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Political Starbucks cup design met with outrage

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Recently, Starbucks released a limited edition green version of their coffee cups covered in a hand-drawn mosaic of over 100 people connected by one unbroken line. It was unveiled on social media with the tagline, “Friends, baristas, and customers drawn in one continuous line – to remind us we are all connected.” The cups were released one week before the presidential election and will be featured until supplies run out. Because the cups were released so close to Election Day, many people assumed they were politically motivated.

In a press release from Starbucks, chairman and CEO Howard Schultz defended the cups, saying that, “The green cup and the design represent the connections Starbucks has as a community with its partners and customers. During a divisive time in our country, Starbucks wanted to create a symbol of unity as a reminder of our shared values, and the need to be good to each other.”

It’s a hopeful and healing message for a hurting nation to receive when they go get their morning cup of coffee.

However, apparently coffee cup designs are indicative of political agendas. Initial social media responses accused the design of being overtly liberal. Others just called the cups ugly and demanded they get their pretty red cups back, preferably with snowflakes.

The situation escalated into a boycott after Drudge Report tweeted a link to a CBSLocal news article with the headline, “Calls To Boycott Starbucks Over Holiday ‘Unity Cup’ Showing Liberal Bias.” After this was posted, many tweeted their support of the boycott.

It seems that people may be drawing the connection from coffee to politics due to the fact that Schultz openly endorsed Clinton and the term “unity” sounds a bit like Hillary’s slogan “Stronger Together.” But still … really? Are people afraid that an artistic coffee cup will sway someone’s vote? As if they will order their first peppermint mocha of the holiday season, see the cup and say “You know what? I must be a Clinton supporter after all!”

Unity is a general term, and many people over the course of the election have called for healing, cooperation, tolerance, kindness and empathy across the nation – unity does not solely need to be a liberal idea. It can be representative of love for humanity, which I do not think can or should be restricted by party lines. But can we all just please remember that this outrage is about a limited edition coffee cup design? And that this is not the first time our nation has gotten infuriated about the design of a seasonal cup?

Just last year Starbucks was publicly accused by evangelist Joshua Feuerstein of waging a “war on Christmas” by replacing the themed designs with a simple red cup and not using the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their stores. He encouraged his followers to tell baristas their names were “Merry Christmas” so the baristas would be forced to write the phrase on the cup, a phrase that they were supposedly not allowed to write anymore. This inspired hundreds of counter protest posts. Snopes pointed out that the symbols previously used on the cups were not inherently religious and used vague phrases like “joy” and “hope.” Despite the outrage, sales were not impacted. According to Business Insider, Starbucks had the strongest holiday in its history by far.

Even if the green cups – or the plain red cups of last year – could be loosely interpreted as political, it is not worth fighting over. The very nature of art is its subjectivity and Starbucks is encouraging customers to be artistic with their cups. There are many issues that this country will face in the coming months as we try to reconcile with the results of the election. I dearly hope that our primary concern will be to hold each other up, not fight over the vague political implications of a disposable coffee cup that could have lent hope when we needed it most.

Julia Pilkington ’17 (pilkingt@stolaf.edu) is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English.