I’ve got nothing against non-traditional politicians and realize those who come from the private sector likely have a long list of business ties they need to manage. But I also believe our current administration has done little to separate its private interests from those of the public good. Shannon Coulter began the #GrabYourWallet effort to help Americans vote using their wallets, highlighting brands and retailers who are associated with Trump. Just this week, Farhad Manjoo at the NYTimes cited Shannon as an example of consumers speaking out with urgency and impact. She joins me for Five Questions…
Hunter Walk: #GrabYourWallet was one of the grassroots progressive movements to spring up post Trump election. Can you give us some background on its origin?
Shannon Coulter: The #GrabYourWallet movement sprung up in the days following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes. I was looking for a constructive way to protest not just Donald Trump’s remarks about grabbing women, but his divisiveness and disrespect in general, plus the tendency of his campaign team to look the other way. I knew from my work in marketing that women drive between 70 to 85 percent of all consumer purchases, so I knew if I could effectively tap into that, we could get some things done.
I found another woman online who was thinking along the same lines. She and I joined forces without ever having met. We announced on Twitter that we were boycotting companies that do business with the Trump family and got a big, immediate response. When Ivanka returned to the campaign trail in the wake of the Trump tapes, I saw another early surge.
HW: Was there a particular moment where you realized “this is happening” and you decided to double-down on the time and energy you’d devote to growing the effort?
SC: It’s always felt more like an imperative than a choice to devote a lot of time and energy to #GrabYourWallet. I feel a deep sense of urgency and purpose around it. For me, this work has significantly expanded beyond the scope of just the Trump boycott and is now about flexing our consumer power in ways that promote respect and inclusion in general.
I was thrilled, for instance, when the #GrabYourWallet community was credited alongside organizations like Color of Change and Ultraviolet with helping to bring about Bill O’Reilly’s exit from Fox News by focusing on a few key advertisers. That’s exactly the kind of work I want to be doing: work that will help companies and workplace cultures move in a more thoughtful, humanistic direction.
I had no idea how much innate passion I had for that until I started to explore the possibilities. I feel no drop off whatsoever between the levels of energy I felt in the very early days of #GrabYourWallet and what I feel now.
HW: How has social media played a role in #GrabYourWallet’s spread and are there realizations you now have about its [social media’s] nature that were less obvious to you before?
SC: Social media has played an absolutely vital role in the success of #GrabYourWallet and I seriously doubt if 23 companies would have already stopped doing business with the Trump family without the influence of social media. Not only has the #GrabYourWallet hashtag been seen over a billion times (a figure I can’t quite believe myself sometimes) but social media in general works to keep the conversation alive at the brand level for the companies that remain on the list.
Whenever Team Trump does something egregious like withdraws the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, I see people reengage with the boycott on social media. They’ll directly ask companies, “How can you do business with people who are doing this?”
As for whether or not I’ve had realizations about social media that were less obvious to me before, I would say that before I had much less understanding of how powerful a lever it can be for gaining rights and power. Social media is so much more than just an amplifier. It’s a game changer. Watching individuals approach large publicly traded companies and affect positive change just dazzles me. I’m constantly telling people not to underestimate the power of their single voice.
HW: When brands/retailers stocking Trump-related merchandise reach out to you directly, what’s the tenor of the conversation?
SC: It’s almost always extremely respectful. People who participate in #GrabYourWallet genuinely want to return to these retailers as customers as soon as possible and I come from a corporate background, so I tend to approach the companies on the list with a lot of empathy and respect, particularly the communication and marketing teams because I’ve been in their shoes.
For #GrabYourWallet participants, it’s not at all about punishing or shaming companies on the list. Before it dropped Trump brand products, Nordstrom was voted the number one most “boycott-able” company on the list by #GrabYourWallet participants precisely because of how much they missed shopping there.
HW: Which retailer still on the list bothers you the most?
SC: Without a doubt it’s Amazon. I’ve worked a lot within the tech community so that one just feels more personal to me and I’m just so deeply bothered that Amazon still advertises on Breitbart.
Plus, while there are several retailers that still sell Ivanka’s clothes, Amazon is the only retailer I know of that still sells Donald Trump’s line of suits. Macy’s dropped Donald’s line the moment Trump equated Mexican people with rapists, but Amazon seems to believe it’s somehow exempt from such decisions.
I think that’s not only a big ethical blind spot on Amazon’s part, but a dangerous lie about tech in general—that it’s somehow inherently neutral or ‘just a platform.’ I’m not comfortable with the vacuum of accountability that mindset creates.
It’s particularly worrisome to me when Amazon is so big and dominating so many industries. Now it’s moving into groceries with the Whole Foods acquisition. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Amazon having more of a physical presence in communities across the country helps its leaders be less aloof. I hope it will.
I also fully admit that I also just really want to watch some of Amazon’s original shows, like Jill Soloway’s new one. Amazon is doing great work as a producer of original content and I’m a cord cutter, so I definitely miss having those options.
Thanks Shannon! Support #GrabYourWallet.
Earlier #Resistance Posts: