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Personal politics and the death star


Randal Graves on the construction of the second Death Star: “All right, look— you're a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia— this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn't ask for that. You have no personal politics. You're just trying to scrape out a living.”



I never thought I’d open one of these with a quote from “Clerks.”But I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene lately.

It started during my summer down in the South. You notice pretty quickly (or at least, it was my experience) that people down South love Chik-fil-A. I mean love it. And I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard someone suggest Chik-fil-A for lunch.

In fact, the last time that franchise name came across my path was in 2011, the year of the Chik-fil-A same-sex marriage controversy. Remember that? It seems much longer than two years ago. But in a controversy-enveloped world, of course it feels like a long time ago.

A quick recap of the facts: Chik-fil-A donates to the Winshape Foundation, which is Chik-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his family’s charitable endeavor. The Winshape Foundation had historically donated a portion of this money (in the millions) to various organizations that oppose LGBT rights. These donations came to media attention and public response was strong. Thousands of citizens publicly boycotted Chik-fil-A restaurants, public officials reproached the corporation and corporate partners ceased their business relationships. On the other hand, thousands of citizens participated in a Chik-fil-A appreciation day as a show of public support.

A USA Today poll by Whitney Matheson at the time showed 53 percent of people sampled as boycotting, while 43 percent of people responded that they would continue to eat the food and 5 percent were undecided. Since then, there have been several policy changes and Chik-fil-A has promised that its non-profit arm would not contribute money to groups that oppose gay marriage. While Dan Cathy has his own opinions about LGBT rights, they are no longer supposed to be reflective of Chik-fil-A’s official corporate policy or actions.

Since then, I think most of us have completely forgotten about it. But that controversy was the last taste that the franchise had left in my mouth. So there I was, in Houston, with people who absolutely love Chik-fil-A. And I couldn’t remember whatever happened with the whole has-been controversy. I had to go look it up.


I remembered a lot of talk about personal politics back when the whole hullabaloo had happened. We asked: To what extent do our beliefs play an active role in the decisions we make? Even this summer, though, when I said, “Remember that?” I got a few bewildered looks. People seemed to agree that personal politics should play a role in your decisions — but they didn’t seem to think that it should ever really go as far as actively not eating at Chik-fil-A. (Note: We suspended any debate about franchising and ownership for the sake of the other argument about personal politics).

Then I watched “Clerks”(again). And I got to thinking a lot about personal politics. I asked: To what extent do our beliefs play an active role in the decisions we make? The answer is simple. Most of us just aren’t willing to admit it. Collectively, we tend to make our decisions based on what’s convenient for us.

Has the media told us what the right thing to do is? Has our friend or someone in class? When was the last time you really thought about what goes into making that product or what organizations that company funds? There’s probably a lot that we are party to that we don’t necessarily agree with. We don’t really tend to know the companies we do business with well.

But we, as consumers, do business with a lot of parties. How are we expected to keep track of everything we come into contact with? It would be impossible. If we really knew more about what we use and consume, we’d probably have to suspend the way we currently live our lives, or at the very least reevaluate what we think our pseudo-strong beliefs are. No — I can’t definitively tell you that it would be reasonable for you to be aware of half of the businesses you interact with on a daily basis, to know things as seemingly innocuous as where your backpack material comes from.

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I’m not exactly sure what the answer is here. I just think it’s something worth thinking about for ourselves. To what extent do we let personal politics actively play a role in the decisions we make? To what extent should we make them actively play a role in the decisions we make? I don’t think we give those questions enough thought these days.

Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at