Ron Radosh

Why the Left's Attempt to Boycott L.L. Bean Is Both Foolish and Unnecessary

As reported here last week, L.L. Bean has been targeted by the anti-Trump campaign called “Grab Your Wallet” (GYW) because a granddaughter of the L.L. Bean founder, one of ten members of the firm’s board of directors, had given $60,000 to a Trump PAC during the campaign.  Ignoring the fact that she was not speaking for the firm but only for herself, GYW has undertaken a nationwide campaign to boycott not only L.L. Bean, but other companies, businesses, department stores, and even magazines that financially or otherwise support Donald Trump or sell his products, especially those of his daughter Ivanka.

GYW asks that people write or say the following to L.L. Bean management, as well as to any vendor that does any business with the company:

Sample of what to say/write: “Hi. I’m a customer / fan of your brand. Unfortunately I’ll no longer be able to shop there because you do business with the Trump family. If you were to no longer do so I would consider returning as a customer. Please communicate my feedback to store management.” (Optional: “I have shopped at your store/brand for X years. I will be shopping at (name your local store or closest shopping competitor) until these products are no longer available for sale.” Here’s what I said to a rep who said “Well, we don’t carry Donald’s products”: Because Ivanka campaigned passionately for Donald, has an official role on his presidential transition team, has been meeting regularly with heads of state, may benefit financially from her father’s trade/tax/climate policies, and may be taking on some the duties of the First Lady, I feel her brand has been permanently politicized.

The boycott list includes stores or companies most of us do business with, including Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Walmart. Clearly, the group knows that a boycott of all of these companies will not happen.

Sometimes boycotts work, as with the civil rights movement’s boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., buses after Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit in the back of a bus led to her arrest.  It turned out to be a turning point in the fortunes of the civil rights movement, eventually leading to the beginning of segregation’s end in the South. Other times, as with the boycott proposed by Hollywood leftists and liberals of the most popular L.A. hotels owned by the sultan of Brunei, few pay attention.

In the L.L. Bean case, it apparently makes no difference to the organizers that Shawn Gorman, the company’s executive chairman, explained that there are over fifty Bean family members who have stock in the company, and no one owner or shareholder has the right to speak for the company itself.  Gorman explained that the firm does not endorse political candidates or make political contributions. Indeed, they “stay out of politics.”

Let us look for a moment at the lack of logic of those who call for a boycott.Americans over 50 may recall when, in the late 1940s and 1950s, far-right conservatives tried to initiate a boycott of performers who they believed had Communist affiliations. The Hollywood blacklist was born when the studio heads, after HUAC hearings on Communism in Hollywood, instituted a policy of not hiring people who refused to tell the committee whether they were Communists.

Later, a privately owned publication– Red Channels — listed the names of actors, writers and directors who they claimed had Red affiliations. Those who were not cleared by the publication lost jobs in radio and television.

Some supermarkets began taking items off shelves when a supermarket owner organized a nationwide boycott of items that were advertised on programs featuring artists listed in Red Channels. The advertisers caved quickly, and demanded those named be fired by the networks since they feared their products would fail in the consumer market.

The left in America, as well as the mainstream liberal community, fiercely fought the blacklist, arguing that one’s political beliefs should not be the basis for employment. The blacklist in radio and TV ended after blacklisted radio artist John Henry Faulk sued and won millions of dollars in a 1961 lawsuit against CBS, which had fired him after his name appeared on the list. The Hollywood blacklist ended when screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was acknowledged by the industry to have been the writer of the film Spartacus. 

Then came the ’60s, when the left suddenly saw the benefit of boycotts. When Cesar Chavez tried in 1965 to organize Filipino and Mexican farm workers into a union, the left began a boycott of grapes, which largely came from the California fields where these farm laborers worked. They also singled out a popular wine of the day that was regularly advertised on TV, Gallo wine, which they urged supporters to boycott.

Boycotts, one might say, are as American as apple pie — and both the left and right have used them.

And this brings us back to the current attempt to boycott L.L. Bean. It turns out that in 2012, the company’s corporate chief contributed $70,000 to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. That executive, as Evan Hughes reports in The New Yorker, was the late president of L.L. Bean, Leon Gorman. I don’t seem to recall conservatives suggesting a boycott of the Bean company then.

Hughes also noted that the current president of L.L. Bean, Leon Gorman’s nephew Shawn, although he has contributed money to other Republicans, also “chairs a foundation dedicated to helping disadvantaged Mainers, and that L. L. Bean has been a leader in environmental conservation.” So perhaps the same leftists now urging a boycott should consider buying L.L. Bean clothing and boots in support of Gorman’s efforts on behalf of the poor and in support of the environment.

What it comes down to is the issue of free speech. Linda Bean, the family’s Trump supporter, who lives in Maine, did not persuade the state’s voters to cast their electoral college vote for Donald Trump. As an individual, she has a right to support and to contribute to anyone she favors. As it turns out, Linda Bean was more in tune with the white working-class voters who were once the heart of the Democratic Party coalition. They, as we know, largely voted for Donald J. Trump, hoping that perhaps he would do something to restore the life their families once led.

Perhaps rather than boycott the firm, the left and the Democrats might think over why they so easily abandoned the white working class and handed them over to the Republicans.

A boycott in this case is a symbolic act of desperation by the left, which will likely have no effect at all on L.L. Bean’s sales, or on those other companies on the GYW list. Indeed, it may even lead to angry voters going out of their way to buy their products.