Saturday, February 4, 2012

Activism vs consumerism

There's been a lot written in the past few days about the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening, a position that they may or may not have reversed (their press release is written in a way that suggests they have, but a careful reading indicates nothing has actually changed). I have a hunch the Komen Foundation is beginning to wish they'd never heard of Karen Handel (the rabidly right-wing anti-abortion zealot from Georgia they hired as a vice president for public policy and who is reportedly the mastermind behind the defunding efforts). Because they were smart enough to do a fast superficial reversal -- saying they're not canceling any grants already awarded and that Planned Parenthood can apply again next year isn't exactly a reversal; it's an attempt at covering their ass and hoping no one notices PP never gets any money from them again -- this controversy will eventually die down, but not before a lot of rocks get flipped over. Komen has to be unhappy about what's been crawling out.

The public is learning more than the Foundation ever wanted anyone to know about the internal workings of the organization, just where all those dollars raised via Walk for the Cure actually go, and the Foundation's dubious ties with various corporations and pinkwashing. Among other things, it turns out that despite the Komen Foundation's efforts to brand itself as the foremost cancer-fighting organization in the country, a remarkably low percentage of the monies raised actually go toward breast cancer prevention, screening, patient care, or research. Even worse, Komen's defunding of Planned Parenthood isn't its first venture into areas that actively hurt women -- as multiple articles have noted, Komen has paid lobbyists to help Big Pharma keep the cost of drugs high and to promote legislation that stifled research.

The Komen Foundation is hardly unique, however, when it comes to scamming the public with fund-raising for good causes. They just might happen to be the most successful or highest profile. A Gin and Tacos post about Komen -- "a marketing consultancy masquerading as a charity" -- included a link to a recent article, "The Big Business of Breast Cancer," by Lea Goldman in Marie Claire. Turns out the battle against breast cancer is rife with "charities" that specialize in ripping off well-intentioned donors.

Of course, the charity industry in general is rife with scams and marketing that are designed to make the gullible donor feel good but don't actually do much beyond enhancing the charity's bottom line. Doesn't matter if it's a medical cause, the environment, or social justice, there will be some organization that manages to convince people that they're doing a Good Thing by contributing and getting a tee-shirt, a tote bag, some address labels, a coffee mug, or some other made-in-China POS in return. If there's a good cause, some group is bound to try co-opting it by peddling merchandise with their logo on it. . . or convince industry that if they contribute to their particular charity, that industry can share in the goodwill generated by that cause. The pink lids on Yoplait yogurt was marketing genius: Yoplait is one of the pricier yogurts in a typical supermarket so how do you sucker consumers into buying it? Pink lids. Not all the time, of course, because General Mills has no desire to actually give huge amounts of money to any charity -- they just want to donate enough to make it look like a corporation has a conscience.

It's odd how this notion that you can do good works by shopping has crept into every facet of our lives. One of the things that kind of freaked me out this fall was seeing how easily and quickly a supposedly progressive blog slipped into marketing itself as part of its "support" for Occupy Wall Street. The weather started turning colder, and Firedoglake began hawking winter gear that would be donated to OWS participants. Only one problem: it was all going to be branded with the FDL logo. A banner ad for their FDL gear is, in fact, the first thing you see when you go to their site. When they started doing it, it struck me as really, really weird and remarkably self-serving. It still does. Whatever happened to encouraging people to go and actively participate in a movement instead of supporting it by shopping? It was like they were saying, "You don't need to worry about writing to your Congressman or going down and protesting in person. . . just shop, and everything will be fine."


  1. Charities and other NGOs are businesses like any other. They go where the money is and do what sells. Many times the NGOs are far less honest than the industry they purport to attack for dishonesty. Komen is the latest in a long and illustrious list.

  2. It's just all a big scam and I don't want to know if I have it. If it takes me then it does, something is going to take me anyway.

    We're keeping a hell of a lot of bottom feeders alive that has cancer and I don't have a clue why.

  3. At this point I think all charities and churches should lose their tax free staus. They are all political now and shouldn't be sheltered any longer.

  4. I don't get the whole "shop for charity" thing. If I donate directly to a charity, I get a tax deduction and save money. If I buy a product and the company promises to donate money to charity, I spend more for the product, and the company gets the tax deduction and saves money. This makes no sense to me. Why not cut out the middleman, give directly to charities you care about, and save money in the process?


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