To boycott or not to boycott? That's a pretty good question
Most people know they can thank the Irish for such contributions to our culture as Riverdance, Liam Neeson, Saint Patricks Day, Van Morrison and Guiness. But few know that an increasingly-common consumer tactic was born in County Mayo in the west of Ireland 140 years ago.
When people organize to deprive a business of their patronage, it's called a boycott. Recent local examples are numerous.
* Congressman Earl Blumenauer went on Twitter to tell constituents they shouldn't stay at expensive Portland hotels owned by Gordon Sondland. Sondland's the man who gave $1 million to the Trump campaign in 2016, was named an ambassador to the European Union, joined Rudolph Giuliani in the Ukranian adventure and at first followed White House orders by refusing to testify before Congress. He later relented and talked. And talked. After his testimony Blumenauer tweeted out a welcome ot the resistance, so pleased was he with teh tesimony confirming the old quid pro quo.
* The United Food and Commercial Workers Union tells people not to shop at Fred Meyer during labor negotiations.
n Fred Meyer starts charging customers for cash back on debit card purchases and Tony Kool tweets, "Those new debit fees…? I learned during the boycott that I really kind of enjoy a trip to Winco."
* The Burgerville Workers Union has been urging people not to buy burgers there for more than a year.
* A friend on Facebook vows he'll no longer be a faithful Prius purchaser due to a climate-unfriendly posture taken by Toyota.
For the record: No way would I ever be staying at one of Sondland's hotels. Fred Meyer lost me with the cash-back policy. I'm not a fast food guy. I fully intend to drive my Toyota pick-up past the 300,000 mile mark and won't be in the market for a Prius any time soon.
So what does all this have to do with Irish history?
In 1880, the native Irish living on land occupied by the Third Earl of Erme were under the tyrannical reign of a land agent for the English lord and had had enough. This land agent believed in a concept called "divine right of the masters," which meant the tenants had no rights. When the crops failed and tenants had no income, rents weren't reduced. Evictions of entire families became arbitrary and petty rules like the one banning chickens from the agent's property were enacted.
There was a lot of unrest in the west of Ireland in those days and before long the tenants collectively decided to stop working on this 1,500-acre estate the size of 16 Gabriel Parks. Crops weren't harvested. Horses weren't shod. His laundry wasn't washed and ironed. When the land agent went to town in Ballinrobe, shop keepers refused to sell him goods. They didn't even acknowledge his presence.
This land agent was thoroughly shunned and ostracized. His plight caught the attention of the press in London, which never missed an opportunity to blame the Irish, and money was raised so he could at least harvest the crops. He did so with the help of 1,000 policemen and 50 Protestant volunteers from Belfast who never missed an opportunity to stick it to protesting Catholics like the tenants. It cost 10,000 British pounds to harvest a crop worth 500 British pounds.
What had started as an effort to shun the land agent became something much more. A local parish priest, Father John O'Malley, supposedly said of the actions of the land agent Captain John Boycott, "Ostracism alone won't do. How would it do to call to boycott him?" Thus was a term still used today born.
Ireland was to remain a colony of England for another 40 years but conditions for the ancestors of millions of Americans living in that troubled country did gradually improve. Was the boycott a success? Captain Boycott, whose name lives on even though most people have no idea who he was, eventually left Ireland. The thing is, there was no one who would drive his carriage east to Dublin and when he got there, workers at the hotel where he stayed refused him room service.
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