“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
UPFRONT STATEMENT: This post is NOT intended to start a debate as to the merits of the proposed Texas legislation or even (*especially*) the underlying issue of abortion. I write merely to express my thoughts as to the resulting fallout – mostly online – affecting a product near and dear to many of you: the running shoe.
Here’s my take: if you are inspired by what Wendy Davis politically achieved, consider supporting her by giving what you can to her campaign, or to similar candidates in your area, or even directly to abortion rights advocacy groups. LIKEWISE, if you are opposed to Davis, seek out and support her opponents in Texas, or find a candidate in your area who reflects your point of view, or perhaps a group working to advance pro-life issues and legislation.
It’s up to you. Either way, leave Mizuno out of it.
Today, national media attention is being directed back to Austin, TX, where the Texas State Legislature has reconvened for a special session called by Gov. Perry to address the state’s proposed abortion legislation. This special session comes on the heels of notable events from last Tuesday night, when Senator Wendy Davis personally orchestrated and maintained a filibuster to prevent fellow legislators from voting on a bill that would have limited access to abortion after 20 weeks in utero.
Throughout the night, social media was lit ablaze with tweets from those both in support of and opposed to Senator Davis and her filibuster.
You may have been one of the many tweeting with a #standwithwendy hashtag, or maybe you used #sitdownwendy to express opposition. Either way, that’s fine. In the words of Tupac, I ain’t mad atcha. Kudos to you for making your voice heard.
Here’s where it all took a different turn than I expected. Shortly after photos of Senator Davis in filibuster mode started making the rounds online, everyone immediately noticed that Davis elected to trade in the dress pumps she usually pairs with her skirt suits for a coral/red pair of Mizuno Wave Riders (hereinafter, “MWR”s). Made sense to me; I am a heel-lover myself but yeah, if I knew I was going to be on my feet for over 10 hours with no sitting or breaks, I’d probably kick my pumps to the curb too.
(Ed. note — I have never run in Mizunos, but have definitely been intrigued by their products, and many of my friends off and online are devoted to them. I’ve considered – before the recent focus on the company – replacing my Newtons when they age out of my shoe rotation soon with a pair of the gorge new Wave Sayonaras if they end up working for my specific needs.)
@MizunoRunning tweeted at @WendyDavisTexas shortly after the filibuster was over, and @SethMizuno later tweeted a similar message, never venturing too far into the political debate as to what had gone down Tuesday night.
Frankly, I read the two Mizuno tweets screencapped above as: (1) recognizing the physical stamina it took for Davis to maintain a filibuster of that length (many lesser men and women have tried and failed); and/or (2) giving props to Davis for speaking up for a cause she believed in. Naive of me to interpret the Mizuno tweets in this way? Perhaps, but at my core, I fervently believe in the quote with which I opened this post, most often attributed to French philosopher and free speech proponent Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
To me, if the concepts of open political discourse, democracy and free speech are to mean anything, then viewpoints from all along the belief spectrum should be treated equally, regardless of whether they align with our own. I think Mizuno can (and did) plausibly recognize what Davis accomplished while wearing their product without necessarily endorsing her viewpoint.
Immediately, the Amazon link to the MWR began seeing a huge uptick in traffic and Mizuno’s own website saw increased interest in the shoe. It’s one thing if the filibuster brought attention to Davis’s MWR for all the right reasons (i.e., it’s a highly-functional, attractive shoe from a company which Skinny Runner has previously noted is “all about the runner”), but I quickly noticed something online that gave me pause. Regardless of whether new purchasers “liked” the MWR, not to mention the more important issue of whether they had reason to believe that the MWR was the right shoe for them mechanically, a lot of folks online started commenting that they were buying a pair of MWRs “in support” of Wendy Davis. Wait, what?
As seen on jezebel.com, early purchasers commented that they were inspired to purchase the MWR because: (1) they interpreted the above tweets from Mizuno as being supportive of Davis politically; and/or (2) because wearing the same shoe that she had on in the filibuster was a way to “stand with Wendy” in the realm of reproductive choice. But just as quickly as these comments started coming to light, I began seeing different points of view.
Like wildfire, 1-star reviews started showing up on Amazon, not from those who’d tried the MWR and didn’t have a good experience with it or with Mizuno, but comments from those on both sides of the political aisle. Long time Mizuno customers commented that they wouldn’t be buying any more shoes if Mizuno continued to publicly support Davis. On the other hand, other commenters cited to a post by Fashionista.com, wherein this site posted the results of their research within the Federal Election Commission’s political donations database. The data cited showed that Mizuno President Robert Puccini has donated at least twice to the Republican National Committee, and also voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Nothing more to give us context as to where Puccini stands on Wendy Davis or the issue of abortion — probably because we don’t know, and that kind of information certainly isn’t maintained in the FEC database. Sure, while most people likely make assumptions in this regard when we see that Puccini voted for Mitt in ’12 and contributed to the RNC, I’ve known many pro-life Catholic friends who vote a straight Democratic ticket, with equal numbers of pro-choice friends who vote Republican based on their deeper concern for fiscal policy. Food for thought when someone identifies themselves as voting for a candidate or support a party, and we assume that we know where that person stands on every issue.
Here, Mizuno is in between a rock and a hard place. The author of the Fashionista post concluded that Puccini’s voting and contribution record evidenced why the Mizuno brand as a whole had not been sufficiently “enthusiastic” in its post-filibuster public support of Wendy Davis. All the while, those on the opposite side of the spectrum urged a boycott against the company for even acknowledging what happened in Austin on Tuesday night.
As seen above, the Amazon rating system — purportedly designed to provide buyers with meaningful feedback as to the actual product being purchased — being used to advance individual points of view against Mizuno, forever changing the meaning of the star-system rating when it comes to the MWR 16. Don’t expect to go to Amazon and get any form of real shoe advice…another good reason to purchase your shoes from your local running store!
I suspect that the online back-and-forth led Mizuno to issue this statement posted on their website, wherein the company elected not to take an official corporate position. And I’m okay with that.
Mizuno is a shoe and apparel manufacturer. Not a PAC, not a political think tank, not an issues-based advocacy group. Further, it’s made up of many individuals, not just company president Puccini. Dare I say that the individuals employed by Mizuno all have their own individual viewpoints, and importantly, they all get to do their own thing when they step in the ballot box. So, I don’t mind if there is no “official corporate position” issued as to Wendy Davis and her politics.
With all due respect to Mizuno, I don’t look to it or any brand for my political education or guidance. And I don’t think that Mizuno expects me to.
I’m not saying that commercial brands don’t have an obligation to be politically and socially aware as to the world around them. Payment of fair wages to workers, employee safety in manufacturing settings, compliance with environmental regulations as to factory output of smoke/smog/chemicals, the extent of animal testing — all of these are complex issues directly related to how a given company’s product is developed, produced, priced and put on a shelf for sale to you. You can and should educate yourself as to which brands put into practice the specific corporate ideals you consider important as a consumer. Then, when you have a need for one of the products they offer, support those brands with your patronage.
But when we buy (or urge others to buy) MWRs for no other reason but to serve as a talisman in support of Wendy Davis’s views on the issue of abortion (or flipped on its head, we refuse to buy a shoe we otherwise would have bought because we discover that the company’s president supports a different political party than we do), aren’t we missing the point?
If you are a supporter of choice in reproductive alternatives, give directly to the effort to re-elect Wendy Davis. Better yet, research your own legislators and determine who is the most like-minded on these issues. The reverse is equally true: if pro-life issues are the ones that speak to you politically, you should seek out Wendy’s opponents and support them for election, or those who believe accordingly in your own geographic area. If you don’t have money to donate, consider giving your time or services as a campaign or grass-roots volunteer.
And most importantly, don’t ever make the mistake of believing that your vote for Wendy Davis or those opposed to her doesn’t count. It does.
But either way, focus your efforts where they should be focused. Find where you stand on an issue that matters to you — it may or not be the issue that mattered to Wendy Davis — but don’t focus on a brand that happens to be on the feet of one advancing it.