A boycott is a tricky thing – particularly a political boycott. There’s a history of success which makes them attractive, and it’s doing something by not doing something, which, in some but not all cases, can make it seem like an “easy” feel-good action.

In reality, it’s not easy at all. And while some boycotts succeed, many fail. So, let’s talk successes. What does an effective boycott need?

1. Your boycott needs a specific and reachable goal. “Boycott because I don’t like” and “boycott because they’re bad people” are ethically sound, but politically ineffective. C.f. the endless and utterly futile GE boycott of the 90s – a general protest of their armaments programme, communicated poorly, nebulous and largely hopeless.

Montgomery, by contrast, went in with specific goals, ones that could be reached – limits to segregation on the bus system, courteous treatment by drivers, elimination of the whites-only requirement for driver positions. They didn’t even go for full bus desegregation; they decided it wasn’t reachable.

What is your specific goal? If you don’t have one, you are doomed to failure; get one. If your goal is “destroy PAX and Penny Arcade,” you’re turning this into a death match. Ask yourself: Is this attainable?, and think about that real hard.

2. Your boycott needs to be achievable. Do the circumstances allow your boycott to have practical monetary effect, or will your boycotters be instantly replaced by non-boycotters, resulting in zero economic effect?

Montgomery didn’t succeed out of moral righteousness. Montgomery succeeded by causing the city serious economic distress, causing racist whites to show their true natures in unpleasant and graphic ways, leading to international attention and court cases the boycotters and protestors eventually won.

Right now, PAX sells out in under an hour. Can you make enough impact so that it doesn’t sell out? Or can you persuade a lot of exhibitors to bail, weakening the expo? Because that’s economic impact. That’s your goal.

If you cannot cause significant effect, your boycott is doomed from the start. And worse, you’ll have made the crowd into a monolithic wedge of reinforced misogyny, giving the “bitch make me a sandwich” crowd exactly what they want.

3. You need to provide an alternative. Montgomery had car-pooling and taxis and more. It ground on for years and was a huge hardship.

Do you want the gaming industry to go back to a big E3 or Comdex type event? Have you forgotten the stripper poles at exhibits and controls physically attached to women’s breasts? Did you enjoy the prostitution coupons*? I’m not making those up; I kept some as reminders.

This is a serious question. Was that better? If not, do you think they won’t go right back there if it’s their turn again? Do you think the same greater rape culture that treats women so disposably as this one, the sexist and exclusionist culture that can, say, run these ads (for a non-porn game!) without even raising a noticeable stir:

These ran last month on science websites, ffs

…do you think this corporate culture will produce an improved event?

Because one way or another, if your goal is to take out PAX, then if you succeed, a replacement will appear. It’ll probably be corporate; events this scale absolutely require year-round staff.

And you have to ask whether this replacement will be better, or worse. Will you get a larger MAGfest? It’s possible. Or will you instead get the return of Comdex?

If you don’t have an answer, you need to get one. Because if you’re wrong, well – sometimes success is worse than failure.

Look, I’m not saying a boycott is wrong; I’m not saying a boycott is doomed to fail. But I am saying there are three possible results: 1. A boycott failure, which weakens you, and makes things worse. 2. A “success” that leads to a corporate Comdex/E3 style replacement, which also makes things worse. 3. An actual success.

These are the facts. If you don’t even know what that actual success is, and if you don’t have a plan that could conceivably get you there, then you will get results one or two. And then we all lose.


Our latest single, by the way, is a free download we did for Jaegercon, the Pacific Rim convention. It’s really free – it doesn’t even ask for your email address. But if you want on our band mailing list that would be awesome, it’s a monthly newsletter. 😀

*: I acknowledge that there are actualised self-directed sex workers; these were not they. This was objectification factor twelve, to put it mildly.