The commercialization of the resistance
Don't play into the capitalist system by commodifying social justice
To run a good campaign, to start a movement or to mobilize the masses, you need a strong, catchy message. Something that is clear, concise and easily printed on a t-shirt. People respond well to catchy phrases and short quips, a few connected words that make you feel like you’re linked to something bigger.
On the day of the Women’s March, I stepped onto Independence Avenue and was met by a sea of pink. On almost everybody, I saw the word “pussy” scrawled in elegant writing accompanied by some variation of a social justice buzz phrase: “This pussy grabs back,” “my pussy, my choice.”
I felt as though I had stepped into an ad for Planned Parenthood. Now this is not to negate the validity or the importance of rejecting rape culture or the stigma around women’s choice, because these phrases can be unifying and obviously evoke strong emotion from those who choose to use their bodies as the carrier for this message. However, it is important to critically think about the choices one makes as an “ally” and how they negate or uplift the movement.
When Donald Trump uttered the words “nasty woman”, it took all of one day for an entire movement to be created around this phrase. The pop-up Women’s March shop had a line out the door for three weeks. Mitch McConnell’s “nevertheless, she persisted” has already transformed into a new mantra complete with its own paraphernalia and reinforced by a social media presence.
If you buy the mug, wear the t-shirt and slap the sticker on your computer, it shows that you are standing in solidarity. You care; you’re a part of the movement and you know how to stick up for what’s right.
However, when you engage in the commercialization of social justice, you reinforce your complicitness with the structures and institutions that use inequality as a means of thriving. And don’t be mistaken, white people, we are the main offenders.
Where there is capitalism, there are winners and losers. The losers are defined by their economic wealth and success and perceived laziness. “If you don’t have what I have then you just didn’t work as hard as me.”
This is based on the neoliberal ideology, which states that consumers should have freedom from tax and regulation and as a result be pitted against each other as competition. The wealthiest and thus the most powerful are now free to exploit. Welcome to America.
Now I can protest this, reject the systems that institutionalize privilege and even write an article about how things need to change. But if I show up to that protest in a $30 “nasty woman” t-shirt and accompanying buttons, I have just played into the capitalist system that enables poverty and racism. I am defining my democratic right through transactions, while the person standing next to me, the person I am protesting for, cannot afford that t-shirt nor do they relate to the message it is conveying.
My “Love Trumps Hate” shirt is nice and its message holds truth; however, not only did I buy it from a roughly $1.4 billion dollar campaign, but it conveys a very white, moderate approach to pressing political issues. It shows no urgency or commitment to resistance. These words hold no weight when Trump’s campaign absurdities become domestic and international crises.
Instead of showing solidarity through merchandise, this act shows complacency with looking the part instead of understanding the root of the problem. You can wear the t-shirt and leave the protest early but you will not really be contributing to the movement.
If you want to use your money to support social justice causes, buy from black farmers. Buy books written by black and intersectional feminists. Eat at restaurants owned by black people. Know how to resist.
Julia Gagnon is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and is a columnist for The Eagle.