The most liberal part of North Carolina is definitely Asheville, where I went to college back in the 90's, and it's places like this that do give me hope that something can be done about NC's awful Republican problem. The state's being boycotted by a number of groups over HB2, the recent "bathroom bill" legislation passed in less than a day by Republicans in a special session of the state legislature, and not everyone in the state thinks a boycott is fair or even helpful, like Linda-Marie Barrett, of the city's legendary Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe.
We’ve just entered a particularly rough patch, though, as we endure the repercussions of a new law that bars transgender people from the bathrooms of their choice and permits discrimination based on sexual orientation. This horrible legislation goes against what we stand for: human rights, tolerance and inclusiveness. We’ve held meetings about how to respond. We’ve helped write a letter from North Carolina independent bookstores to the State Legislature demanding a repeal of the law, and we’ve signed onto a letter from children’s book authors in the state speaking out against it. We are heartened that Asheville’s City Council just passed a resolution calling for the law’s repeal.
But now we’re being made to pay a price for a law we vehemently oppose, as artists, businesses and government officials have begun to boycott North Carolina. Our store, too, is being boycotted. Customers from other states tell us they won’t visit until the law is no more. More threatening to us financially and to our community culturally is the cancellation of events by authors.
The National Book Award-winning author Sherman Alexie canceled an event in May that included a talk in a large ticketed venue and two school visits. Although we deeply respect the author’s reason for boycotting, we lost out on much needed revenue through book sales tied to his appearance. We also lost an opportunity to connect a beloved, charismatic author with fans in a city who would have been empowered by his outrage over the law.
After he canceled, other writers and booksellers let us know they stood with us. But this shows how precarious social protest can be, especially when it involves boycotting bookstores, which are financially vulnerable, and often the best place in a community to discuss controversial ideas.
As justified as a boycott can be, we ask authors to consider a way of protesting other than boycotting bookstores. We need your voices, your presence, your art. When you cancel events with us, you deprive readers of a voice that can buoy them up, enlighten them, and demonstrate the fellowship of being there for each other, in community.
For 34 years we’ve had authors’ backs when their books were challenged or their events protested. We need authors to have our backs, too.
And yeah, like every other UNC-Asheville student, I went to Malaprop's several times. It's a great place and if you're ever in Asheville, PLEASE go there. I hate to see it suffer like this. Boycotts do have unintended consequences and are not always the best solution to a problem. Small businesses, especially bookstores, are very vulnerable to economic pressure.
Voting out the lawmakers who caused the problem, well, that's entirely different.