What’s Behind the Whole Foods Buycott?

Can social change actions be deeply radical — meaning going to the root — help create the world we want to see, rather than only tear down what we don’t like and still work? Let’s say you’re organizing a campaign, an action, something calling to you, to address an injustice, to repair an injury, something that needs to be made, well, whole if you will, what do you do, or more importantly, how do you do it? How far do you or your organization go to make that action or campaign transformative, not creating or seeking to destroy an enemy, but rather reaching for a common resolution? Here’s what Rev. angel Kyodo williams and Center for Transformative Change did when it comes to Whole Foods and going beyond the current boycott.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, did it. He took his positional power, wealth, prestige, name, corporate heft and everything else he has, and dropped it into an op-ed, that, even though it made some good points, it was incendiary and aligned him directly with right wing Republicans, and worst of all–from a position that can only be described as incredibly privileged–told the millions of human beings in the US who have no insurance and who daily die from this lack, that they had no inherent right to…live. Well, technically he said no one had a right to healthcare. But if you can’t be cared for when you’re sick, then you can’t very well live. And, in fact Mr. Mackey, people die every day because right now healthcare is not a right.

Why does it matter what John Mackey says? Why bother? As we told Whole Foods in conversations with their representatives, this is bigger than John Mackey, Whole Foods, and a few upset activists. For better or for worse, the healthcare decisions we are trying to make as a country right now have huge implications, for how much government will concede to pharmaceutical companies and corporate power in general; a litmus test on the Obama presidency; and who we are as a people and how we care for the least among us. With the incendiary nature of the discourse increasing, John Mackey’s statement has become a lightning rod for what is at the core of these conversations: shall we treat each other as we would like ourselves to be treated?

This question is not limited to how we handle healthcare, of course. For those who count ourselves as kind, compassionate, and generous of heart that answer is clear: healthcare is a right. But how about how we handle John Mackey? How shall we treat John Mackey and Whole Foods?

If we look at the response to Whole Foods we can see some of the answers to that question among some folks. Anger, vitriol, rejection…suffering. We began to hear how Whole Foods was horrible, anti-union and even evil. All this said about one of the companies that we feel is one of the best in the country. We saw the proverbial baby being thrown far and away, gone, with the bath water.

In our case, we originally called for Whole Foods to remove John Mackey. And when we vetted this idea, it was wholeheartedly supported. And we thought it was well aligned…but not enough. Rev. angel Kyodo williams reached in deeper, to ask herself, how can we do more to have this action reflect the world we want to create? In a move uncharacteristic of many activists, she decided to wait.

Waiting. Pausing. A deep practice in itself. Why wait? So that she could reach out to Whole Foods and offer the opportunity for conversation and resolution. But more than just a meeting, Rev. angel offered to treat Whole Foods, John Mackey and herself actually, as she would like to be treated. Because to treat them differently, would be to harm herself and everyone.

We called Whole Foods and made the offer. We made it clear that we don’t hate Whole Foods and that we prefer to talk and come to a mutual resolution. We reached out. They were suspicious at first, protective, and understandably so. They spoke about the good work that Whole Foods has done. And we agreed. And, we told them, that all that good work will be put aside if they can’t repair the hurt, the injury, that Mr. Mackey inflicted with his well-positioned, incendiary, words that he yelled into the fire that is this healthcare issue.

They’re thinking about it. And we are giving them time. Because, time too, is a gift of friendship and respect and something we all need, from time to time.

And, still, we are looking for a meaningful response from Whole Foods and Mr. Mackey, nothing less. So here’s the answer to the question: “What if they don’t respond? What if they don’t care?” Then we act. How do we act? Do we act timidly because we approached this conflict with love? Does our action have to be ineffective if it’s aligned with our values? No. Our actions are made of fierce truth and love. Fierce.

We will use our bodies, our voices, and take direct action, beyond the boycott. We will call on everyone to go to Whole Foods to Shop, but Don’t Buy. Because this too is an act of love. We won’t be passive. We won’t be nice. We will, with compassion, not allow responsibility to be ignored because that would be acting against love. Because that would not be how we wished to be treated if we were ignoring our responsibilities, if we used our positional power to attack the least among us. We’d want to be called on it. We’d want someone to intervene, to hold the mirror up to our face. That’s love.

And let’s make no bones about it, it’s dangerous. Not in a violent, angry way. But in a much more serious way. Direct actions are the strongest, most powerful actions there are because they cut deep and penetrate complacency, comfort, convenience. They make things stop. So we can all take a moment to really consider, perhaps for some just to see, what’s going on. And let’s be real, would Whole Foods have talked with us without the possibility of a direct action as the backdrop? Like I said, it’s fierce love.

Can our movements for social justice take action based in fierce love? Even when we’re afraid, angry, can we stop and transform our actions? If we can’t, should we act?

To find out more about the Whole Foods Buycott:

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