Publix is a Florida-based grocer known throughout the southeast. They treat their employees well, maintain a wholesome image, and sell what are known to us native Floridians as the best sub sandwiches on the planet. In late May, though, they found themselves arbitrarily thrust into a national gun debate in which they had no stake and seemed to want nothing to do with. They hopefully learned that there is no winning in stupid battles.
One might wonder how a purveyor of foods and dry goods got wound into a gun debate. Publix sells no guns or ammunition. Its shelves will leave you with no impression of what how the newest Austrian duty pistol handles or what you should attach to your AR. It started when David Hogg noticed that the chain, who regularly donates to political candidates irrespective of party, had made donations to state Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. The issue? Putnam was guilty of making non-particularized pro-National Rifle Association comments on Twitter, or something.
To call attention to Publix’s alleged three- or four- times removed support of the NRA, Hogg and his co-conspirators organized a “die-in” at the Florida supermarket. The idea was to lay down in the aisles of the store, inconveniencing and confusing customers, with the goal of ending Publix’s support of Putnam, and thus their apparent support of gun rights. Or something. It’s hard to pin down the purpose of the protest in light of the fact that Publix suspended all political contributions days before the protest.
Publix’s move was tactically sound. They knew a particularly rabid group of protestors had trained on them, poised to stage a PR disaster. Knowing their support of Putnam was at the core of the issue, Publix decided to temporarily suspend all political contributions and “re-evaluate” their giving process, and release a statement ahead of the protest.
It was a clever move, to noncommittally give the protesters what they were asking for in hopes they would be satisfied. The issue is, though, that the protesters didn’t actually care. Even though the decision was made ahead of the May 25 “die-in,” protesters weren’t aware of the decision until after their display, so they considered it a victory. Some reports incorrectly claimed the decision came after the protest, with protesters and journalists alike failing to do their research, further confusing the matter.
In hindsight, it is clear that there was nothing Publix could have done to prevent the protest. With only a few days of lead, they managed to suspend the donations. Hogg made an additional demand immediately ahead of the protest for $1 million to be donated to a victim’s fund and that the company “never support an A rated NRA politician again.”
There was obviously no time for Publix to respond to this. Hogg’s statement would be made and Publix would have to deal with it. Even though the company seemed to respond by ceasing political contributions, they still faced anger from the anti-gun crowd for not acquiescing to subsequent extortive demands for money and that the protesters be allowed to dictate the privately held corporation’s giving philosophy. Simple demands, really.
Anti-gun protesters were not the only ones upset about Publix’s actions, though. The pro-gun crowd viewed the company’s suspension of political donations, despite being non-committal, as too easily “giving in” to the demands of the Hogg trouppe. Naturally, this spurred yet more boycotting. Of a grocery store. Regarding guns.
The moral here is that there was nothing Publix could have done in response to the protests that would have satisfied anyone. This should come as no surprise given how ludicrous the concept of protesting guns at a grocery store is from the get-go. We know that Publix “did not intent to put [their] associates and the customers they serve in the middle of a political debate.” They were thrust into one, regardless. This comes in the midst of several other examples of nonsensical organizational involvement in political issues like Disney’s Rosanne calamity and the NFL’s various fits.
These controversies show the true absurdity of “corporate wokeness.” It’s stupid to attempt to force divisive political change through business. A business needs to watch out for its shareholders. Sure, there are circumstances in which shareholders are benefited by the company taking a stance on an issue that has the nation divided. One would probably find it pretty odd for a gun company to publicly denounce gun owners, for example.
With a grocer, however, it’s clear Publix had no interest in the gun debate, and attempting to force them into such a debate yields no winners. When businesses are forced into political battles, the question stops being about what individuals think, and becomes about cementing tribalism and reinforcing battle lines. What is the end goal? To wage ideological wars, the winners of which earn the privilege to shop at the battleground stores in which they prevailed? For us to have our stances on guns, drugs, or abortion dictate where we buy our chicken? These are stupid battles, with no winners.
Publix would have been right to ignore the protesters outright and let the event blow over. Debates at Publix should surround more comprehensible issues, like whether it is their chicken tender or Italian sub that truly reigns supreme.