The180

Boycotts of Mississippi and North Carolina are 'fundamentally undemocratic,' says scholar

Many Canadians have been applauding companies, and musicians, for their boycotts of states like Mississippi and North Carolina, because they have legislation that infringes on LGBT rights. Molly Sauter is against the legislation — but she's against the boycotts too.
Molly Sauter is a PhD candidate at McGill, and the author of "The Coming Swarm: DDoS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet." (Provided by Molly Sauter)
Listen6:27

Molly Sauter, PhD candidate in communications studies at McGill University, thinks anti-LGBT laws are horrible. 

But she also thinks it's horrible when corporations boycott states that impose anti-LGBT laws. 

While many Canadians are applauding boycotts by companies like Apple, and artists like Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams, Sauter says it sets a dangerous precedent. She wants everyone to remember that corporations aren't people, they don't get a vote, and therefore should not be applauded for attempting to change the law — even if it's a law you want changed. She explained her arguments to The 180's Jim Brown. 

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

What's wrong with corporate boycotts, like the ones we're seeing in North Carolina right now? 

The problem with corporate boycotts of states that have bigoted or unjust laws, is that they're fundamentally undemocratic. When you have a corporation that has a great deal of economic power, and it uses that power to intervene directly in the legislative process, it is stepping outside the bounds of what we believe democracy is, which is: that in a democratic society, the basic unit of power is the citizen, and the citizen's vote.

But if corporations, which don't have votes, which at least in many interpretations of democracy shouldn't have speech rights, when those entities are able to exert power over a democratically elected legislature in order to change laws, then that means we've now stepped outside the democratic process and are instead dealing with a much more fundamentally oligarchical and neo-liberal system. 

Bryan Adams, seen at the April 3 Juno Awards show in Calgary, is just one of the musicians who cancelled shows in the U.S. south to protest anti-LGBT legislation. (Mike Ridewood/Reuters)

Now, Bruce Springsteen is a citizen with a vote, and he's also one of the big musicians who cancelled a concert in protest of these new laws. What's your take on that?  

As private citizens, they can hold whatever political rules they want, they can certainly say whatever they want, they can certainly go out in public and state their displeasure at these laws, which are, in fact, horrible. But at the point where they're cancelling concerts, these large-scale stadium concerts, and using their power as essentially very powerful economic oligarchs and corporations, to remove money and jobs from the state, that's where I start to have a problem. 

The show that Bruce Springsteen cancelled in Greensboro, North Carolina, cost that venue over $100,000 in refunding tickets, in people who weren't able to work that night. It cost the city of Greensboro all of the business that would have come with people coming in to see the concert, in terms of restaurants, hotel sales, and travel. 

So these decisions are fundamentally economic decisions. They're decisions based in the market. And because they're based in the market, and because they're economic, they are fundamentally outside the democratic process. 

While I am personally a very big fan of Bruce Springsteen, and I'm happy that he feels that the North Carolina bathroom bill is a violation of human rights, he could just have easily not thought that. His political opinions could have been opposite to that.

And so, while on a personal political level I feel that objections to these laws are fair and accurate, and that these laws are a violation of human rights, it's not the job or the position of powerful economic forces to use their economic power, which is fundamentally beyond that of the citizen or the individual, in order to affect changes in the legislature outside of a democratic process. 

Now, especially since the Occupy protests, we've heard a lot of concern about the power of corporations, and I imagine that a lot of those people, who were concerned the most, are among those cheering the most this week, as all of those big companies actually fight for positive social change, change that they can agree with. What would you say to those people? 

It's very easy to agree with people who are on your side, and it's very easy to fall into a mindset of "well in this case, the ends justify the means," but I disagree with many of these corporations in terms of environmental policy, or trade policy, or surveillance policy, or other areas where they've exerted lobbying power and suasion over the federal law making process. And just because they're on the right side of history today, doesn't mean they'll be on the right side of history tomorrow.   

Click the blue 'play' button to hear Molly Sauter's conversation with Jim Brown. 

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