Rather than arguing that it doesn’t exist or that fears of it have been overblown, a recent New York Times op-ed from Sasha Issenberg said that “cancel culture works,” citing the LGBTQ community’s victory with same-sex marriage.
According to Issenberg, same-sex marriage coasted to mainstream success because LGBTQ activists like Fred Karger stopped mobilizing people to vote for a specific cause and instead mobilized them to protest individuals that gave money to measures like Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of California. One of the first targets of this was businessman Doug Manchester.
“Long before the phrase ‘cancel culture’ entered the lexicon or Republican senators complained about the power of ‘woke capital,’ Mr. Karger refined a digital-era playbook for successfully redirecting scrutiny to the opposition’s financial backers,” continued Issenberg. “The movement to legalize same-sex marriage is often understood as one of civil rights test cases. And indeed, savvy legislative lobbying, fortuitous demographic change, and pop-culture influence all played their part, too. But a largely forgotten story is the way a group of political entrepreneurs changed the economic terrain on which cultural conflict was waged. They demonstrated that shaming and shunning could amount to more than an online pile-on and serve as a potent tactic for political change.”
This strategy of effectively shaming opponents into silence became so effective that many of the biggest opponents of same-sex marriage simply stayed away from the topic in 2012.
“His group, Californians Against Hate, mined disclosure reports and listed everyone who contributed $5,000 or more to pro-Prop 8 committees on a ‘dishonor roll’ website, with phone numbers and business addresses,” noted Issenberg. “Other activists made the data searchable via Google Maps, and he pitched out-of-state newspapers to cover local megadonors to the pro-Prop 8 group Protect Marriage.”
“He picketed upscale supermarkets in New York City and Washington, D.C., to discourage shoppers from buying smoothies and dressings from Bolthouse Farms, whose eponymous founder put $100,000 behind the referendum,” continued Issenberg. “After Proposition 8 passed, Mr. Karger led a two-week boycott of the Utah-based Ken Garff Automotive Group, which had 53 dealerships across three states, because one of Mr. Garff’s relatives had given $100,000 to pass Proposition 8. ‘Individuals and businesses gave a vast amount of money to take away our equality, and we want you to know who they are,’ Mr. Karger wrote.”
The article failed to note that same-sex marriage did not become legal in the United States via the kind of grassroots efforts espoused by Fred Karger but was instituted from the top-down by the Supreme Court.
Issenberg concludes the article by noting that threats of boycotts and public shaming have now become commonplace in American culture and will likely be a force used to bring about social change in the future.
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