On Sunday during a concert in Québec City, Stevie Wonder announced that, like many people, he plans to boycott the state of Florida as a reaction to the not guilty verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial for killing Trayvon Martin.
The truth is that, for those that are being lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world, we can’t bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard, and we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and for equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do. And I know I’m not everybody, I’m just one person, I’m a human being. But for the gift that God has given me, and for whatever I mean, I decided today that until the Stand Your Ground law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world. Because what I do know is that people know that my heart is of love for everyone. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. And so, as I said earlier, you can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it. We can make change by coming together for the spirit of unity — not in destruction, but in the perpetuation of life itself.
Watch video of his statement, which came near the end of his set, below:
As Alyssa Rosenberg points out at Think Progress, this is not the first time that Wonder has declined to perform in a state for political reasons: he did so in 1991 in protest of Arizona’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
On the one hand, it is not difficult to imagine why an African-American (or any person of color) might wish to avoid the state of Florida and its Stand Your Ground law after the Zimmerman verdict for their own safety and sense of security. (If you do have difficulty, shame on you and watch the primer LeVar Burton gave on CNN about what even some prominent African-Americans do in order to avoid being shot by the police during traffic stops.) So there are good reasons for a lot of people to make choices about where to travel and spend their money, both for political reasons and practical ones.
On the other hand, as the National Urban League’s Marc Morial pointed out on Sunday, the Stand Your Ground law was a product of the conservative legislator organizing group ALEC (which, in the wake of the Martin shooting and successful, popular calls to boycott specific consumer companies that supported ALEC, rescinded its support for the laws). And, in Florida, there are approximately 1 million people employed by the leisure and hospitality industry, which would be affected by a wide-scale boycott. And, as the NAACP pointed out in a 2012 report, the vast majority of the positions in that industry are both low-paid and disproportionately filled by people of color (and hotel owners are the least diverse positions in the industry). In other words, the people who are paid the least in the hospitality industry are disproportionately people of color, who also occupy the positions most likely to face cutbacks in poor economic times — and the company executives and lobbyists who made the decision to join ALEC and fund their push for such laws aren’t losing a wink of sleep that their salaries will go down as a result of any boycott.
One can also consider the words of an African-American blogger known as Coco, who wrote of efforts to boycott Texas over its anti-abortion push, “i know, i know, everyone just hates texas so much, and will boycott this an boycott that, and never, never, never go there, but have you thought about the actual women in Texas who don’t have that choice?”
And beyond that, a boycott does nothing to fund legislative candidates who (unlike some incumbents) care to overturn the laws , or a candidate to run successfully against a governor who supported expensive drug testing of welfare recipients and is super pro-gun. It doesn’t direct money to groups like the National Urban League, the NAACP or Color of Change, which are trying to gain some justice for Trayvon’s family, support hate crimes legislation and enforcement, elect leaders who will and challenge laws like these.
Like online petitions, many boycotts — unless they are tightly focused, strongly organized and sustained over the long term — might feel good to those that promise now or keep up with it later, but they aren’t often successful over the long term.
But, as Alyssa noted, the 1991 boycott — especially when it resulted in the rescheduling of the Superbowl in another state — did lead to the reversal of the anti-MLK Day policy.
So where do you stand? Vote in our poll below.