The National Rifle Association's public profile has taken a beating.
In the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting, Americans have grown increasingly fed up with the NRA's absolutist stance on gun violence. As Greg Sargent reported in the Washington Post, a large and growing majority of voters have come to say they strongly support stricter gun control laws. Meanwhile, many have reacted with disgust to Wayne LaPierre's buffoonish speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last Thursday. This might be another prelude to yet more thoughts and prayers, especially considering the national fizzle after Sandy Hook, but there is a sense of a cultural sea change.
Corporate America has picked up on that.
The NRA has long partnered with various businesses to offer membership discounts, similar to those offered on behalf of universities, the AARP and the AAA. Activists have targeted those relationships in their campaign against the organization, taking to social media and urging companies to #BoycottNRA.
On Thursday the First National Bank of Omaha became the first major business to publicly embrace this moment, announcing that it would cancel its partnership-issued NRA Visa card. In the days since, more than a dozen companies have followed suit. Hertz, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, United and Delta Airlines, MetLife, Allied Van Lines and Symantec are just a few of the companies that have recently announced they will end their NRA discount and partnership programs.
The NRA has pushed back in kind. In a statement released Saturday, the group said: "The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission…"
Over the past 10 years, political activists on both the right and the left have made corporate protests like this an increasingly prominent tool. Although superficially coercive, boycotts work much like marches and other forms of protest. They rarely tend to persuade voters on the other side. As the NRA aptly pointed out, it's unlikely that a group of people who believe their membership cards stand between the nation and tyranny will abandon that for a cheaper antivirus.
That isn't the point.
Protests raise awareness and create the legitimacy of group dynamics. For everyone who shows up to a rally or a protest, it becomes easier for like-minded people to join the movement. That's what a moment like the #BoycottNRA actually accomplishes. Not only do sympathetic voters get to feel some strength in numbers, but they can see that their ideas have enough power to change the policies of global corporations. Voters on the fence can feel more confident siding with what now seems like a more organized, realistic movement.
Which is why activists and business leaders have begun using corporate activism more and more often as a tool of change. Stripping NRA members of their discounts won't make any gun-issue voters change their minds, but it signals left wing voters and politicians alike that the opposition to the NRA is worth taking seriously.
The modern era of politics has been marked by companies abandoning their previous commitment to neutrality and taking increasingly common political stands.
Issue: NRA Boycott
The Bank of Omaha deserves pride of place simply because it was the first out of the gate. On Thursday night the bank announced its decision to withdraw its NRA-partnered Visa credit card before any other major company did so.
While it's likely that the NRA Boycott would have gained steam no matter who started it off, the Bank of Omaha deserves credit for doing so.
Hobby Lobby's activism has helped define health care law.
In the early days of Obamacare the notoriously right-wing owners of Hobby Lobby announced they opposed a controversial provision requiring companies to provide contraception in health care plans for female employees. The self-described Christian company fought the provision based on the owners' religious beliefs and ultimately won.
As a result, the Supreme Court rewrote the Affordable Care Act so that closely held companies no longer have to provide contraception if the owners don't want to.
Issue: Gay Rights
The service industry tends to skew very, very right wing, particularly among fast food franchises. Chick-Fil-A has never been any exception, nor have they made it a secret that with their decision to stay closed on Sundays is so their employees can "set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose."
In 2012 - 2016 Chick-Fil-A found itself in hot water over gay rights, as reports came out that CEO Dan Cathy had made numerous remarks opposing gay marriages. It also emerged that the company had funded multiple organizations in opposition to gay marriage. The controversy ended when Chick-Fil-A agreed to retract its support for these movements.
In the late 1980's the convenience store chain decided to take a stand against pornography by banning Playboy, Penthouse and Forum from its shelves. In a press release at the time, the company announced that its decision was due to concerns over the connection between "adult magazines and crime, violence and child abuse."
Well, that fizzled.
The company no longer enforces this policy across its stores, allowing individual franchises to decide content for themselves.
Both Ford and Toyota have used their advertising to take political stands.
During the most recent Super Bowl, Toyota directly took on issues of cultural exclusion with an ad that featured religious figures coming together to attend a football game. If anyone was unsure about the company's message, they called the spot "One Team."
Meanwhile, in 2005, Ford created controversy after the American Family Foundation accused it of being too friendly to gay couples. The AFA organized a boycott of Ford dealerships, leading the company to pull all of its advertising from gay-oriented magazines.
After a brief uproar, it promptly returned the advertising, causing the AFA to renew its threat of a boycott. The issue swung back and forth for several years.
Just like Hobby Lobby, Apple Computers (AAPL) has taken the federal government to court over a matter of principal. In this case, it was privacy.
In response to the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, the FBI seized a series of iPhones they wanted to search as part of the investigation. They requested that Apple create a system to break its own encryption and allow federal agents to search the shooters' phones for further evidence in the case.
The company resisted, arguing that they couldn't create a situation-specific hack. Once they broke the iPhone's encryption, it would stay broken for that and all future cases. Apple argued that this would create both a very dangerous precedent and allow federal snooping in cases far less cut-and-dry than the San Bernardino shooting.
The case was never resolved, as the government ultimately accessed the phone without help.
As noted above, fast food restaurant companies tend to be very right-wing in their politics, which helped fuel the rumors that Domino's Pizza helped fund numerous anti-abortion groups. It is untrue that the corporation has ever done so.
However, the company's founder Tom Monaghan has been very outspoken in his Christian conservatism. He has supported several pro-life groups, as well as many other Christian activist organizations. Monaghan also founded the Catholic college Ave Maria, and then moved it to the town he founded of the same name in which he intended to ban such "sins" as pornography and birth control.
Issue: Gay Rights
When Vice President Mike Pence was Governor of Indiana, he created a national uproar in 2015 when he signed the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Despite its name, the law was a specifically written attack on homosexuals, which allowed businesses to discriminate against them largely at will.
In response, the NCAA threatened to abandon its headquarters in Indianapolis.
The organization said that it would reconsider hosting its annual Final Four competition in states with the RFRA or similar legislation, part of a wave that prompted North Carolina to reconsider its own substantially similar law. It also said that it would have to reconsider whether to keep its headquarters locally based.
Shortly after passage, the bill was neutered by amendment.
What hasn't Ben & Jerry's ice cream gotten involved with?
The company founded by two proud hippies has never shied away from taking a stand. Whether lionizing famed liberal comedian Stephen Colbert or taking sides in Black Lives Matter, the company has frequently used its ice cream labels to push its preferred brand of left wing politics. This hasn't made it many friends on the right wing, but then again, Ben & Jerry's has never pretended to be anything else. Besides, they make pretty terrific ice cream.
"Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS Pharmacy is simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose -- helping people on their path to better health. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do."
With that statement, CVS CEO Larry Merlo pulled every cigarette off the shelves of CVS pharmacies nationwide. It was a bold move for the company, and one that could have led to financial disaster as smokers took their business elsewhere en masse.
Instead, it proved prescient. Not only did CVS stake out its position in the health care wars, one firmly on the side of "health," but by pulling tobacco off its own shelves it actually reduced sales of cigarettes industry wide.