Not since the Civil Rights movement has this country witnessed so much ongoing protest. Earlier this week, students at Berkeley set fire to their campus in response to a scheduled speaking engagement from Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. In new York, yellow cab drivers halted pickups at JFK following Trump’s executive order excluding immigrants and refugees from seven countries in the Middle East. Two days ago, around 1,000 Middle Eastern bodega owners went on strike in protest of the same order.
For those who haven’t been able to put their boots on the ground, technology is offering it’s own brand of protest. Last weekend, 200,000 people deleted Uber after the company stepped in to pick people up at the airport. In response to the viral #deleteuber campaign, the company released a statement yesterday stating that Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick would step down from his post on the president’s economic council.
In another social media movement, the #GrabYourWallet campaign is asking consumers to boycott products and companies that have endorsed Trump, including his daughter’s branded clothing line. Some retailers have listened. Today, Nordstrom announced that it will stop selling her clothing and shoes. Neiman Marcus followed suit and has dropped her jewelry line.
All of these protests have one thing in common: they’re actually disrupting American businesses.
Consider Milo Yiannopoulos’s six-figure book deal with Simon & Schuster. The backlash against it has been gutting. Some literary websites have refused to review new S&S titles and prominent feminist writer Roxanne Gay pulled her forthcoming book from the publisher in response to the deal. No doubt the ongoing protests against his planned speaking engagements will influence his book sales—probably even vaulting them as his name continues to appear in the press—but even if he doesn’t suffer, his publisher likely will if their other releases fail to garner reviews and press.
In the case of Uber and Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, the message is clear: protests do work. In the middle of the backlash against Uber, Lyft announced it will donate $1 million to the ACLU. While waving clever signs and marching in the streets may show strength in numbers and emphasize solidarity, we have to protest with our wallets too.
For Trump, getting rich has always been his bottom line—even at the expense of those who build his hotels and sell his ties. If he and his cronies care about money so much, we need to grab their attention by decreasing their cash flow. Surely, that will be the type of rioting a businessman like Trump would respond to.
Political protests that hurt businesses work so well because they affect people in their daily lives. If you can’t get a ride home from the airport after a long flight, you might start to listen to the people who usually provide that service. If you stop at the bodega on your way to work and there’s no one there to sell you a cup of coffee, you might, for once, consider how the White House has affected that bodega owner’s livelihood.
So far, only the Berkeley protest has become violent, and the right has certainly leveraged that situation to insinuate that demonstrations are un-American. But the fact is that businesses indulging in this administration should fear the consumer. We have the power to tank profits, mock brands and destroy public images. In 2017, perhaps the most effective protests will be those that force businesses to make their politics their priority.