Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Uncharitable

The Komen Foundation is backing down from their stance on Planned Parenthood for one reason and one reason only - it's costing them money. They will try to figure out some way to reimpose the ban, probably by lumping PP with a group of other donation recipients and declaring that this type (what ever the criteria) will no longer get donations. Or they might declare that they will only donate to accredited research institutions.

My counter-intuitive take on this is it's probably better for PP not to receive money from Komen. The local PP organization, for San Diego and Imperial Counties, does not take Komen funds. They probably will get more money from the bad publicity over the Komen misstep than they were getting from the foundation.

My take on Komen itself is more complicated. On the one hand, I work with a number of women of all political stripes, several of whom are breast cancer survivors, who always do the Komen walk. They display pink ribbons (on lapel pins, shoe laces, security card lanyards, coffee mugs, etc.) to show their support of each other first and foremost, and for all women who contract this form of cancer. Their loyalty to the foundation is not so clear cut. It's just the pink-ribbon group that sponsors the annual walk and sells the merchandise. What matters is the community that provides the face-to-face support. Some of these women are fine with PP, some are not, but they are all behind the pink ribbon.

On the other hand, I look at the foundation and I see another Whole Foods operation - something that appeals to the warm and fuzzies of a certain socioeconomic and cultural class and makes them feel virtuous, all the while pouring millions of dollars into right-wing coffers.

Unlike Whole Foods, which really is merely a grand exercise in self-delusion and any "liberal" who shops there deserves every rabid right wing politician in their immediate vicinity (Why not? You're paying for them...), there is a significant disconnect between the Komen parent organization and the women (and men) who are using it as a focal point for their own personal participation and show of solidarity.

Komen itself is an anti-charity. If it could not skim funds and redirect money to business associates and personal friends, it would cease to exist, just like a wide swath of other "charitable" operations. There is no reforming it because it doesn't actually exist to support medical research. It exists to enrich its top operatives and its business partners, just like any other large corporation.

But what about the very real community actions that happen under its umbrella, which are charitable and done for the sake of loved ones, friends and people the actors will never meet but for whom they have only compassion?

These are not trivial concerns. Self-righteously declaring the local participants to be suffering from some kind of false consciousness or saying "they" need to support some other organization doesn't address the reasons for the support in the first place. It is not as simple as shopping somewhere else, where barriers for exiting one choice (Whole Foods) and entering another (locally owned grocery) are low and transactions are easily interchangeable. The disconnect between personal beliefs and corporate behavior is not so stark. It's not a transactional relationship imbued with emotions - it is emotional commitment and a public expression of compassion.

To do battle with an entrenched organization takes much more than loudly declaring your disgust with the operation. There must be something to replace it and a clear path to adopting the alternative in a way that appeals to actors' identity.

This is the lesson for any attempt to modify entrenched habits and actions.

Anglachel

1 comment:

Joyce L. Arnold said...

"what about the very real community actions that happen under its umbrella"

In general, that's something I've struggled with for many years -- what to do with an organization / business that does good work (from my perspective, obviously), or supports it, but about which I have questions and problems.

There are obviously differences, but this reminds me of the Human Rights Campaign recently giving an award to Goldman Sachs, for their actually commendable support of the LGBT communities.

The need for "something to replace it," in the case of HRC, has long been recognized. Even as HRC remains by far the biggest LGBT advocacy organization, there are "alternative ways" in place.

Do such ways exist, regarding Komen? I really don't know.