There is a lot going on in the United States right now.
Things that have a lot of your team members, customers, vendors, partners, and other stakeholders very concerned, anxious, or frightened.
Yet, somehow, with everything going on in the world, there’s a pervasive idea that businesses are supposed to be apolitical entities that stay out of current events and remain neutral by just “sticking to business.”
Today, I want to interrogate this idea, discuss the ethics of neutrality, and encourage you instead, from this point forward, to take a stand in service of making good trouble.
Throughout the history of the United States and even further back, business interests have shaped society. It happened during some of our darkest hours, and it has occasionally been a driving force for progress.
In either case, the idea that businesses remain neutral is not only an ahistorical idea that is completely misaligned with what happens in reality, it’s also conceptually and philosophically flawed. This is because in matters of consequence, neutrality is not an option on the table. In nearly any dispute, failing to take a position places you squarely on the side of the aggressor/oppressor.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”Elie Wies
Whether we’re talking about child labor laws, the minimum wage, consumer protections or nearly anything else that governs how businesses are allowed to conduct operations, there have been lobbying efforts by businesses to favor businesses and push-back by labor unions to favor people.
Businesses are always taking a position. It’s no different today.
So, the next question is, what position will you take?
In large part because early settlers of the “United” States couldn’t “agree” on whether or not to allow the enslavement of other humans, among other things, our Constitution gives individual States the ability to set their own laws. Right now, that decision has led to an explosion of fascist, racist, and patriarchal laws being passed in State houses all across the country.
Keeping in mind what I said earlier, that whether or not you take a position on these issues, you are taking a side.
So, where do you fall on any of the following?
a. 461 anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced (many anti-trans)
31 have already passed, 77 have been defeated, and 349 are advancing.
Transgender PEOPLE are now at risk, simply for existing in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, West Virginia, Utah, and Arizona. More states are on the way.
Putting aside the sociological FACT that gender is a social construct with norms that change over time, and putting aside the biological FACT that sex is not exclusively binary, and finally putting aside the FACT there is a difference between biological sex and gender presentation, the majority of Americans support PROTECTION for trans people, not discrimination. This is despite the widespread ignorance about the facts of gender and biology.
The scientific, medical and mental health communities are all in nearly complete alignment about the validity, value, and effectiveness of gender affirming care.
What does it have to do with you? You may have trans employees, you may have employees with trans children, you may have customers, or partners who are trans. Or maybe you just realize that it’s wrong to discriminate against people who are simply expressing their identity.
But, wherever you stand on trans people, this next bit should concern you…
b. Florida is paving the way for state murder of trans people
In addition to quietly passing a 6 week abortion ban — before many know they are pregnant, and creating its own secret paramilitary police force (Gestapo), Florida is continuing its forward fascist march backward by passing laws that create a fast track to killing Trans people…for simply existing.
It’s not hyperbole. It’s law.
You don’t need to be “woke” to wake up right now.
c. But, trans people aren’t the only ones under attack…
- It’s the entire LGBTQ+ community (see the potential for same-sex marriage to be made illegal if the ideologically Far Right Supreme Court overturns Obergefell v. Hodges, or the banning of books that mention anything outside of heterosexuality across the country, or the escalating violent rhetoric.
- It’s also black and brown folx everywhere (see Mississippi recently re-enacting Jim Crow laws, Tennessee Rep Paul Sherrell remarking about bringing back lynching, Tennessee expelling two duly elected Democratic and Black members of House of Representatives, or Florida removing all African-American AP classes citing a lack of “educational value”)
- Women all across the country are having their right to bodily autonomy stripped but South Carolina has gone even further where 24 GOP members of Congress co-sponsored a bill that would allow for the death penalty for women who’ve gotten an abortion. #ProLife?
I could easily go on and on as fascist, racist, misogynistic and discriminatory laws are being passed in state after state by a largely white, male, Christian, Republican demographic that represent a minority of voters, despite a majority of congressional seats, due to hyperpartisan gerrymandering.
