far from cowardice, the protesters are using the power of the purse to challenge the outsized and previously unquestioned political power of an extremist group, which has played a large role in preventing the passage of popular gun-control laws.

Long before the term boycott was coined in 1880, Americans employed the tactic of non-consumption and social ostracism to achieve political goals. The "non-importation movement," in which merchants in the American colonies refused to sell British goods, was a key feature of the runup to the American Revolution. Abolitionists in the so-called "free-produce movement" urged their compatriots to eschew goods made by slave labour. Workers in the 1880s initiated the tactic of the "labour boycott" to punish anti-union employers and those who treated their workers poorly. Boycotting is as American as apple pie.

The abolitionists referred to the power of hitting their enemies in what they called the "pocket nerve." What they meant was that people who might be insensitive to moral suasion would feel directly a more economic approach. "We believe their conscience to be most easily affected through the medium of their pockets," wrote one anti-slavery activist in 1859, justifying their strategy for using economic means to force merchants to stop selling slave-made goods.

But boycotts were never purely economic in nature. Boycotting – from the Boston Tea Party through the United Farm Worker-organized grape boycotts of the late 20th century to our own time – has often been a moral campaign designed to use economic forces to raise political questions. The goal of the Montgomery Bus Boycott was not to financially destroy the municipal bus system of that city but to raise awareness of the moral crime of segregation and to promote social justice. Abolitionists who ran free-produce stores, which were especially popular in Quaker Philadelphia, hoped to use market forces to undermine the slave economy, which was national in scope and which Northern businesses benefited from as much as Southern plantation owners. But even more, they wanted to raise consciousness about the complicity in the crime of slavery of every consumer who purchased goods produced by enslaved workers. At the turn of the 20th century, the National Consumers League, a women's reform organization, sought to raise awareness about the issue of how middle-class shoppers often, perhaps inadvertently, perpetuated the exploitation of underpaid female labour when they sought bargains. The NCL referred to The High Cost of Cheap Goods, as one of the group's pamphlets was titled, meaning that to purchase inexpensive items was often to sanction sweatshops.

Winning and losing is not always easy to measure in the case of a boycott, especially one of a powerful entity such as the NRA.

The ethical point boycotters have tried to raise from that time to our own is that, in an interconnected national and international market economy, there are no innocent bystanders. ...

Read entire article at The Globe and Mail