You probably saw the news on Facebook: the CEO of Urban Outfitters, Richard Hayne, is a bad, bad man. Specifically, as a new red-hot meme puts it, he’s “a supporter of Rick Santorum and donated over $13,000 to him. He’s against gay marriage and abortion.” The latter is actually unclear, as the urban legend-debunking site Snopes wrote this week, but it is true that Hayne and his wife had donated $13,150 to Santorum and his PAC as of 2003. The post spreading on Facebook and Tumblr wants you to stop shopping at Urban Outfitters because of this. For employees of Urban Outfitters, the moral stakes are theoretically even higher. They’re the labor to Hayne’s management, the hands to his big evil brain. They’re taking money from this guy, and allowing him to rake in millions. If you find out the head of your company has political views you find loathsome, should you care? In a word, no.
First of all, let it be said that politically conscious consumer advocates are a very hard group to please. Forever 21 has a “hidden evangelical message,” and the Gap and its ilk have been accused of using sweat-shop labor. American Apparel came on the scene to take advantage of those concerns by offering stylish clothes made in America under fair labor conditions. People complained first that the stuff was overpriced. Actually, it was correctly priced, if you care about paying factory workers a good wage. Oh, but their ad campaigns are sexist, and founder Dov Charney is an apparent sexual harasser and all-around gross dude.
A similar dynamic is at play in the current attack on Hayne. The news about his right-wing politics seems to come from a 2003 profile of Hayne in Philadelphia Weekly, but who can explain why certain factoids light the internet on fire at certain times? This week, the Internet is mad at Richard Hayne. Here’s how the Tumblr A Colourful Life, which I think was the original source of the current kerfuffle, put it:
This is Richard Hayne, President and CEO of Urban Outfitters. He’s also a supporter of Rick Santorum and donated over $13,000 to him. He’s against gay marriage and abortion.
His company pulled a pro-gay shirt back in 08, they also blatantly ripped off an Etsy designers work, featured a t-shirt for women that said “eat less” and most recently had a card with a “tranny” slur on in.
Why do you shop at this store? I imagine because you weren’t aware of these facts. Now you are, so stop shopping there.
If this continues, good progressives will have to resort to weaving their own sackcloth from hemp they grow in their own backyards using organic, biodynamic farming processes. They’ll have to weave their new duds on looms powered by solar panels and untouched by Republican hands. They’ll fuel themselves fair-trade coffee and locally grown kale.
I’m kidding, you guys! Or at least I sort of am. But the idea that we should get all up in arms over a CEO’s 9-year-old political donation does strike me as misguided. As privileged Americans, we all have a million decisions to make about what we buy and how we spend our time. Unless we retreat to that backyard hemp farm, we are going to come in contact with people who we disagree with politically. They’re our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow church members, and our gas station attendents. And guess what: No matter how many perfect black flats we avoid buying at Urban Outfitters, we will never, ever get to the point where guys like Richard Hayne don’t have $13,000 to give to political candidates they believe in.
So what about those Urban Outfitters employees who may be questioning the ethics of their jobs this week? I say, if you’re happy at work, work on. Every company is problematic in its own way: There are people in management with unpleasant political views; your boss cheated on her husband, or hates puppies. Pro-life activists this week are worried about whether Pepsi contains aborted fetal cells — seriously. Let’s face it, all of us who don’t work for Doctors Without Borders could be doing more, doing better, doing greener and kinder and healthier and purer.
This isn’t a call to give up, or to not pay any attention to how we direct our dollars or energies. But it’s a call to let ourselves off the hook a bit, and also to realize that we’re not going to change the world by making ourselves miserable. If you work for Urban Outfitters and you find Hayne’s Santorum donation gross, keep taking Hayne’s money. Save your energy. Volunteer. Work your way to a better job, then a better one — up and out. Hayne doesn’t care if you quit, and meaningless sacrifice isn’t the way to a better world.