When Customers Stand Together: An Advocacy Lesson For All

I grew up in New England and it’s true what they say. You can take a girl out of New England, but you can’t New England out of the girl. No matter where I go, I take it with me.

There’s something about New Englanders that makes us… hearty. Resilient. Fiesty. Perhaps it’s the cold winters, mercurial springs, mellow summers, and glorious autumns that harden our resolve. Perhaps it’s the lobster. Who knows?

What I do know is this: New Englanders are showing the country right now what the power of speaking up and banding together can do. 

“Mahhhhh-ket Basket”

DeMoulas was a grocery store chain that was ubiquitous in New Hampshire and Massachusetts when I was a kid. If you didn’t have a local IGA (Independent Grocers Association store, pronounced Eye-Gah by the cool kids in the know), your mom and dad probably went to DeMoulas. DeMoulas eventually became known as Market Basket. There are currently 71 stores in New England. When I lived in New England as an adult, I shopped at Market Basket.

Two brothers owned the chain for a long time, until George Demoulas died and all grocery hell broke loose with infighting between heirs and the remaining brother. Now, the ruling cousins (both named Arthur, which makes it terribly confusing at family reunions and in the boardroom) have escalated this fight, with Arthur T. Demoulas being ousted as president of the corporation by Arthur S. Demoulas.

Arthur T. Demoulas has a fan club. A very large fan club of employees and customers who reacted to the firing of their CEO with a fervor that makes me proud to be a New Englander. The employees have been picketing during their off-hours, demanding the return of Arthur T. Demoulas. Some of them have lost their jobs because of it. (The lawsuits for unlawful firing and refusal to pay are already piling up.)

Photo courtesy of mydemoulas.net
Photo courtesy of mydemoulas.net

But it’s the customers (inspired by the employees that they have grown to love as part of their grocery shopping ritual) that are showing us what other communities can do (and have done) to impact change – by boycotting the stores.

“So what? People boycott all the time.”

Sales are down 90% in some stores. Ninety percent. Wrap your noggin around that. That’s a lot of money.

With employees being fired or refusing to work, no one is stocking the shelves. Customers are joining the employees picketing. They are shopping at other stores, then taking their receipts and taping them to the windows of the Market Baskets that they previously frequented.

They are hitting them where it hurts. Even if this is resolved expeditiously, it will be weeks – months – before the supply chain will fill the stores back up. Arthur T. Demoulas is trying to buy the company outright, but the current board of directors isn’t biting.

What can we, the diabetes community, learn from this?

  • When we rally around something that we believe in, we upset the status quo. 
  • One person standing up is amazing; a community standing up together is unstoppable. 
  • Don’t think you can make a difference? You can. 

I’m going to be watching the unfolding of this campaign to see what happens and I’m taking notes. We, the diabetes community, will need to continue to learn from other communities (health or otherwise) to see what tactics they are using to make a difference.

Want to read the story of the Market Basket feud? Ta-da. Enjoy!

Here’s the Facebook page for the Save Market Basket movement. 

How do you feel about what the New England community is doing in their effort of right a wrong? Are there lessons you think we should take from this? 

  1. Taping other stores’ receipts to the windows? God, that’s brilliant.

  2. I’ve been watching this story unfold, and the response from the community is amazing. I can’t boycott insulin, but that does not mean I’m powerless…

  3. Really really really really (yep, even more) loving this. And all the lessons it brings us, our Diabetes Community. (I cap those two letters, because I like to believe we are a powerful force all in this together, not just some other community out there with so many others…)

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