Brat Fest boycott is a bad idea

This from the April 12, 2011 Wisconsin State Journal…

Fallout from the controversy surrounding Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to strip collective bargaining rights from most public employees, as well as his proposed budget cuts, is sizzling around Madison’s World’s Largest Brat Fest.

Brat-lover Carrie Dainty, a longtime patron of the annual Memorial Day weekend charity fundraiser, isn’t relishing the thought of munching the brats donated by Johnsonville Sausage, whose executives, family members and employees have donated $44,250 to Walker since 2005.

So she and brother-in-law Joey Dunscombe, a chef at the Weary Traveler Free House at 1201 Williamson St., are planning an alternative fest serving locally-produced brats and other food, while also donating all proceeds to charity.

* * *

So the beef is that Ralph C. Stayer, president of Johnsonville Foods, his sister and some Johnsonville staff members have donated to Walker.  I think linking this stuff together is one of the worst ways that could have been cooked up to grill some Walker contributors. Let me tell you why.

First, the brats are a donation. Johnsonville’s contributions to the Brat Fest since they began are far greater than what a handful of company-related people contributed to Walker. Whether you like the private political stances of some of the players or not, this event isn’t a moneymaker for the company. Johnsonville has been sponsoring the World’s Largest Brat Fest for more than a decade. That’s a lot longer, more consistent and way more significant than what any family or staff members have donated to Walker.

We’ve all learned a lot about Scott Walker since the November election. Polls indicate that Walker couldn’t win if he was running for election right now because some people have changed their minds. I would be far more interested in who is donating going forward — in the context everything that we know now — than in what happened before Walker’s real agenda came to light. Union busting wasn’t part of the Walker campaign before the election, so why pretend that all of Walker’s contributors were somehow in on it?

If an overall boycott of Johnsonville actually did have an impact, it would certainly be greater for working stiffs at the company than for any of the people actually being targeted for giving money to Walker. Look, I’m willing to accept a few accidental civilian casualties if we could, say, knock off Bin Laden — but I think it makes sense for working people to look out for other working people to the greatest extent possible. Boycotts can be pretty sloppy when it comes to collateral damage and this particular one seems especially sloppy.

An unlikely “success” in trashing the Brat Fest would negatively impact tens of thousands of uninvolved innocents, wouldn’t it? Abstaining from a worthy charity event because the organizers managed to get support from a company whose management privately threw a little of their personal money at a Republican outlier seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It would be more effective to coordinate some type of active participation than to expect others to notice and positively value non-participation.

A lot of Madison non-profits benefit from the World’s Largest Brat Fest and the recipients of that funding are ultimately the people who stand to lose in this case, not Johnsonville. The hope was for this year’s Brat Fest to surpass $1 million in its support to 120 charities since it got rolling.  Having Johnsonville make generous annual contributions has been critical to making that outcome possible. I think we ought to eat every damned one of those brats and be grateful.

Most of us don’t look up the political activity of everyone who contributes to arts centers, university buildings, stadiums, performances or a lot of other things before deciding if they’re a good thing or whether to attend. There is such a thing as knowing too much sometimes and it is the reason that sausage-making has become a well-worn metaphor of nearly mythical status when it comes to observations about politics and policymaking.

There should also be some sense of proportionality to these things. The Johnsonville-related contributions toward Walker compared to what the Koch brothers are doing to bring about an American oligarchy across the country, for example, are like comparing a stick of pepperoni to Tyson Foods.

Even a stopped watch is right twice a day. Great home run hitters chalk up plenty of strikeouts. Hall of Fame running backs sometimes fumble.  The greatest goalies don’t have career-long shutouts and Michael Jordan didn’t make every shot he took on the basketball court. Having Johnsonville step up to support a community effort by volunteering to help feed an army of fest attendees is a good thing. This is Wisconsin. These are bratwurst. We can get past this.

There is a place for boycotts, but the World’s Largest Brat Fest isn’t one of them. Save that stuff for the real weenies out there,  instead of turning a generous act of corporate citizenship into something that this company might begin to think they would be better off not doing at all. Nobody would be better off if that happened.


UPDATE: I see the Wisconsin State Journal and I agree on this today: 

Despite this development, I remain resolute. 🙂

UPDATE: From the elections blog 4/23/11:

*Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, raised $83,854, spent $15,147 and had $82,206 cash on hand with $9,844 in debts. His largest donor was Ralph Stayer of Johnsonville Sausage, who gave him $15,000.  (So, yes, the Johnsonville guy really IS pretty incorrigible.)


6 Responses to “Brat Fest boycott is a bad idea”

  1. hurtsdonit Says:

    i think you’re right on this one, jim. well-put. however, i do believe in the walker-related boycotts overall. for every progressive that refrains from buying from these businesses, i’ll bet there is a hard-line conservative that will go out of their way TO buy from these businesses, and buy big. i heard a story about a walker supporter (an individual, not a corporation) who, upon hearing of a boycott of kwik trip (a walker contributor), made it a point to not only buy gas from them but a load of groceries and also lunch for her family on that day. so i don’t think these companies will suffer much.

    we progressives have to do what we feel is right on this issue…for me that means buying local and / or buying from businesses that support the cause (or at least don’t expressly go against it). we should go out of our way to patronize these businesses, and spread the message so that others do also. a ‘pro-cott’, if you will. a positive act…win-win all around.

    i’ve also sent messages to the companies that support walker, letting them know my position and that i refuse to buy from them…i believe this helps also, in the way of helping these companies understand that they should not act against the interests of their potential consumers. if nothing else at least i have peace of mind.

  2. I’m not going to brat fest. I will gladly give a donation to the charities, but Johnsville can keep their brats.

  3. Keep up the good work on this blog!

  4. I am almost sure this subject matter was seen on Sixty Minutes

  5. “Corporate citizenship”? Hardly. The business of giving is just that, a business. I didn’t see Johnsonville giving away food to the protesters on the Square this past winter. I am boycotting Bratfest and I will never eat another Johnsonville brat. Period. I also no longer buy any Georgia-Pacific paper products. Boycotts work. The only thing corporatists understand is money. The only way to affect them to to discontinue buying their products. Eat all those Johnsonvilles at the Bratfest if it makes you feel charitable. I ani’t eating any of it.

  6. Charlotte Meyer Says:

    Hi, Jim. I came upon this blog just tonight–October 6–while checking out Jacksonville Sausages on line. Seems that they sponsor “Badgerville,” a new event that precedes football home games and that “beefs up” the athletic budget, as well as blasting amplified music for 2+ hours throughout our already football-saturated neighborhood. We who live here love the hoopla that goes with living within an easy walk of the stadium. But Johnsonville’s Badgerville is an over-the-top addition. I imagine they are looking to rectify their image in Madison with students. It seems like just more of the corporatizing of the university. How easily we are seduced. It’s what galvanized Occupy Wall Street .

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