But, just for kicks, I’ll give you just one more…
d. The Consequences of a Felony
What do we make of the rise of private prisons and the increase in laws targeted at people who don’t share in a vision for the future that is exclusively built for the success of those who are white, male, and Christian? It turns out that there are at least two things we can look at for clues.
1. There is a loophole in the 13th amendment to the Constitution:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.The 13th Amendment, United States Constitution
Oh, and nevermind the fact that BlackRock and Vanguard are the biggest investors in private prisons.
2. Arrest and conviction of a felony can also lead to disenfranchisement over voting rights.
This means that the greater number of felons, the fewer voters and the larger pool of potential slave labor.
Curious how Black neighborhoods are consistently over-Policed, and prison sentences for Black and Brown people are longer than those of White people for similar crimes, including drug crimes. Interesting how many more Black and Brown people are in prison for simple drug offenses when data shows that White and Black people use and sell drugs in virtually identical numbers.
Interesting how, in some states, doctors who perform gender affirming care or abortions face felony charges and how being trans (i.e being yourself as a trans person) or performing in drag in public can now be charged as a felony in states like Tennessee. And in Georgia, the new heartbeat bill opens the door for felony murder prosecutions for women who seek abortions (or even have a miscarriage).
Our inaction on any of this threatens to subvert the existence of a functioning Democracy and sends us careening back into the days even before segregation.
Nearly everything that is happening right now, is happening against the will of the majority of the population, according to nearly every poll.
It’s no longer hyperbolic or Godwin’s law to compare what’s happening now to Germany under the reign of the Third Reich.
What happened then, is happening now. Too many people and businesses kept their mouths shut.
So, where do we go from here?
- You could remain neutral, but that only helps those who would advance the aforementioned types of laws.
- You could support the aforementioned laws, but I don’t think you’d still be reading.
For everyone else, here are some questions to ask yourself…
- Are you pulling support from candidates and parties that advance these fascist measures? Are you supporting opposition candidates?
- Are you putting your marketing dollars into taking a stand? If you think your state is safe, are you making sure by being vocal before this type of legislation is inevitably introduced in your state?
- Are you talking to your team to ensure they feel safe? Do they know how far you’re willing to go to protect them?
- Are you auditing every part of your business, including vendors, team members, leadership team, and association memberships? Are you sure that you are aligned up and down the organization?
- Are you organizing with other businesses to lobby for equity or will you keep your efforts focused on pushing for lower taxes?
- Are you supporting grassroots organizations with funds or volunteer hours?
- If you’re large enough, are you using your leverage to threaten moving operations from the state?
Remember that none of these laws actually help you, or the people that work for you. None of it is improving the material conditions for people or companies. It’s a culture war, and you’re already a part of it as it unfolds around you.
Maybe you’re not trans, gay, black, brown, or a woman. Great, because I’m definitely talking to YOU! The way this always works is the same:
- pin a problem on a group
- once that group is eradicated, find another group to place the blame on
Yesterday was immigrants. Today, it is trans. Tomorrow, it could be you.
How soon until people “like you” aren’t allowed to run the business you’re running, or until some other group of people at your company are deported, charged with felonies, or otherwise criminalized or othered?
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.Martin Niemöller
You’ve probably seen this quote before but in case you hadn’t, let it spur you to action. Let it rouse you from the trap of neutrality.
No mistake, people will die from these decisions and laws. Some by suicide, some through a botched procedure, and some at the hands of the state. Many more will be incarcerated, and among them many disenfranchised.
The future of our country is at stake, and as a business you have more influence than the average individual voter as this country has always given primacy to corporations above individuals.
What you do as a business matters. Where are you spend your money and, more importantly, where you choose not to, can change the shape of this country. Economic impact is more powerful than the voices of millions of individuals. Use this power to pick the better path instead of the cowardly one of faux neutrality.
Make Good Trouble
Whether you’re an individual in the business or the one who calls the shots, it’s time to start making some good trouble.
It’s time to start slowing the wheels of oppression, lest we be another blemish in history for future generations to look back and wonder why we didn’t do more.