Following in the grand tradition of Americans petitioning for redress of grievances, 232 residents of the now-gentrified 14th street neighborhood have signed a petition asking 7-Eleven to forgo the opening a new location at the corner of 14th and Florida. After some flowery language about community and their “happy satisfaction” with chains like CVS and Trader Joe’s, the petitioners make a brief but thoroughly incoherent appeal to 7-Eleven, warning that the business will both be so successful that it’ll destroy other businesses and will be a commercial failure for 7-11 due to lack of patronage.

As other bloggers have pointed out, this is good old fashion classism. Real estate broker and local resident Ezra Weinblatt – the author of the petition – claims that the petition flows partially out of concern for the unhealthiness of 7-Eleven’s offerings. This leaves one wondering: Why no uproar over the Dunkin Doughnuts, a chain literally built around sugary, unhealthy foods? Why no concern over the nearby CVS, which at the very least sells tubs of ice cream? The sad answer is that it’s not the food 7-Eleven sells – it’s the people 7-Eleven attracts, and apparently those kinds of people aren’t welcome anymore in the 14th street neighborhood. Citylab rightly calls the whole thing a “dogwhistle” for classism. Daily Kos, never shying away from hyperbole, calls it a “racist, classist” petition that illustrates “our horrific problems with inequality.”

It’s nice to have progressive outlets on the side of consumer choice from time to time. But before we all laugh and move on, one wonders, where is the progressive vitriol when legislators are trying to ban the very things 7-Eleven sells? Progressives have rightly identified this as a case in which NIMBYs tried to use the law to prohibit the preferences of low-income shoppers. But legislators and bureaucrats in cities across America have been doing this for years, often with the support of the very progressives who decry the anti-7-Eleven petition. The issues may not be tied up with sexy topics like income inequality or gentrification, but bans and punitive taxes on goods like soda, fast food, and cigarettes, limit the choices of low-income Americans far, far more than the occasional NIMBY petition, and are almost always championed by progressive politicians. Justifying bans on the basis of forcing low-income Americans to behave in their best interest – as interpreted by the political class – is only slightly less specious than the NIMBY’s hope to define and defend what’s in the “community’s interest.”

To mock the anti-7-Eleven petitioners is surely warranted, but save some ridicule for the hundreds of nannies in councils, assemblies, and legislatures across the country. Allowing one group to impose its preferences on everyone is always wrong, whether it’s done through legislation or NIMBYism.

M. Nolan Gray (07/14/2015)


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