The best books about boycotts & consumer activism

Allyson Brantley Author Of Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism
By Allyson Brantley

Who am I?

I’m a Colorado-raised and California-based historian, professor, and writer. I recently published my first book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism, which explores the history of one of the longest-running consumer boycotts in American history – the boycott of Coors beer. In telling this particular history, I became fascinated with the boycott as a tool of protest and activism. The boycott is an iconic and regular feature of American politics and history, but it is often dismissed as ineffective or passive. The books on this list (as well as many others) have helped to convince me that the boycott and consumer activism can be powerful forms of solidarity-building and protest.

I wrote...

Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism

By Allyson Brantley,

Book cover of Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism

What is my book about?

In the late twentieth century, nothing united union members, progressive students, Black and Chicano activists, Native Americans, feminists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community quite as well as Coors beer. They came together not in praise of the ice-cold beverage but rather to fight a common enemy: the Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company. Wielding the boycott as their weapon of choice, activists targeted Coors for allegations of anti-unionism, discrimination, and conservative political ties. Over decades of organizing and coalition-building from the 1950s to the 1990s, anti-Coors activists molded the boycott into a powerful means of political protest.

I draw from a broad archive as well as oral history interviews with long-time boycotters to offer a compelling, grassroots view of anti-corporate organizing and the unlikely coalitions that formed in opposition to Coors. The story highlights the vibrancy of activism in the final decades of the twentieth century and the enduring legacy of that organizing for communities, consumer activists, and corporations today.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America

Why did I love this book?

My copy of Buying Power is extremely dog-eared and worn – this was an essential resource as I wrote Brewing a Boycott. Glickman offers a compelling and wide-ranging account of Americans’ efforts since the 18th century to raise consumer consciousness and boycott offending products. In this book, we see clearly that boycotting is an “American political tradition” that ties together many moments in American history, from colonists engaging in what they called “non-consumption” to abolitionists in the antebellum North and Ralph Nader’s fight for a Consumer Protection Agency in the 1970s. As a bonus, Glickman includes an informative appendix that breaks down consumer movements’ members, tactics, and significance.

By Lawrence B. Glickman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Buying Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A definitive history of consumer activism, "Buying Power" traces the lineage of this political tradition back to our nation's founding, revealing that Americans used purchasing power to support causes and punish enemies long before the word boycott even entered our lexicon. Taking the Boston Tea Party as his starting point, Lawrence B. Glickman argues that the rejection of British imports by revolutionary patriots inaugurated a continuous series of consumer boycotts, campaigns for safe and ethical consumption, and efforts to make goods more broadly accessible. He explores abolitionist-led efforts to eschew slave-made goods, African American consumer campaigns against Jim Crow, a…

Book cover of Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson

Why did I love this book?

One of the most iconic and best-known boycotts of the 20th century is the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, launched by Rosa Parks’ famous act of civil disobedience. But as Blair L.M. Kelley demonstrates in Right to Ride, the Montgomery movement grew out of a longer tradition of boycotts and protest in the United States. In the 1850s, Black women in New York City protested segregation in the city’s streetcars. Decades later, Black activists boycotted segregated streetcars in at least twenty-five southern cities between 1900 and 1907. Kelley’s book, which tells this forgotten and, at times, failed history, reminds us that boycott movements are important forms of resistance – even under threats of violence and in the face of significant obstacles.

By Blair L.M. Kelley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Right to Ride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A civil rights movement in an earlier generation. Through a reexamination of the earliest struggles against Jim Crow, Blair Kelley exposes the fullness of African American efforts to resist the passage of segregation laws dividing trains and streetcars by race in the early Jim Crow era. ""Right to Ride"" chronicles the litigation and local organizing against segregated rails that led to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 and the streetcar boycott movement waged in twenty-five southern cities from 1900 to 1907. Kelley tells the stories of the brave but little-known men and women who faced down the violence of…

Book cover of Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America

Why did I love this book?

Women – and housewives – have long done most of a household’s shopping, making them the arbiters of family consumer habits. But as Twarog details in this fascinating book, many working-class American women have used their status as housewives to engage in protest and build power. Politics of the Pantry focuses particularly on battles over the cost of food – especially meat – in the 20th century. Women-led meat boycotts occurred in 1935, 1966, 1969, and 1973, for example. This slim volume is readable, engaging, and highlights the important role that women have played in consumer politics.

By Emily E. LB. Twarog,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Politics of the Pantry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The history of women's involvement in politics has focused most heavily on electoral politics, but throughout the twentieth century a far wider range of women has engaged in political activity when they found it increasingly challenging to feed their families and balance their household ledgers. The Politics of the Pantry examines the rise and fall of the American housewife as a political constituency group. It examines how working- and middle-class housewives'
relationship with the state evolved over the course of the century. Shifting the focus away from the workplace as a site of protest, it looks to the homefront as…

Book cover of From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement

Why did I love this book?

The literature on Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers, and their boycott campaigns is quite extensive. Matt Garcia’s is one of the best accounts of the Farm Workers’ strategy of boycotting grapes, lettuce, and other items to build power and win a union. What I especially appreciate about Garcia’s account is, first, his focus on the innovations in consumer activism brought about by the UFW. Organizers and workers made their boycott succeed by going into cities, living together in boycott houses, and appealing to urban consumers. Garcia’s accounts of boycott houses and organizers’ efforts from Los Angeles to Toronto and London are excellent. Second, Garcia doesn’t stray from critiquing the boycott tactic and noting places where it fell short – making this a cautionary tale for activists today.

By Matt Garcia,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From the Jaws of Victory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Jaws of Victory:The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement is the most comprehensive history ever written on the meteoric rise and precipitous decline of the United Farm Workers, the most successful farm labor union in United States history. Based on little-known sources and one-of-a-kind oral histories with many veterans of the farm worker movement, this book revises much of what we know about the UFW. Matt Garcia's gripping account of the expansion of the union's grape boycott reveals how the boycott, which UFW leader Cesar Chavez initially resisted, became the defining feature of…

Book cover of Buying Into the Regime: Grapes and Consumption in Cold War Chile and the United States

Why did I love this book?

You’ll never look at table grapes the same after reading Tinsman’s excellent Buying into the Regime. Her book takes a different approach from the texts above – instead of looking at a single movement, she focuses on a single industry (Chilean grapes) in multiple contexts: cultivation in Chile, Cold War consumption in the United States, and consumer activism and grape boycotts in both nations. The result is a remarkable transnational history that underscores how consumption itself is a “terrain of political struggle.” Tinsman’s expansive perspective, which engages a number of different fields, also offers lessons for activists in the age of globalization, notably that building transnational alliances is incredibly difficult work.

By Heidi Tinsman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Buying Into the Regime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Buying into the Regime is a transnational history of how Chilean grapes created new forms of consumption and labor politics in both the United States and Chile. After seizing power in 1973, Augusto Pinochet embraced neoliberalism, transforming Chile's economy. The country became the world's leading grape exporter. Heidi Tinsman traces the rise of Chile's fruit industry, examining how income from grape production enabled fruit workers, many of whom were women, to buy the commodities-appliances, clothing, cosmetics-flowing into Chile, and how this new consumerism influenced gender relations, as well as pro-democracy movements. Back in the United States, Chilean and U.S. businessmen…

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