I keep reading about forms of activism that involve going into a store and making a mess–from “occupying” Abercrombie & Fitch to spelling out pro-choice messages with craft supplies in Hobby Lobby to reorganizing clothes to put larger sizes at the front of the racks.
I can understand the subversive intent behind these actions–for example, as someone who’s always had to dig out my size from the back of racks and the bottom of stacks, the thought of putting larger sizes front and center appeals to me immensely. I love the idea of being able to walk into a store and see my size at the front, if only briefly.
But I think that when we engage in activism, we need to ask: who is harmed by our actions? Are we actually targeting those in power, or those at the bottom–like the poorly-paid, erratically-scheduled, benefits-denied, mostly female retail workforce? Are we punching up or punching down?
Time and time again, women with retail experience have come into these threads and pointed out that such actions are not only ineffective, but also harm women who are already vulnerable. They’ve told stories about times when they were blamed for their customers’ mess–yelled at, forced to work unpaid overtime to clean up.
Time and time again, they’ve made it clear that such activism not only never reaches the people with the power to make changes, but also directly harms those at the bottom of the ladder. Time and time again, the “activists” ignore them and continue insisting that their actions are subversive.
I’m not here for that kind of “activism.” I’m not here for activism that doesn’t ask, “Who am I helping? Who could I be harming?” I’m not here for activism that conflates poorly-paid salespeople with the multinational corporations they work for. I’m not here for activism that repeatedly ignores the voices of poor and working-class women and women of color.
I’m here for thoughtful activism, activism that does its best to punch up rather than down.