Collaborators or Closet Allies: Boycotts in the Trump Era

If you pay attention these sorts of things, social media is calling for people to boycott some businesses whose leadership may have some sort of connection to the Trump administration. While the call to boycott isn’t unique to our current times, it is my opinion that  too often in today’s world of instant (and often unverified) information actions are taken in knee-jerk fashion to events without much measured consideration. In some instances it is very appropriate to quickly denounce, in others, more information is indeed needed.

Let’s take the case today of the call to boycott Uber. (Full disclosure- I am a (very) part-time Uber driver. It isn’t my main source of income and my motivation for driving is as much to help others get to where they need to go as to earn a few extra bucks for my family.) This effort to boycott Uber stems from Uber’s public notices that they would not be charging any surge prices around JFK airport during the weekend protests and taxi driver strikes. Some instantly perceived this as Uber not standing against the Trump muslim ban order. Or of Uber not honoring a union strike and thus being unfair to workers. Others sought to insist that Uber was merely putting profits ahead of principal and cashing in on a public transit crisis. This quickly spiraled into noting that Uber CEO is a member of Trump’s Business Economic Advisory Board and so must clearly be a Trump supporting collaborator. Nevermind if Uber was merely trying to let people know that they were open to get people around- both to and from the protests. When social media flares, measured consideration is often the first casualty.

Let me be clear- I do not support Trump or his muslim travel ban, but I also do not know that Uber’s CEO does either. And I’m not going to take the word of someone just posting their knee-jerk reactions on social media without some investigation.

I’m 100% for holding companies accountable when I feel they are on the wrong side of things. But because any boycott affects not just the shareholders or CEOs, but also the hundreds or thousands of people working for that company and their families who rely on their income, I’m going to be damn sure the boycott is justified, meaning I’m not going to follow the crowd because the crowd is yelling.

Indeed, as a driver for Uber, I received the following notice from them on Sunday:

At Uber we’ve always believed in standing up for what’s right. Today we need your help supporting drivers who may be impacted by President Trump’s new immigration ban.

Drivers who are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen and live in the US but have left the country, will not be able to return for 90 days. This means they won’t be able to earn money and support their families during this period.

It’s important that as a community we do everything we can to help these drivers. Here’s what Uber will do:

Provide 24/7 legal support for drivers who are trying to get back into the country. Our lawyers and immigration experts will be on call 24/7 to help.

Compensate drivers for their lost earnings. This will help them support their families and put food on the table while they are banned from the US.

Urge the government to reinstate the right of US residents to travel—whatever their country of origin—immediately.

Create a $3 million legal defense fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services.

If you are a driver or a friend or family member of someone who has been affected, please contact us here.

Uber is a community. We’re here to support each other. Please help Uber to help drivers who may be affected by this unjust and wrong immigration ban.

Uber Founder & CEO

This seems to show that Uber is indeed acting in a responsible way on this issue. Furthermore, reports from non-driving employees of Uber, the CEO is not now, nor has he ever been, a fan of Trump. So why is he on the advisory board? According to him it’s because he’s willing to work with people who will help support a new transportation future. On that issue. In a similar vein, I’ve heard from popular politicians of the lift, including Bernie Sanders and California governor Jerry Brown reiterate that same ideal- insofar as they can work with Trump to advance progressive causes or infrastructure advances they too would work with Trump and the administration. Has any one called for a Bernie Boycott? If so, I’ve not heard it.

Nor have I heard for mass boycotts of Tesla, IBM, General Motors, Disney, Wal-mart or Boeing- all companies with CEO’s on the advisory board. Consistency is important when we’re fighting for values. Is that because you like the idea of electric cars and space trips to Mars or your computer has an IBM component or you drive a Chevy or your kids love Mulan or Wal-mart is the only game in your town that matches your budget or you like to travel on planes? Picking and choosing which corporation is your “demon of the day” doesn’t make much sense and smacks of flimflam reactionaryism. It also doesn’t help the overall cause of collecting allies to your side.

Speaking of allies, this whole situation of consigning anyone willing to offer advise to Trump to the trash bin is both emotionally understandable and intellectually troubling. Especially those who run large companies and are responsible for the livelihoods of thousands of families. Indeed, in times of social turmoil and governmental tyranny, it is these very people who can help influence politicians to either reform or resist the worst excesses of a despot. Maybe they can’t end discrimination or completely change course, but they can mitigate damage to their people, and by extension to others as well. I’m reminded of Oskar Schindler, the German capitalist who simultaneously worked with the Nazi’s while undermining them at every possible turn. He was both a collaborator and an ally to be sure. He was a villain to some and a hero to others. I’m not saying American CEOs have earned any comparison to Schindler-YET- but I’m also not ready to offer wholesale condemnation either.

I’m not telling you what to do. And I’m not quitting Uber either. At least not yet. And it has nothing to do with the income, which is literally less than 5% of my annual earnings. In driving for Uber I get people to their jobs and back home to their families. I meet new people and foster conversations much like this one (when they are amenable- not unprompted. Sheesh, I’m not insufferable all the time!) I could do the same for Lyft, and maybe I will switch if I find some more compelling reason that a social media hashtag fury. And yes, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open to more evidence. (And yes, I’m fully aware of the other issues Uber has been contending with.)

All I’m asking is for you to be a) rational in your decisions, b) consistent in your decisions, and c) open to reconsideration in a calm manner.

#boycottuber #deleteuber #socialmedia #allies #socialjustice


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