The World Responds To The #MuslimBan
We’re less than a fortnight into Trump’s presidency, and we’re averaging one massive global protest a week. Over the last seven days, demonstrators all over the world have taken to the streets to decry Trump’s executive order closing borders to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And Silicon Valley is speaking up, too.
Google has raised $4 million in one of its biggest crisis campaigns ever, and more than 2,000 of the company’s employees rallied against the executive order all over the United States this week. (Google CEO Sundar Pichai has stated that the ban would personally affect at least 187 of their workers.) Google has also stated its intent to help fund a legal challenge to the ban, allying itself with Amazon, Airbnb, Expedia and GitHub.
Elsewhere, Airbnb is offering free housing to refugees affected by the order, as well as other immigrants in need. “This is a policy that I profoundly disagree with and it is a direct obstacle to our mission at Airbnb,” wrote CEO Brian Chesky in a company-wide email. “We believe that you should be able to travel to and live in any community around the world… we want this to be more than just something we put on a plaque, we have to take action.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has condemned the ban, speaking in favour of the economic benefits of immigration, specifically from countries like Syria. The official Twitter account has also stated: “Twitter is built by immigrants of all religions. We stand for and with them, always.” These are heartening sentiments, but it all begins to feel a little hollow when you consider how Twitter has failed, time and time again, to curb racist and xenophobic abuse on its own platform (although we are assured new anti-harassment measures are imminent).
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has also written a post about the immigration ban, sharing her own family’s immigration history and speaking out about how this harsher immigration climate leaves women especially vulnerable. Much like Dorsey, this is an impassioned and welcome statement from a woman who personally profited from female empowerment as a brand but remained conspicuously silent during the Women’s March. It has been speculated that Facebook as a whole is trying its best not to rock the boat in order to keep its precarious position as one of the few flagship tech and media companies still on good terms with the White House. But even CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lent his voice to those opposing the ban, saying we must “keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help.”
One organisation which gravely misjudged how to respond to the ban is ride-sharing service Uber. During the taxi driver strike at JFK International Airport in New York, Uber suspended surge pricing, creating the impression that it was profiting from the strike (and, by extension, the ban). This led American users of the app to delete their accounts and migrate to rival company Lyft in such high numbers that Uber was forced to introduce a simpler auto-delete function.
Further boosting its reputation in comparison to its competitor, Lyft has pledged to donate $1 million over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union. “Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community,” say founders Logan Green and John Zimmer.
Objections to Trump’s executive orders are even coming from public officials. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by the President after refusing to uphold the immigration ban on grounds of conscience (she has since been nominated for a John F. Kennedy Courage Award). And this week, all ten Democrats on the US Senate committee boycotted a meeting to consider Scott Pruitt as the next leader of the Environment Protection Agency.
Republicans have called the move a “temper tantrum” and an attempt to slow down the confirmation process, but Democratic Senator Kamala Harris simply argues that it is “about transparency in government.” It is one thing to dismiss ten people refusing to go to a meeting as a temper tantrum. It’s not quite so easy, surely, when the people saying “I think the hell not” number in their thousands.
But it should be noted that protests and boycotts are happening on both sides of the issue. After Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz promised to hire 10,000 immigrants in response to the ban, Trump supporters swiftly launched a #BoycottStarbucks campaign on social media. (The coffee chain’s revenue and shares have yet to show the remotest signs of an impact.)
It’s a common response from people who voted for Trump; a sudden and vehement reaction when a remotely liberal view is expressed by something or someone whose work they previously enjoyed. You might say they are… triggered. Even the whimsical We Rate Dogs account on Twitter, a source of cuteness and little else, has been blasted as “too political.” So they might want to look away during the commercials when this weekend’s Super Bowl airs.
While the majority of Super Bowl ads “avoid even a whiff of overt partisanship,” this year’s Budweiser spot is an immigration story, following Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch on his journey from Germany to America. It ties into Budweiser’s record for running patriotically themed ads, and serves to further bolster the narrative that a rich history of immigration is part of America’s identity.
In the past, brands have been guilty of aligning themselves with “easy” causes which fit neatly into their content plan and generate some pleasant noise around an issue, but don’t drive change forward on any real scale. That is no longer sufficient. “If brands really want to get involved in shaping society — and they should as long as they play an active part in it — they should start with the people,” writes Gemma Milne. “They should ask questions like ‘what is needed’, ‘what is going wrong’ and ‘what is really affecting the lives of millions in the places where I operate’… Effect must come before marketability.”
And now it’s happening. It might not even be possible to exist as a politically neutral brand any more. And even if you could — would you want to? If your consumers care (and they do), then so must you.