TALLAHASSEE — Social media continued this week to drive gun control supporters to boycott Publix stores this Memorial Day weekend to protest the company’s bankrolling of an NRA-backing candidate for Florida governor.
Florida Times Union story: Publix support of Putnam campaign spurs supermarket boycott
An online petition and posts flooding Twitter, Facebook and Instagram urged shoppers to stay away from Publix’s 800 Florida stores because the company contributed $670,000 over the past three years to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Putnam is the leading GOP contender for governor. He declared himself a “proud NRA sellout” in opposing gun restrictions signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican, following the massacre of 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
David Hogg, 18, who survived the Parkland shooting, posted Wednesday on Twitter that a “die-in” was planned Friday for that city’s two Publix stores. He urged others to stage similar die-in’s — where protesters lie down to mimic death — in other Publix stores. “We must hold these businesses accountable, just like our politicians,” he tweeted.
Lakeland-based Publix, Florida’s largest private employer, has been a longtime contributor to Putnam, who is from nearby Bartow. But its contributions swelled with his gubernatorial candidacy.
The iconic grocery chain is usually a popular brand — so much so that its founder, George Jenkins, was a finalist to be honored with a monument in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, although Florida lawmakers, instead, chose civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
Amid the Putnam controversy, Publix has tried to distance itself from the candidate’s NRA comment.
“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 said in a statement.
“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 health community... We support bi-partisan, business-friendly candidates, regardless of political affiliation, and we remain neutral on issues outside of our core business,” the company added.
For his part, Putnam also avoided the NRA comment in praising Publix.
“I’m so proud that Publix calls Florida home,” Putnam said. “They got their start in Polk County and are consistently ranked as one of the top places to work in the nation.”
In a polarized political world, the pushback against Publix could be sobering for many corporate contributors, experts said.
“We certainly have seen examples of public pressure brought to bear on a company forcing them to walk something back that could threaten their bottom line,” said Greg Munno, a journalism professor at Syracuse University, who has studied civic engagement.
“Guns have always been a wedge issue on the right — where you had to be in favor of lax gun laws to win support in Republican primaries,” he added. “But now we’re seeing guns as a wedge issue on the left, where there are voters who will cast their vote solely if a candidate supports gun control.”
Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, said that the Publix boycott appears aimed at engaging younger voters — keeping them fired-up in opposition to the NRA and its supporters months before voters go to the polls.
“It has the potential to sustain a very potent movement that began in the days following the Parkland shooting,” MacManus said.
Critics of the boycott also have been outspoken.
State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, recently posted on Facebook “I Stand With Publix,” in the chain’s corporate green colors. Other backers of the company have been weighing in with the hashtag #SupportPublix to offset the #BoycottPublix movement.
“There are so many hashtag efforts out there,” said MacManus. “At this point, I don’t know how many voters are going to be moved by them.”