History of Boycotts

All Things Considered reported Tuesday that Ford pulled ads for some of its cars from gay magazines at the same time a conservative Christian group called off its threatened boycott of Ford. The show takes a brief look at recent boycotts — from political to commercial — and what makes them successful or not.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Yesterday on this program, we reported that Ford pulled ads for some of its car brands from gay magazines at about the same time that a conservative Christian organization called off its threatened boycott of Ford.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Randy Sharp is the director of special projects for the American Family Association, which is no longer going to boycott Ford. He says the association is already on to its next project.

Mr. RANDY SHARP (Director of Special Projects, American Family Association): The hot issue in America today is major retailer decisions not to use the term `Christmas' in their in-store promotions and their retail advertising. We've been able to generate hundreds of thousands of e-mails and phone calls to major retailers, and in return those retailers have listened and they have placed the word `Christmas' back into their advertising, both in the store and in print and media.

NORRIS: The AFA says it's officially boycotting Target stores until Target agrees to use the word `Christmas' in their in-store promotions and advertising.

BLOCK: Well, that made us wonder what other boycotts are going on.

NORRIS: There are the political boycotts.

BLOCK: Right now Saddam Hussein is boycotting his own trial in Baghdad, and Venezuela's opposition party led a boycott of elections over this past weekend.

NORRIS: And there are the boycotts protesting business practices.

BLOCK: The AFL-CIO is sponsoring a boycott of a touring company of "Miss Saigon" because the actors are not members of Actors' Equity.

NORRIS: And PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has been sponsoring a boycott of KFC--that's Kentucky Fried Chicken--for the past three years. PETA is protesting what it calls the mistreatment of chickens by KFC and its suppliers.

BLOCK: There are also calls for boycotts of Microsoft and Wikipedia...

NORRIS: ...Canada and Israel...

BLOCK: ...and the Blue Man Group.

NORRIS: One boycott is not a boycott at all. According to its organizers, they prefer to call it a `girlcott.'

EMMA BLACKMAN-MATHIS: We were, like, `Hey, enough is enough.'

BLOCK: Emma Blackman-Mathis, 16 years old, doesn't like a shirt that's sold by Abercrombie & Fitch.

BLACKMAN-MATHIS: The T-shirt we had the biggest problem with was a T-shirt that said, `Who needs brains when you have these?' and printed across the chest.

NORRIS: Blackman and some of her friends got so much attention for their girlcott of Abercrombie that the company met with them earlier this week.

BLACKMAN-MATHIS: I think they were kind of expecting us to be, you know, just a group of little girls, like, complaining about something. But we were really together, and our presentation was really smooth. We were all in business attire--you know, suits and nice shirts and nice pants. We looked very, very professional.

BLOCK: Boycotts are often not successful, says Alan Wolfe, who teaches political science at Boston College.

Dr. ALAN WOLFE (Boston College): Boycotts are primarily symbolic. I mean, they're meant to have an economic impact, but they often don't. They're really meant as a kind of statement.

NORRIS: But don't forget boycotts can be extremely persuasive. We've just marked the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott, the beginning of the non-violent protest movement in the civil rights struggle.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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