US President Bill Clinton declared the month of June in America “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in 1999, oddly four years after signing the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Twenty years on, Joe Biden overturned DOMA with the Respect for Marriage Act, a reflection of the nation's evolution. Hero or Anti-Hero? Let’s begin with an adjective.
Woke: aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).
It arrives via African-American slang to become synonymous with sexism, inequality and social justice in the 20th century, but the idiom is flipped by pundits around 2020 to mock civic, political and corporate liberal ideologies. Woke Capitalism describes American corporations increasingly weighing in on sociopolitical issues—invariably, it seems, in favor of the progressive left. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially joined the parade when he signed “Don’t Say Gay” (HB1557), legislation prohibiting discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in Florida’s classrooms.
When Walt Disney World, Florida’s largest corporation, called for the laws repeal, DeSantis retaliated with a bill eliminating the company’s special independent district and replacing its Disney-appointed board of overseers. Disney v. DeSantis pleads:
Disney now is forced to defend itself against a State weaponizing its power to inflict political punishment. In America, the government cannot punish a corporation for speaking its mind.
DeSantis replies, “There’s a new sheriff in town and that's just the way it's going to be.”
Woke Activism, Capitalism
Any shareholder in America, provided they meet certain requirements, can submit a “request, proposal, or recommendation” to corporate management to be voted on by other shareholders at the company’s annual meeting.
Large institutional investors (index funds, public pensions, etc.) hold outsized voting power, and rely on third-party risk management services like KPMG, EY or McKinsey & Company for recommendations on how to vote.
Activists, keen on influencing powerful companies to adopt their sociopolitical priorities, buy shares in corporations simply to file proposals and shape their priorities. Often, a company will elect to negotiate a proposal to preempt a vote. Target’s recent decision to remove some LGBTQ themed merchandise from its stores highlights Woke Capitalism on the corporate level.
Target — who has offered exclusive Pride merchandise, with over 150 inclusive products available in all stores for 10 years — removed some of those products this week, citing “volatile circumstances” between some employees and customers in their stores. The retailer claims;
Inclusivity is a core value at Target and we want our team members and guests to feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day. We embrace our team members and guests who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community and are committed to showing our support as an ally and inclusive, safe employer and retailer.
However, the decision to remove the Pride merchandise came weeks ahead of the incidents actually occurring in their store, and immediately after brewer Anheuser-Busch's transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney triggered transphobic comments on social media and a boycott by some customers.
While Target CEO Brian Cornell claims, "one of the hardest parts of removing merchandise is accessing how that impacts the wellbeing and psychological safety of the LGBTQ community,” harder still must’ve been Cornell’s having to cow-tow to the ‘request, proposal and recommendation’ of Target’s largest institutional shareholder, the Vanguard Group, to shun their own customer.
Principles, as it happens, only matter if we stand by them when they're inconvenient.
Perhaps more than any Republican official in the nation, Ron DeSantis has fought for and enacted policies that enflame the nation’s cultural divisions. He calls it his “War on Woke,” and has just concluded a legislative session that establishes him as perhaps the most aggressive and accomplished conservative governor in the country’s bitter culture wars.
In addition to banning any instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ issues in Florida public schools K-12, he’s also blocked state colleges from having any programs on diversity, equity, inclusion, and the Critical Race Theory. The governor’s Stop Woke Act “prohibits higher education institutions from using any funding to support DEI, CRT, and other discriminatory initiatives.”
Finally, Gov. Ron DeSantis has banned abortions at six weeks, encourages Florida residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, and is championing a new, expansive conservatism that Rep Maxwell Frost (D-FL) says, “should concern anyone who values democracy, freedom, or the pursuit of happiness.”
Never Back Down
The DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has nearly $300 million in their coffers, and intends to put some 3000 volunteers on the doorstep of every voter in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina come Labor Day — x3. And x5 in the kick off state of Iowa. “No one has ever contemplated the scale of this organization or operation,” says Chris Jankowski, the group’s chief executive. “This has just never even been dreamed up.”
Stay tuned for the Ron DeSantis “Great American Comeback” to be storied in the Dunedin Little League Team making it all the way to the Little League World Series in ’91. Or maybe it’ll start with a video of DeSantis being crowned Captain of the Yale College Bulldogs. The Harvard Law School, United States Navy, US Congress, Florida Governorship and even a Bronze Star et. al. may well qualify this incredibly likable All American to take on the nation’s corporations and public schools with socio-political views. But before he’s crowned the Republican nominee at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee Wisconsin on 18 July 2023 — a word.
Eat Mor Chicken
In 1946, Southern Baptist Truett Cathy’s “The Dwarf House” took shape to become what the American Consumer Satisfaction Index now calls “the country’s favorite fast food chain.”
In 1961, Cathy found a pressure-fryer that could cook a chicken sandwich in the same amount of time it took to cook a fast-food hamburger and quickly registered the name Chick-fil-A and trademark slogan, "We Didn't Invent the Chicken, Just the Chicken Sandwich.” Their 2,928 restaurants across 48 states accrued an annual revenue of $6.4 billion in 2022, along with a sterling reputation for charitable donations to anti-LGBT organizations.
In 2012, Cathy formed the WinShape Foundation to funnel tax donations to many organizations opposing same-sex marriage legislation. “Those who have the audacity to define what marriage is about,” Cathy said, “invite God's judgment on our nation.”
Activists, politicians, and corporations banned together to block the restaurant from college campuses, airports and elsewhere, and by July Chick-fil-A demurred. "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
By September, the Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) announced that Chick-fil-A had "ceased donating to organizations that promote discrimination, specifically against LGBTQ civil rights,” and Chick-fil-A officials drafted an internal memo that became a policy directive, ”Chick-fil-A will treat every person equally, regardless of sexual orientation.”
In the end, Americans don’t do business with companies. They do business with people. There are now 8 Republican Presidential candidates in an increasingly crowded race for the White House, and it’s worth remembering what Walt Disney once told the risk averse Commerce Bank in 1954 when he solicited a $60,000 loan on his life insurance policy;
"I can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world, but only every boy and girl can make that dream come true."