I stood in line behind a lesbian couple. The shorter girl, with a pixie cut, debated the finer points of President Obama’s most recent tax proposal. When my turn came, the 20-something cashier with two lip piercings and dreadlocks smiled, made small talk and rang up my purchases: a striped tank top, Banksy’s Wall and Piece and People of WalMart.
At the time, I had no idea spending last week’s babysitting money at Urban Outfitters would be funding a conservative homophobe: Senator Rick Santorum.
Donating to a Christian-affiliated social conservative cause was something I expected a company more like Chick-fil-A to be doing. The restaurant chain, known for promoting its founder’s Christian values, has donated $3 million to anti-gay groups, including Focus on the Family, which believes that the goal of same-sex marriage is to actively destroy the institution of marriage as biblically defined. I can’t say I was shocked that a Christian company from the South whose business purpose starts with “To glorify God” funded Christian-affiliated lobbyists. However, the idea that my open lunch at the local chicken mecca helped fund a religious political group that actively suppressed human civil rights was appalling.
I was dissatisfied to find that Cinemark had donated nearly $10,000 to Yes on Prop. 8, funding the 2008 proposition that reinstated anti-equality laws in California. The cheapest — and therefore best — movie spot in town helped strip homosexual men and women of their hard-fought rights. “Harry Potter,” “Super 8,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Muppets,” “Avatar” — all of my previous movie-going experiences felt tainted with the knowledge of what my movie ticket price had helped to fund.
I was disappointed and disturbed to discover corporation after corporation donated its profits to political policy that I, as the customer, hate.
But I wasn’t truly disgusted until I discovered the $4,650 donation in Urban Outfitters’s name and the additional $13,150 from Richard Hayne, Urban Outfitter’s president, to Republican Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign.
Yes, that $34 men’s gray knit shawl pullover partially funds the Republican candidate who infamously declared that legalizing same-sex marriage would have the same effect on the institution of marriage as pedophilia, bestiality or polygamy.
Let me reiterate. Senator Rick Santorum — the candidate who opposes homosexuality because he believes sexual orientation is the government’s business. In a 2003 interview, Santorum stated that the constitutional right to privacy does not, in his opinion, apply to mutually consenting adults in the bedroom.
Urban Outfitters, I am disappointed. Your trendy, liberal, post-modern, post-style style seduced me unjustly. You sell slouchy caps and sundresses, not power ties, collared shirts and sweater-vests.
At least Chick-fil-A and Cinemark don’t specifically target the counter-culture liberals they persecute. Cinemark may play movies like Milk or Black Swan and Chick-fil-A may sell vanilla milkshakes without discretion, but they don’t sell shirts with a Democrat’s face printed across the front. Proceeds Urban Outfitters garnered from “Obama for yo momma” t-shirts, unlike the Livestrong or “I Heart Boobies” wristband campaigns, certainly do not benefit the moderate Democratic political campaign it advertises.
Big business is out to make profit off of whatever political trend is selling. In spite of its retro-thrift store image, Urban Outfitters is just another company run by a 60-something-year-old billionaire. Counter-culture avant-garde is exploited by a man in a suit and tie. Because counter-culture is in. Counter-culture is cool. And what’s cool is profitable.
Excuse me if I naively believed a corporation would value the ideals it sells.
Politics aside, using company funds to donate to any cause — conservative or liberal — without customer consent or knowledge is dirty. We live in a capitalist free market: the government doesn’t regulate commercial interest. Customers remain wildly under-informed as to what causes companies and corporate higher-ups donate to.
In 2010, 180 companies with the nation’s largest revenues donated $4.9 billion to nonprofit organizations. WalMart alone donated $319 million of this sum, or 1.45 percent of its previous year’s profit; Kroger, an Ohio-based supermarket chain, donated $64 million — 10.9 percent of its profit from the previous year.
That is a lot of money. However, the fact that part of a company’s profits could benefit a nonprofit organization doesn’t mean that my business helps to fund a charity or cause I support: Focus on the Family is as much a nonprofit organization as community outreach or humanitarian programs like Doctors Without Borders.
Part of the $2.69 I could pay for a a box of Honey Nut Cheerios on sale at Krogers could have benefited 2011 flood and storm victims throughout the Southeast; part of the $3.19 for the same cereal at WalMart could help benefit 2011 Special Olympic health screenings in South Dakota. But should I really be supporting WalMart when one of its CEOs signed a 2008 Arkansas petition moving to ban same-sex couples from adopting children?
But I mean, come on. The WalMart in Mission is about 170 miles more convenient than the nearest Krogers in eastern Missouri.
Urban Outfitters certainly isn’t the only “cool” clothing store in the world — the last overpriced t-shirt I bought from there fell apart within a week anyway. Boycotting corporations with unworthy political affiliations is, theoretically, feasible. If Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, I can resist a pair of leather boots.
But let’s be honest — do people actually boycott what they like for morals’ sake?
For years, we’ve known that most of the products we buy in the good ole USA are manufactured in lesser developed countries, where cheap, unskilled labor lowers production costs. Urban Outfitters has long been open about this — tags lining shirts, pants and accessories read “Made in Turkey,” “Made in Sri Lanka,” and “Made in India.” While Hayne states that Urban Outfitters does not contract with overtly inhumane sewing shops, working conditions would be heavily protested in the US.
I support civil rights for homosexual couples. I also support improving living conditions in third world countries by raising working wages. Yet I have never refused to buy a product just because it was manufactured in a third world country. I was one of hundreds of Lancers to sponsor Chick-fil-A in January in our annual quest to beat Rockhurst in consumption if not athletics, partially funding a $1,410 donation to the American Cancer Society or an unknown donation to Focus on the Family. Four dollars at Cinemark still sounds like the most appealing ticket to see the next blockbuster, overlooking the corporation’s stance on Prop. 8. And Urban Outfitters will continue to tempt me with hipster clothing sewn by an underpaid Indian woman.
Why are we still buying products that are partially funding immoral causes? In light of the Rick Santorum campaign donation scandal, I like to think I won’t be visiting Urban Outfitters the next time I go shopping, but my political beliefs haven’t stopped me yet.
Companies should be transparent about their politics. We purchase lunch, a movie ticket or a new top and our crumpled dollar bills fund unknown agendas. We’re voting with our wallets — but we don’t even know where our money’s going.