Shareholders Showdown: Will Disney Break From The Beast?

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Shareholders Showdown: Will Disney Break From The Beast?

Why would a company like Disney hitch its wagons to Donald Trump’s administration?

Members of People's Action and its local member organization, Colorado People’s Alliance, made the case on International Women's Day that Disney should stand with women, children and families, not an administration that's bent on attacking them at every turn. (Photo: )

Exclusive access to President Trump might sound good to a CEO, but it comes at a cost to your business. Just ask Uber chief Travis Kalanick.

In early February, Kalanick was compelled to step down from Trump’s closed-door economic advisory council after People’s Action and other grassroots groups called for his resignation, and more than 200,000 Uber customers deleted their accounts.

Yet, others remain eager to get Trump’s ear. Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, for instance, has said serving on the economic advisory council is a “great opportunity for me to have a direct pipeline to the president.”

But many of Disney’s customers, workers and shareholders disagree, and that disagreement will be on prominent display Wednesday at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting in Denver. Members of People’s Action and our local member organization, Colorado People’s Alliance, will be making the case on International Women’s Day that Disney should stand with women, children and families, not an administration that’s bent on attacking them at every turn.

Disney and ‘The Beast’

Disney (NYSE:DIS) is the home of Snow White, Aladdin, and Rogue One, as well as the ABC and ESPN television networks. The media company may well have the most family-friendly image of any publicly traded corporation in America. Doting grandparents take their grandkids to Disney theme parks as a virtual right of passage.

"Disney and other major corporations should take note. Tethering a corporation’s brand and reputation to a deeply unpopular administration is a risky bet."

While not without critics, Disney champions diversity and inclusion in its products and policies – from the theme song “It’s a Small World After All” to “Moana” and their upcoming remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” which reportedly includes Disney’s first openly gay character.

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has spent his first weeks in office viciously attacking immigrants and religious minorities, endangering the health care of millions of American children and families, weakening the rights of transgender youths and slandering the nation’s first black president as mentally ill. Trump’s administration is also actively endangering our democracy by attacking the free press and publicly working to undermine the judicial and legislative branch of government. Even Sean Spicer can’t use enough “alternative facts” to put a family-friendly spin on the Trump agenda.

So, why would a company like Disney hitch its wagons to Donald Trump’s administration?

Iger – and some Disney shareholders – likely have their eye on the enormous tax cuts President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan plan to push forward this year. If the Republican plan succeeds, the corporate tax rate will plummet from a statutory rate of 35 percent to 20 percent, despite the fact that corporate taxes are already at historic lows as a percentage of the federal budget.

Despite the negative impact these tax policies will have on everyday Americans, companies like Disney and wealthy CEOs like Iger are hoping they pay off big time. Some analysts are already calling Disney one of the most promising stocks to watch in 2017.

The World Will Know 

Iger seems to think he can cozy up to Trump and reap the benefits of tax cuts while distancing himself from divisive issues like the Muslim ban, the Republican gutting of health care and ICE’s expedited deportation of immigrants. Even as Iger seeks exclusive access to the President, he expects the public to believe Disney is above the political fray.

Under a normal administration, it might be possible for a company to pick and choose what elements of a president’s policy agenda to support, and how to collaborate around a fixed set of issues. But this isn’t a normal administration. Right now, there are no sidelines. President Trump poses an unprecedented threat to our democracy and to the American people, and even corporations have to decide whose side they are on.

What Iger and his business analysts don’t seem to have factored in yet is that Disney’s customers, workers, and shareholders have the power to stop the company’s wagons and hold Disney to account.

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

People’s Action is leading a coalition that has already collected more than 511,000 signatures on a petition calling on Iger to resign from Trump’s board. People’s Action alone collected 76,922 signatures. Those signatures will be presented at a rally outside of the shareholder meeting to highlight the public outcry over Disney’s collaboration with President Trump. You can follow the rally on social media using the hashtags #BadMickey and #LetHimGo.

People’s Action campaign director Mehrdad Azemun and Colorado People’s Alliance organizer Robel Worku also plan to take that message directly into the shareholders meeting, where they will publicly give testimony about the direct impact Trump’s agenda has had on them, their families and their communities.

Meanwhile, hundreds of petition signers also pledged, without prompting, to boycott Disney or sell their shares in the company.

Dean F., a Disney shareholder from Brooklyn, New York, made his position clear: “I have been a Disney stockholder for a decade, but I will sell my shares unless Iger leaves his post with Trump.”

“I am proud of how the company values inclusiveness and diversity, both at home in the U.S. and in our international operations,” wrote Stephanie H., a Disney worker and shareholder in Los Angeles, California. Iger should “resign from Trump’s Economic Advisory Council,” she says, “to protect the company, your own reputation, and the future of our country.”

“Our family has canceled our plans to Disneyland,” said Claudia S. of Divide, Colorado. “We are a group of 10 and will find better things to do at home.”

Rebellions Are Built on Hope

While it remains to be seen if public outrage will force Disney to stop its collusion with Trump, the success of the #DeleteUber campaign shows people power can carry the day.

Less than two months in, Donald Trump is already the least popular president in modern American history. Millions took to the street the day after the inauguration in women’s marches around the country. Thousands rallied at airports when  Trump first unveiled his ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries. Wednesday’s “Day Without a Woman” protest is expected to lead to closures of hundreds of businesses and even whole school systems. There are no signs that the resistance is going to let up.

Disney and other major corporations should take note. Tethering a corporation’s brand and reputation to a deeply unpopular administration is a risky bet. In the end, collaboration could prove costly.

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel is an organizer and writer who lives in Chicago. He completed an A.M. in philosophy at the University of Chicago before becoming involved in political work full time. Read more of his writing at jacobswenson.me, follow him on twitter @_JacobSL, or check out his Instagram @SignsOfResistance2017.

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