Olympia Redux: Fondness

23 Sep

Someone breaking down the 300 or so posts written for this blog over the last couple of years might ask a legitimate question regarding why so much time was spent talking about food co-op boycotts in general and the Olympia Food Co-op boycott in particular.

The answer to the first half of such a question is straightforward. For unlike divestment and boycott campaigns at schools, churches, municipalities and other major institutions, co-op boycotts were born during the two-and-a-half years since this blog has been around, allowing me to look at the birth, infection and eventual self-immunization of this particular BDS target somewhat scientifically (as opposed to other types of campaigns which required an historic perspective since their heyday was more than half a decade ago). And lessons learned from observing boycott attempts begin and eventually dry up in this one category of “soft target” can be applied to other vulnerable organizations (such as community radio stations).

The answer to why I’ve returned to the subject of Oly again and again is a bit less obvious, possibly because it is somewhat personal. After all, as an anti-divestment activist who focuses on BDS campaigns nationally (with occasional forays overseas), I’m already getting more than what I need from the Olympia Co-op issue. In fact, once a new co-op boycott crops up, all I need to do is provide information about the underhanded tactics used to institute the Olympia boycott and demonstrate the division, misery and mayhem that decision has caused (and contrast that with the inclusiveness and thoughtfulness that led to boycott rejections, followed by community harmony, elsewhere) and voila: another co-op boycott attempt heads towards the drain.

Given that Oly serves such a useful purpose by continuing its boycott, regardless of the cost to (among other people and things) the boycotters own goals, why spend so much time talking about efforts to repeal that decision? Here is where the personal comes in. For when the Olympia boycott began, that led to members of the Olympia community, appalled at a decision taken in their name and behind their backs, to find me (and vice versa). And while our involvement with each other never went past some e-mails, phone calls and one enjoyable afternoon visit, I soon discovered something that moved me past thinking of Oly in purely strategic terms. Simply put: I liked these guys (and gals).

Sure I wish they were more united as a community in how to deal with the boycott and other anti-Israel provocations woven in the fabric of life in Olympia Washington. And like most people observing someone else’s political conflicts from afar, I can think of this or that “shouldadone” political strategy or tactic. But in a town where filling toilets at City Hall with cement is considered by some to be a form of legitimate political expression, what works and what doesn’t politically in Olympia must remain a subject of local discussion and decision.

Much of my fondness for these folks derives from the hospitality and quirkiness the Olympian anti-boycott cru showed me during my visit (including an invitation to a sweat lodge and a gift of smoked salmon). But beyond such niceties, we are ultimately united as kindred spirits who have undergone common experiences. If I were to pick one other topic I’ve written about more than Oly (or even food co-ops), it would easily be Somerville, MA¸ my former hometown that in 2004 became the battleground for the country’s first (and still last) municipal divestment campaign (a subject I wrote about dozens of times for a now defunct Web site).

It was in Somerville that I and fellow local Jews and non-Jews (many of whom had never been involved with either Somerville or Jewish politics) awoke one morning to discover that (as with Oly) someone had “gotten to” our leaders and convinced them to pass a nasty divestment resolution accusing my people of being genocidal murderers in the name of the city (and all its citizens).

Now in Somerville, we managed to convince the city’s Alderman of their mistake and within a few months BDS was history in that city. But I never forgot the feeling of being victimized by a bunch of ugly, manipulative, partisan BDS-holes willing to do anything (and the expense of anyone) to get their way.

So while I may be bound to a number of Olympians by ties of personal fondness, those ties can only go as deep as can be generated by a few e-mails and phone calls and one face-to-face meeting. But ties of common experience run much deeper, as does a far more visceral desire to see that bullies such as the Olympia BDS crowd never get their way at the expense of kind people who never asked to be put in the front lines of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

2 Responses to “Olympia Redux: Fondness”

  1. Anonymous September 26, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    We do all kinds of crazy protesting and boycottin' here in Olympia, Jon. Along with Israel, we're boycotting Norway, China and Colorado at the co-op. Half the town is boycotting Ralph's because they won't fill prescriptions for plan B. That's just what we do here.
    I'm glad you've made some connections with Olympians. Next time you're in Oly feel free to stop by the co-op where you'll find Jews and non-Jews working, shopping and eating together.
    Love and Peace from Olympia.

  2. Jon September 27, 2011 at 12:47 am #

    I actually did visit Olympia and stopped by the co-op. And while I didn't check anyone's foreskins, I will take you at your word that some of the people shopping and working and shopping there were a mix of Red Sea Pedestrians and others.

    But I also met with a group of community members who were repulsed by what the co-op has done in their name and without their involvement, a group of Olympians who (unlike the shoppers and employees I ran into, perhaps) were intentionally hurt by the organization in the name of what someone other than them perceived as some kind of “higher good.”

    As I note above, I have gotten what I need from Olympia in terms of a powerful example of what not to do which I can (and have) presented to decision makers at other co-ops who saw what happened in your community and wisely decided to not follow your example.

    And, despite the fact that I could probably convince a civic organization to which I belong to punish my political enemeies (i.e., follow the M.O of BDS), you will never see me try to “turn the tables” in this manner. For BDS is a tactic I have never and will never replicate for the simple reason that – regardless of how passionate I feel about who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict (a passion no less intense than those held by the Olympia BDSers), scoring political is not worth the well-being of my neighbors.

    But, to each their own, I guess.

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