Strikes and boycotts are not the same thing, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., pointed out early Thursday morning.
“NBA players are courageously on strike (withholding labor), NOT boycotting (withholding their $ /purchase),” she tweeted. “The diff is important bc it shows their power as *workers.*”
The rising Democratic star included a Washington Post tweet about the Milwaukee Bucks becoming the “first NBA team to boycott [a] playoff game to protest social injustice” on Wednesday.
Many others labeled it a boycott, but critics like Ocasio-Cortez argued that the term missed the mark. Dictionary.com explained the distinction in a tweet of its own.
“Boycott: The practice of abstaining from buying or using,” the dictionary’s account tweeted. “Strike: A concerted stopping of work or withdrawal of workers’ services.”
On Wednesday, the Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic to protest the Sunday police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., and many other Black Americans before him. Blake was shot in the back seven times by Kenosha police while he was getting into his car. He may never walk again, according to his attorney.
After meeting for several hours Wednesday, the Bucks released a team statement.
“Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball,” the team said. “We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.”
The move sent shock waves through the sports world, as two other NBA playoff games were similarly postponed, and all NBA players held a private meeting inside the league’s restricted bubble at Disney World to decide their next steps. Meanwhile, three Major League Baseball games were similarly postponed.
Boycotts date back to the late 19th century. They were popularized by Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell during the Irish land agitation of 1880 to protest high rents and land evictions, according to Britannica. The term “boycott” was coined when Irish tenants followed Parnell’s suggested code of conduct and effectively ostracized a British estate manager named Charles Boycott.
Boycotts rose to prominence in the U.S. more than 80 years later during the civil rights movement — including the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, in which Black Americans refused to ride city buses to protest segregated seating.
These boycotts had financial implications that forced change. But strikes have played a different role in history.
Strikes are a collective refusal by employees to work under the conditions required by employers. The first documented strike in history is thought to be that held by the craftsmen working on the royal necropolis at Deir el-Medina in Egypt in the mid-12th century B.C., according to History Extra.
In the U.S., there have been several large strikes through the years. One of the biggest was the Great Southwest Railroad strike of 1886, which spanned Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. The walkout included some 200,000 strikers protesting unsafe conditions, oppressive hours and low pay.
The textile workers’ strike of 1934 included some 400,000 employees protesting long hours and low wages. The steel strike of 1959 involved a half million workers demanding higher wages.
Flash-forward to Wednesday, when the Bucks chose not to play in their playoff game to protest social injustice. In response to the New York Times’ use of the word “boycott,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Your cover title is wrong. You need to change it to STRIKE.”
She stressed that “words matter a great deal in moments like these.”
And the strike — a wildcat strike, to be precise — is expanding.
WNBA players walked out of their scheduled games Wednesday, but not before gathering to show unity on the court. Players from the Washington Mystics wore white T-shirts, each with one letter of Blake’s last name on the front and seven images of bullet holes on the back.
In addition to the six MLB teams that refused to play, Major League Soccer teams sat out, and two-time major winner and former No. 1 women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a Black woman,” Osaka wrote in part. “And as a Black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”
For many, it’s fitting that all these sweeping moves happened on the fourth anniversary of then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee at an NFL preseason game to protest police brutality and injustice against Black Americans.
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