I’ve got a few problems with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s instruction from headquarters that DC-based baristas write “Come Together” on the cups of all beverages sold. The idea is that this simple message will be received by our representatives in their moments of caffeinated repose and inspire them to do better for the sake of the country. My issues with this all have to do with how people misunderstand what the city of Washington is, how the Federal Government which is based here (particularly the legislative branch) operates and why a publicity stunt like this is actually counter-productive for a healthy democracy.
Issue #1: Not Everyone in Washington Works in Politics
Some of us don’t even like politics. We just want to get our over-priced cup of coffee and get to our normal soul-devouring jobs without being preached at via coffee sleeve by a CEO wealthy enough not to be depressed by living in Seattle. Yes, a lot of people work for the government, but a lot of us also work in theaters and accounting offices, at hospitals and law offices. A few of us even work at non-Starbucks coffee shops. This is a multidimensional city and you’ve got about as much chance of meaningfully affecting the debate by scribbling on our coffee cups as you do at stopping unethical financial instruments on Wall Street by writing “Don’t Be a Dick” on the coffee cups in Manhattan.
Issue #2: Tell Somebody Who Actually Has a Voting Representative in Congress
The DC residents buying the coffee don’t have one. In fact, the message of “Come Together” is probably more effectively deployed in the 435 Congressional Districts where the customers can actually pick up a phone and register their opinion with a duly elected and empowered representative. The District has a Delegate, and while she has belly button lint more intelligent than half the schmucks in the chamber, she’s not allowed to cast a vote — not even on procedural votes when it wouldn’t make a difference. It would be nice if someday Howard Schultz would see fit to highlight this disgraceful state of affairs by asking more fortunate, enfranchised baristas in the rest of the country to scribble “No Taxation Without Representation” on the cups of our fellow citizens.
Issue #3: Placing the Burden on Us is a Cop-Out for You
As I pointed out above, the people who can solve this mess (with the exception of the President) weren’t elected by the good people of the District of Columbia. If Howard Schulz really wants the members of Congress to get his “Come Together” message he’d be telling his baristas to write the email addresses of their member of congress and senators on the cups. Delivering a message to the people whom you gave the responsibility of governing via some poor go-fer delivering the half-caff, no-whip mocha is conceding that our democracy is broken and that the people have no agency. Frankly, it is pathetic. It is every bit as bad as those people who demonize decent government employees doing their best as “faceless Washington bureaucrats.” Want to know who is responsible for the gridlock in Washington? Look in the mirror.
Issue #4: We’re The Ones Who Are Really Screwed When We Go Over the Cliff
Yeah, I know I said we don’t all work for the government, but a lot of us do, and a lot more of us sell goods and services to it and to the people who get their paychecks from it. If we go over the cliff a lot of us are going to feel it, not just in higher taxes, but in furloughs, reductions-in-force (aka: layoffs), slowed-down contract payments and hiring freezes. We probably won’t even be able to afford to pay $2.75 for a cup of coffee.