Published on Friday, March 11, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
The Last Straw: Boycott the U.S.
by Murray MacAdam
“Guatemala? Why would you want to go there?”
The U.S. customs official’s voice dripped with contempt as he grilled my daughter at Toronto airport. Only minutes before, we had bade her a heartfelt farewell as she headed to Guatemala to study Spanish and do volunteer work, full of excitement.
The official scowled when Rosie told him she planned to spend four months in Guatemala. He told her to empty her carry-on bag, and examined every item carefully. A female officer frisked her from head to toe. This is how the United States welcomes an 18-year-old woman who wants to experience a developing nation.
Might the Cuba stamp in her passport from our trip there last year have had anything to do with it?
Was I ever relieved when Rosie emailed me that night to say she had arrived safely in Guatemala City.
After I got over my anger at her rude treatment, I told myself: that’s it. Time to hit the Yanks where it hurts, the only place they care about it: their wallets. From now on, I’m going to boycott U.S. products as much as possible and will not travel there, until they show they are a civilized nation.
Twenty years ago South Africa was a pariah state, boycotted by all people of conscience for its brutal treatment of the black majority. The international boycott of South African products was a powerful weapon in forcing the apartheid regime to change. It gave citizens around the world a practical way of making a difference.
Today a rogue nation defies world opinion by occupying another country for its oil and to wield political power in a key world region. It continues its slaughter there with so little respect for human life that it doesn’t bother counting the victims of its war. It tortures its prisoners of war with impunity. Meanwhile it runs a concentration camp in Cuba where, despite repeated pleas, it refuses to obey internationally respected rules for the human treatment of prisoners. The global supercop dismisses calls for an international criminal court out of hand.
In the face of stark evidence of climate change, the rogue nation thumbs its nose at 141 nations in the world that have agreed to act against this looming ecological threat.
The list goes on. The point is, what are we going to do about it? Is it simply enough to march in the next antiwar rally, as important as that is? Or don’t we need to ratchet up the pressure on the U.S. through economic pressure?
A boycott of U.S. products might seem like an extreme step. But many citizens of Muslim nations started boycotting American products when the U.S. invaded Iraq two years ago. They were joined by a growing number of Europeans and even some Americans, led by Adbusters’ Boycott Brand America campaign. The recent near-murder of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena by U.S. troops in Iraq is sure to bolster the ranks of Europeans who boycott the U.S. The British consumer group Ethical Consumer found that 20 percent of European and Canadian consumers questioned in a recent survey said they avoid buying U.S. products to protest the Iraq war and U.S. foreign policy. The Victoria Peace Coalition has endorsed a U.S. boycott.
The dim-witted cowboy who can barely speak coherently may be the frontman for this rogue nation. But behind him is a powerful array of corporate interests for whom he is headwaiter. What they want, Bush delivers: tax cuts that shovel even more money into their pockets, gutting of environmental laws that let them pollute with impunity, and now plans to destroy the U.S. social security system so corporations can invade this market. As Ralph Nader said, George Bush is a corporation masquerading as a politician. A boycott confronts this corporate behemoth head-on. And it will serve to educate people about the corporate interests behind the Bush throne.
A U.S. boycott also helps protect the environment. As the Finnish environmental organization Dodo notes, “The world’s consumers have a responsibility to help President Bush consider the (Kyoto) issue anew…By boycotting American products we will decrease U.S. production and the country’s rapidly growing energy consumption.”
I am not entirely comfortable with the boycott tactic, because of the hundreds of Americans I’ve met who share my values. I know that many Americans are resisting the Bush regime. But not enough. Americans, if they chose to, could rise up and force the U.S. war machine to a halt. Yes, it would be very tough and would require a massive mobilization. But did the Ukrainians find it easy to overthrow the corrupt regime that had been oppressing them?
This is a question of conscience. It’s time to put our money where our values.
Murray MacAdam is an author and advocacy worker in Toronto, Canada.