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March for Our Lives

Analysis: Publix Is Cementing Its Values By Supporting Adam Putnam

Some recent activity from the Southern grocery chain seems…well, alarming.

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Activist groups associated with the Florida chapter of the Women’s March (such as First Coast Progressive Women, Indivisible Tallahassee, and Ponte Vedra United for Progress) have organized a boycott against Publix, a Florida-based grocery chain, which has just started to expand operations North to states like Virginia.

The boycott has been taking place since mid-February, however, the target date for the boycott has been set for Memorial Day weekend, since the holiday significantly boosts quarterly sales. March For Our Lives student protesters have also called for a die-in protest to take place at their stores in Parkland.

The boycott has been undertaken after a series of campaign donations by Publix and its executives for Adam Putnam, who is running for Governor in the Florida gubernatorial Republican primary.

Publix’s donations are notable in this case because the private corporation (and its executives) have donated more to Putnam’s campaign than any other Florida politician over the past 20 years. The donations by Publix and its executives to the Putnam campaign have totaled $670,000 over the past few years. Namely, Hoyt. R Barnett —Vice President of Charities for Publix — and his wife Carol Barnett, have donated $195,000 in 2018 to Putnam’s campaign PAC, Florida Grown.

Putnam, the current Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and former House representative, is an active supporter of the NRA and is against legislation that places restrictions on gun ownership. Putnam proclaims gun ownership to be an “inalienable right,” and has claimed he is “committed to defending that right from progressive liberals.”

He’s most famous for a tweet where he proudly proclaims to be an “NRA sellout” for receiving financial donations and supporting the association. His policies on guns — even in the wake of Parkland — demonstrate that he does not believe in getting rid of concealed carry permits in Florida or putting age limits on gun ownership.

Publix previously made a statement on their website explaining their choice, saying “it is our mission to do our very best to please all Publix customers, but unfortunately in today’s complex world this is not always an easy task,” as well as, “We support bi-partisan, business-friendly candidates, regardless of political affiliation and we remain neutral on issues outside of our core business.” However, this has since been updated/retracted on May 22, for a more ambiguous statement, which says:

“As the largest private employer in the state of Florida, and with the majority of our stores and our corporate headquarters located here as well, we have a history of supporting candidates focused on job growth and a healthy Florida economy.
We regret that some of our political contributions have led to an unintentional customer divide instead of our desire to support a growing economy in Florida.
Publix cares about our associates, customers and the communities we serve. It is important to understand that the vast majority of our giving is focused on organizations whose mission supports youth, education and the plight of the hungry and homeless within our area of operation.
As a result of this situation, we are evaluating our processes to ensure that our giving better reflects our intended desire to support a strong economy and a healthy community.”

While everyone is quick to point fingers at Publix for supporting a candidate who is not in favor of gun control in the wake of the close-to-home Parkland tragedy, they seem to forget that Publix also has a long history of professing a culture of “diversity and inclusion” while simultaneously discriminating against their LGBTQIA workers. Publix only recently approved their coverage of PrEp for employees, a preventative HIV medication that is essential to reducing the risk of contracting HIV by 90%, according to the CDC. And this was only after public backlash.

Putnam, like Publix, has made his position clear on how he feels about the LGBTQIA community. While in Congress, he voted in favor for the Marriage Protection Amendment and voted against prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation.

In their support for Putnam, Publix has claimed that Putnam is a local and a neighbor to the Central Florida area as their reasoning for supporting him. However, Publix also has a notable economic stake in supporting Putnam.

Putnam owns cattle and citrus groves in Polk County, and while he does not directly supply Publix grocery stores, he supplies citrus juice to Florida’s Natural, which is a huge citrus co-op that supplies their product to Publix grocery stores.

Although Publix clearly has some economic stake in supporting Putnam, the candidate arguably represents the conservative, Christian values that established the company in the 1930s and continues into the present. For, not only have they run into multiple discrimination cases involving the LGBTQIA community in 2018, but the daughter of the founder has given $800,000 from her trust fund to support anti-marijuana lobbying and legislation after medical marijuana was legalized in the state.

Publix ranks high for their ability to provide outstanding customer service, and states that “treating the customer like royalty” is at the core of their principles. One of the “lessons” from the founder, George Jenkins, reads on the Publix website that “at Publix, everyone would have a voice, and the doors of communication would be open.” However it is becoming more clear with the financial support of Putnam that these “lessons” are only to be taken at face value.

With beloved, Southern companies like Chick-Fil-A facing fierce sales dips from their positions on social issues, it is interesting to note how in an especially polarized climate after the 2016 election, Publix has opted to financially embrace Putnam. More significantly since this is the largest donation they have given in the past twenty years. As their markets move further north, to “purple” states like Virginia and progressive college towns like Richmond, Publix and its executives might want to attempt to avoid scandal or any threat to their sales.

This would explain the retraction of their original statement concerning the backlash, which contained cryptic language, stating that “we serve customers with varying points of view and understand the sensitivity that can surround political topics.”

Stating that Publix supports customers with “varying points of view” seems to be hiding the fact that as a company, they have supported certain political ideologies more than others, especially those that target the LGBTQIA community. This is also evident in the donations Publix has made to the NRC and DNC – opting to give more to the NRC by $15,000.

However, it is possible that Publix had the full intention of subtly giving Putnam their financial support to relay their stance on current social issues. While many customers are currently upset at the multiple points of injustice that are coming to light regarding the company, including farmworkers’ rights, Publix is not inconsistent with their financial support.

The outrage, instead, seems to highlight a bigger problem in the age of consumerism: customers believe, because of the wonderful customer service, multiple charity donations, and rigid focus on human connection, that Publix would support candidates that would benefit the community as a whole, including LGBTQIA individuals and school-aged children living in fear of gun violence.

The boycott, and the outrage, signifies that customers feel duped by a company that promotes diversity and inclusion in their principles, but financially supports candidates that wish to strip groups of the same customers of their individual rights to safety and sexuality.

If you are interested in participating in a protest or being part of the boycott, the Central Florida chapter of the Women’s March for Florida is updating their social media pages with multiple ways to join and volunteer.

Are you looking for digital journalism training and experience? Are you a journalism major who wants to take your career to the next level? CMN’s Digital Journalism course gives you real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to journalism influencers and mentors, and a great place to display your work. You can get academic credit too. Check out the Digital Journalism Course here.

Emily Harrington is a senior at University of Central Florida who is double majoring in English Literature and Humanities and Cultural Studies. Emily is also an avid activist and she works as an ally with multiple Florida-based groups. Her main mission with her writing is to negotiate her place between street activism and the ivory tower to foster critical thinking and conversation.

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