To hear their reps talk, Corporate Accountability International is a giant killer: "Every campaign we take on, we win," is how Sarah Holzgraf put it last night at a gathering in Cambridge, one of 60 the group is organizing in Massachusetts in support of its newest foray, the Value [the] Meal campaign.
To win this one, it will have to be. Here are its goals:
- Stop all marketing of McDonald's food to children.
- Stop all political lobbying by McDonald's on issues ranging from health care to school lunch policies.
- reduce the harm of McDonald's products "from seed to plate," such as the agriculture monocultures they foster and the nutritional deficiencies their foods contribute to.
Of course, to do these things regarding McDonald's, they'll have to affect not only whole industries but the nation's political process. They're targeting McDonald's because it is the standard bearer, the largest purchaser of potatoes, beef, apples, and other ingredients.
CAI's undertook its first offensive in the fight on March 31 when it unveiled its Retire Ronald campaign. Ronald McDonald is the standard bearer's standard bearer, of course, acknowledged as the second-most recognizable figure to children on the planet, bested only by Santa Claus.
Ron is the leading edge of McDonald's decades-long strategy to market its foods to children. It is a truism that by aiming their advertising at children, the company not only can hope to win customers for life, but is attacking the soft underbelly of families' buying power by trying to manipulate children to wheedle their parents to take the whole family to the Golden Arches.
To begin the discussion, Holzgraf asked everyone to share a fast-food memory, and by far, the most prevalent one expressed was about McDonald's ubiquitous playgrounds. One said, "the pit with the plastic balls was the best thing ever!"
In May, CAI representatives carried their Ronald campaign to McDonald's CEO at the company's annual meeting.
The house meeting I attended was the 14th in the Boston set of 60; it also contemplates house meetings in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other cities. CAI not only asks quite directly for contributions to fund the effort, but intends to follow up with broader community meetings for those attendees who express interest in carrying the effort forward.
The task, to me, is beyond daunting, but CAI claims some far-reaching victories in its past: the effort against Nestle's marketing its infant formula in the Third World in the '70s, efforts to undercut the nuclear-power industry in the '80s, and the campaign against Joe Camel, the other cute little cartoon character that sought to lure children into unsafe behavior, in the '90s.