A response to Stoker’s suggestion in ‘Why Politics Matters’ that boycotting products is a ‘simple’ and ‘low key act’

A student in Politics and International Relations writes…

Vanessa is a Vegan. She is single, in her mid twenties but looks a little older and lives a busy lifestyle. Her reasons for being vegan are political, she abhors the poor treatment of animals while creating commodities such as meat and clothes and dairy.  She spends three times as much money and time as anyone else food shopping in her home town of Stockport as she has to flit from shop to shop while the rain makes her red hair go frizzy, sourcing her ingredients. Ultimately it means long days and less time with her friends and family. How might Vanessa feel about Stoker’s generalisation that what she does is just ‘an extension of consumerism’?

All this walking through the streets hurts her feet, which of course have no leather upper so perish easily. She has to turn down sweets offered by friends at the cinema; a woolly jumper once bought by a well meaning boyfriend had to be returned. Her whole life is permeated by her political choice to boycott products in protest. She sticks with it though! Seven years now, and every day she battles the unwillingness of society to offer her anything but hard choices and disappointment. Vanessa’s feeling towards characterisation of her endeavours as ‘simple’ is one of pity. Pity that the effort she puts in to her political activity every waking day is not acknowledged.

Next meet Patrick. Patrick is a married and recently retired prison officer from Hyde. He was in his Union at work but never donated directly to a party or demonstrated. Instead preferring to mumble to himself about the lack of buses when he finishes a night shift. He was however disturbed by the banking crisis and began a search for an ethical institution to move his pension to. He spent hours poring over what parts of investment portfolios the mainstream banks let you see. He had never done anything like this before and he felt empowered. Stoker’s accusation of malaise by pigeon holing Patrick’s choice into the category of ‘low key’ boycotting is unfair. His new bank is small and doesn’t promise the returns on his savings other banks do and as such, his ambition of a mobile home for him and his wife Brenda in the Lake District is gone. Brenda is not very pleased. There are fewer branches which makes life that little bit more difficult for the two of them. Patrick sticks to his guns though and he is prepared to take the hit. It’s not low key for him. It was a tough choice.

The Owen family, Carrie, James, and their daughters Helen, Hannah and Francesca would prefer to make the choice of free range eggs over barn eggs on the weekly trip to ASDA. The kids are savvy and know the difference. The happy chicken on the egg box ensures that awkward questions are asked in the egg aisle. James can’t explain to his five, seven, and eight year olds that sometimes this is not a choice that the working poor have when they have Christmas presents to buy, rent to pay and petrol to put in the Astra. Carrie has two cleaning jobs so doesn’t have the time to attend council meetings or travel to London for a march. If they do occasionally make this choice between barn and free range it is impossible to call their act as ‘simple’. Does Stoker mean to say that their expression of citizenship is ‘limited’ and ‘there is nothing really wrong with it’?

Stoker is right to pour scorn over those who to grab their fair-trade filter coffee in Waitrose to drink while reading their Mail on Sunday. These people are hypocrites and should be ridiculed for making inauthentic political gestures. In fact, I bet Ben Elton buys fair trade coffee! But please don’t lump these people in with those who also boycott products by dedication, personal sacrifice and effort. Vanessa will continue to boycott animal products hoping it will get easier as time goes on, Patrick will absorb Brenda’s disapproval and the disappointment of only ever hiring their mobile home but is proud to have turned his back on the banks, and the Owens will buy free range when their pocket allows. Remembering to remind the kids at dinner that the chickens these eggs came from were happy ones.

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