What Do Second Lining, Social Media, and Signing Petitions Have In Common?

The answer to the headline question is…Target.  A flash mob takes over a Target in protest and to spread the word about boycotting the discount retail giant.  The video of this event was posted by ‘other98’ (a moveon.org alias) to YouTube on August 15 and has amassed 724,498 views at the time of this post.  The mob, a group known as agit-pop consisted of  singers and musicians (think snare-drums, a tuba, trumpets and a clarinet).  They reworked the 80’s new wave anthem People are People by Depech Mode for this clever act of civil disobedience.

“Target ain’t people so why should they be, allowed to play around with our democracy,” is the catchy refrain of the video.  “I can’t understand what makes [Tar jay], think they’ll get away, gonna make them pay.” They continue while second lining (with brightly colored umbrellas and scarves) up and down the space between the check-out aisles and the customer service desk.

The real story here is  the power of social media in effecting social change.  A powerful new case study is emerging here.  With this flash-mob event alone, the Boycott Target movement accomplished the following three things:

  1. captured the attention of Target and consumers,
  2. communicated their message fully without getting arrested,
  3. propagated that message without relying on the conventional media to do so.

The organization behind Boycott Target movement is far more elaborate.  An email campaign launched by moveon.org along with blogging efforts from change.org and a Facebook fan page with 70,488 fans are working in concert to raise awareness around this issue and then empower people to take action.  The Facebook fan page lists events, shares graphics for protest materials and has even opened up a shop at cafepress.com to further their message.  Both the moveon.org and change.org vehicles make it possible for people to sign petitions and pledge to boycott.

Just what is their message you ask?  In January of this year, in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend company

from the facebook fan page

funds to directly contribute to political campaigns.  In July, Target did just that by contributing $150,000.00 to MN Forward, a political action committee that supports Tom Emmer a Republican Minnesota gubernatorial candidate that opposes gay marriage.

Despite an anti-boycott page on Facebook that has more than 17,500 fans, the success of the Boycott Target campaign and the social media organizing behind it can be measured by the 250,000 people who have pledged to boycott Target, the 26,444 who have signed a petition via change.org, and “demands from institutional shareholders that [Target] revamp its donation process.” When it is all said and done the Boycott Target campaign will make a great case study for the effective use of social media in a social justice campaign.

I’m curious what you all think.  What has made this campaign so successful?  Do you think other companies who try to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling on corporate donations to political campaigns will meet the same fate?  What lessons from this campaign can we apply to relevant issues in health care reform and medical care?  Leave me a comment.

Read More: Martinez, J. and Hamburger, T. Target feels backlash from shareholders. LATimes.com. August 19, 2010.

Lohn, M.  Liberal groups push to exploit Target backlash.  Associated Press via Yahoo Finance. August 13, 2010.

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