How To Boycott Chili's Effectively

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

On Saturday, I posted this half-assed bit of Twitter activism:

You can go read the link if you want to find out what the hubbub was about, but basically, like many restaurants, Chili’s has various “days” where it donates some percentage of its profits to charity.  The charity in question was the National Autism Association – who could be against helping Autism?
Well, I could, as it turns out, since they’re apparently notoriously anti-vaccination.  (And if you’re anti-vaccination, then please.  I’d tell you to educate yourself elsewhere, but if you were capable of doing the math on it, you’d have done it by now.  Suffice it to say that your beliefs are doing a lot of harm to a lot of kids – and even if you were completely, 100% correct in your fears [which you are not], you’re basically saying, “I’d rather my kids die than get autism!”  Which, you know, not so wonderful an approach.)
And I’m pretty sure I know how this happened: some overworked schmuck at the Chili’s HQ with a ton of work on their plate saw “National Autism Association,” said, “That sounds nice,” and approved it.  That person had never had an Internet come crashing down on their head before, because usually charities to help sick people don’t come with nefarious controversies attached to them, and hadn’t done the research beyond ascertaining that they were a legitimate organization.
And so, when Chili’s reversed course, I said, “Okay, fair enough, thank you,” and undid my boycott.  (Not that it was much of a boycott anyway, seeing as I haven’t eaten at Chili’s in a decade.  My real boycott with Chili’s involves a lack of enthusiasm about their food.)
Now here’s the thing you have to remember about boycotts:
If you boycott someone permanently, you’re fucking up the boycott.
The whole point of a boycott is that there is forgiveness at the end – a way for these companies to get your money back.  I’ve been boycotting Chick-Fil-A for over a decade now, and it’s anguish, as they’re right across the street from me and I love their food and especially their delicious breakfasts.  But they’re anti-gay, and keep doing stupid anti-gay things just often enough that I’m unconvinced that I’m not hurting gay rights’ causes by filling their coffers, and so I stay away.
But if they were to do an about-face that I was comfortable with – which would, admittedly, be a high bar after years and years of disappointment – I would probably buy there more.  I would reward them for doing the right thing at last, even though it took years, because when you’re dealing with something as fiduciarily-motivated as a soulless business entity, the only form of motivation they understand is dollars over the transom.
Now, I saw a handful of folks who were still fuming at Chili’s for giving money to anti-vaxxers, saying, “Well, I’ll never eat there again!”  Those people are almost as dumb as the anti-vaxxers.  If you yank away your money permanently, what you are teaching companies is, “The slightest mistake will cost you customers you can never get back again” – which, in this day of exceptional sensitivity and Internet-stoked fires, could be any mistake.
No.  You must teach them, “You can piss us off, but you can also work to win our forgiveness.”  Which encourages them to do the right thing as we define it.  If you’ve dropped Mozilla because the CEO donated to Proposition 8 and now refuse to use Firefox ever again based on a single error, you’re doing it wrong.
People will screw up.  You have screwed up – I guarantee this.  And if all it takes for you to abandon someone forever is a single error, then you’re inflexible and punishing.  Allow the companies to err just as people do – because remember, like Soylent Green, multinational corporations are made of people, and usually underpaid people trying to work under the rapid pressures of idiot bosses.  Not every error is a concealed agenda, indicating that this company is committed to destroy everything you love.  This is a complicated world, and things frequently get lost in the whirlwind of other concerns, and it’s frequently not obvious just how awful this is until someone with more experience looks at it.
Chili’s screwed up.  They made it right, and I’m pretty sure they’ll do better vetting next time.  In this imperfect world that’s all I can ask, and in this imperfect world all I can ask is that you occasionally allow a screwup to be just a “whoops.”
There is a certain grace in accepting an apology.  Learn to do so, when you can.

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