Incrementalism has never been my cup of tea. I smiled about that as I ordered my passion fruit ice tea... my shaken iced tea... on Saturday afternoon. It was too precious for words, but that wasn't the barrista's fault (shouldn't he be a barristo?) so I took my attitude and my large and expensive and very pink drink outside. There was shade, a breeze, comfy steel tables and chairs, and sunshine, all conspiring to keep me smiling as I tried and failed and tried and failed and tried and failed to take a selfie that didn't send me screaming for a plastic surgeon.
I don't think my arms are long enough.
I hashtagged and tweeted and posted and liked and sent it along to all the organizations which were collecting such things, and every time I hit Post or Send or the envelope-cum-arrow icon I cringed. Just a little, but it was there, nibbling at the edges. The statement was okay, as far as it went, until it stopped being okay at all.
Haven't read it? Here's the link to the whole thing, but I'll be parsing it below if you don't want to click away. The letter is signed Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks Coffee Company, I can't think of any other way to say that he's in charge of the place; those three titles are as significant as it gets. When he speaks, he speaks for the company.
Dear Fellow Americans, he begins, and I'm really getting the presidential vibe. Not Starbucks Customers or Angry Rabble Rousers or Anybody Who's Interested but my fellow Americans. We're all in this together, we who understand freedom and private enterprise and just want to get back to our drive-thru-latte-fixes.
After acknowledging that guns are a polarizing emotional topic, he goes on to whine that, (i)n recent months, Starbucks stores and our partners (employees) who work in our stores have been thrust unwillingly into the middle of this debate.
Unwillingly? We could start with "Corporations are people" and as people they should have opinions on the issues of the day. We could wonder how a Fellow American can stand on the sidelines of something that touches all of us, most of us unwillingly. Don't believe it? I'll be happy to show you my scars and discuss the matter.
But I think what bothers me most is the notion that the coffee shop can exist in a vacuum, as a “third place” between home and work where people can come together to enjoy the peace and pleasure of coffee and community. "Community" without values, I suppose. "Community" on the soft-rock side of life. "Community" as an escape rather than a coming together. People sit in their little silos, plugged into their headphones and their telephones and their tablets, exchanging neither glances nor smiles nor nods of recognition with other patrons. I sat there for two hours on Saturday afternoon. The grey haired couple beside me and I were the only ones who spoke between groups, and we were just trying to share the shade.
That's not building community. That's offering comfortable chairs and free wi-fi if you buy an oddly named beverage. Community involves connection, requires engagement. You eschew the privilege of being unwilling when you open your doors to the public.
Nice try, Mr. Schultz, but it's just not possible. Lord and Taylor didn't want to be in the forefront of the animal rights movement, but protesters closed their fur departments. I don't remember the retailer crying foul. They accepted that public attitudes guide the purse strings and they adapted. They acknowledged the facts and moved on.
I'd have had much more respect for Mr. Schultz if he had highlighted the next few sentences.
Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called “Starbucks Appreciation Days” that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of “open carry.” To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.
Where was that statement when the first of those events took place? Was closing the Newtown store the best response? Where were your words when they were needed? You did not complain about the Moms Demand Action "thank you" events this weekend, so you must not object to gatherings in general. Why were you not out in front of the issue?
Your letter says that your stores exist to give every customer a safe and comfortable respite from the concerns of daily life.
Yup, they scare you too. Little Cuter's admonition to be be careful as I write about this issue rings loud and clear: Mom, the people on the other side have guns!
Have you done any research on the issue? Do you know how many enraged gun owners have discharged their weapons after being refused service because they were armed? Were I a responsible gun owner in favor of open carry, I'd be insulted. You've assumed that because I carry a weapon, I must be teetering on the edge of irresponsible behavior. Otherwise, why aren't you comfortable asking your employees to enforce your rules? If I lit a cigarette and were chastised, aren't you afraid I'd set fire to the furniture in retaliation?
Or, do guns resonate in an entirely different way? Is there something inherent in an AK47 that makes you uncomfortable?
You are continuing to encourage groups from all sides of this debate to share their views in a more appropriate place, with the elected leaders and policymakers who make America’s gun laws. But that's not how things happen in America, Mr. Schultz. We've had lunch counter sit ins and gay pride parades and now an African-American sits in the White House and more and more states are recognizing same sex marriages. Mothers Against Drunk Driving changed our culture for the better and, I believe, Moms Demand Action is doing the same.
It's not a comfortable or third place space to be, but that's the price you pay for being a Fellow American. And, by the way, we're not going away or being quiet. There's a lot less arguing over the 1st Amendment than the 2nd, after all..... and polite women rarely make history.