Global Handles are Proving Good Tactics, Even if not Huge Leverage

International Organizing
Jay Leno joins a demonstration Monday calling for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel over the human-rights record of the government of Brunei, which owns the hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Jay Leno joins a demonstration Monday calling for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel over the human-rights record of the government of Brunei, which owns the hotel. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

New Orleans   Talking to Steve Early, labor journalist and activist, recently on Wade’s World about the debate over the value of global leverage in organizing drives by the UAW at Volkswagen and CWA at T-Mobile, got me looking around for other examples of organizations grabbing global handles to increase the pressure in their campaigns.  

One that is getting a surprising amount of traction from an unlikely source is SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of Abuse by Priests, which has been waging a relentless effort to hold the Catholic Church accountable for sexual abuse for decades now.  Even in the feel good embrace of the new administration of the Vatican by Pope Francis from Argentina, SNAP with the legal assistance of the New York based Center for Constitutional Rights has managed to give the Vatican huge headaches and public relations nightmares by appealing to the United Nations, more specifically the UN Committee on Torture.  Thus far they have already succeeded in getting this UN committee to classify sexual abuse as equivalent to some forms of torture, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, and, frankly, not so far-fetched.    Moreover they seem to have scored a coup as well by recently prevailing on the UN committee to see the Vatican’s responsibility as the entire holy Catholic church worldwide, surprising the Archbishop trying to do damage control before the UN committee and narrowing the inquiry to only the couple of hundred employees and church staff. 

SNAP has clearly been the bulldog attached to the robes of the church in the United States for years and critical in winning multi-million dollar judgments for its members, but has been exasperated at the continued unwillingness of the church to accept full accountability.  For example SNAP even viewed the recent committee appointed by Pope Francis skeptically as too limited and another evasion.  Recent reports by committee members indicate that they believe they are making progress in coming up with real protocols within the church for dealing with sexual abuse, but given the long history of this campaign, SNAP is not wrong to be worried.   Their gambit with the United Nations may finally put them within reach of the top-to-bottom acceptance of responsibility and full accountability they have sought for so long.  Talk about finding friends in strange places!

In another case of a horrendous issue searching for a handle, the Gill Action Fund, an LGBT group, has triggered a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel, home of the Hollywood favorite, Polo Club, because its owner, an investment vehicle of the Sultan of Brunei, is implementing more provisions of sharia law in that country including stoning for adultery and any kind of hanky-panky by same sex couples.  Big name, headliner groups run by the likes of Jay Leno and his wife, have already pulled out, and other properties owned by the Sultan in London and Paris, are increasingly persona non grata for the elite and one-percenters not wanting to look all “Donald Sterling” on this issue.  Brunei is a long, long way from Hollywood out there in the South China Sea on the tip of Borneo calling Indonesia and Malaysia its neighbors, so it’s a cinch not many A-listers had every set foot on its soil or had any plans to do so, but thanks to an evolving sophistication in global campaigning, even long distance no matter how remote cannot protect evil forever.

Smart tactics and persistent campaigns are finding pressure points, so let’s hope they can build the leverage to bring home the victories.