This summer a slew of protests and counter-protests erupted across the United States over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments concerning gay marriage. LGBT activists organized a “Kiss-In,” where homosexual couples displayed signs of affection in front of their local Chick-fil-A restaurant. In response, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee organized a “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” intended to counter the announced boycotts of the chain. However, most notable, and arguably most troubling among the protests are the efforts by individuals to harass employees of the chain; countless tweets, Facebook statuses, and videos attest to guests at Chick-fil-A eateries verbally harassing employees with pro-LGBT slogans.

This method of protesting is troubling because it is too chaotic to be successful: Not only does is alienate its audience, but it also fails to address the issue in a way that will induce change. Chick-fil-A’s employees don’t necessarily share Cathy’s ideals – one statement by the president of the company doesn’t directly reflect the myriad opinions of the staff. However, boycotting the company and verbally abusing its lower-tier staff causes more damage to the livelihoods of the managers, cashiers, and janitors employed by Chick-fil-A, as opposed to the intended targets, namely Dan Cathy and the anti-gay organizations to which Chick-fil-A donates. While the message may be “right,” it can’t serve its function if it is delivered in this totally asinine way. Most importantly, this method of protest does not achieve anything. In order for a protest to be successful, it must either educate the public, garner popular support, or both. Ranting at the customers and staff achieves neither of these two criteria, and as such, falls short of confronting the actual problem. In fact, it only entrenches the image of the protesters as arrogant and extreme in the minds of those who either don’t support or are ambivalent to the cause. Needless to say, this type of controversy warrants an entirely different response.

There is no evidence thus far that Chick-fil-A’s employees have in any way violated the company’s creed to “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” However, given the troubled job market, irritating the workers and patrons of the chain only alienates the intended recipients of the protest’s message – those voting for the chain with their money.  Though they may not be aware of it, consumers vote every day with their wallets. And as with any other election, voters must be educated so that they can make the best possible choice. While a number of Chick-fil-A customers may be drawn to the restaurant by its biblical and traditional underpinnings, many more likely choose to dine there simply because it is convenient, or because of the quality of the chicken sandwiches. However, these customers likely don’t know that their money is being donated to anti-gay marriage organizations, some of which are widely considered hate groups, such as the Family Research Council. A 1999 Family Research Council pamphlet described the homosexual agenda as aiming to “abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets' of a new sexual order.” Chick-fil-A also donates regularly to Exodus International and the Eagle Forum, both of which emphasize the “dangers” of homosexuality to faith and traditional family in their mission statements.

It’s true that a well-crafted sandwich is more immediately gratifying than an informed opinion. However, it would be more beneficial to our growth as a society if the consumers, when making their purchase (or choosing not to), were armed with the knowledge of the potential impact of their dollar vote. If consumers still chose to buy from Chick-fil-A, that’s their prerogative. It is the consumer’s responsibility to know, however, that their purchase marks their vote in favor of somebody else’s definition of marriage, a definition that directly infringes on the civil liberties of other citizens of the United States. The current form of “vigilante protesting,” however, doesn’t inform people of the dangers of their dollar vote. At best, it scares away a few customers who would rather not be harassed during their lunch hours; at worst, it instills a feeling of loyalty for the branch in response to the vandals verbally attacking the customers. The common consumer, simply looking for a meal, is not compelled to change their habits after witnessing such a protest, and as such, the protest is a failure.

Instead of protesting in ways that irritate the customer and the employees, or boycotting in an ultimately ineffective way, the protesters must first become cognizant of the situation at hand: The president of a company, in accordance with his right to freedom of speech, made an inflammatory remark that isn’t reflective of the ideals of his company as a whole. In fact, on July 31, Chick-fil-A released a press release stating: “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.” As such, protests and boycotts simply do not befit the situation – instead, they can only serve to polarize the discussion. So, we must now call upon our respective freedoms of speech to scrutinize Dan Cathy’s opinion, and rekindle a national dialogue regarding the issues of marriage and civil rights. Our battle should not be with the employees of the chain, but rather with those apathetic enough to ignore the implications of Cathy’s opinion and the monetary contributions his opinions lead to. Before any boycotts are attempted, we must counter Cathy’s freedom of speech not with random, aggressive verbal bile, but with a well-built argument intended to educate the consumers who don’t understand the consequences of their dollar vote. Only by teaching the populace and inviting and involving all parties involved (customers, employees, the corporate board, the media, and politicians) can this protest continue a productive discussion about the role of hate, discrimination, and civil rights in our society that can ultimately be successful.