Picketers and protesters outside a Hollywood fast food restaurant, shouting slogans and attempting to dissuade customers from going inside. A scene from Chick-fil-A in the last week? No, it happened at a Carl's Jr. a short distance to the east … in 1989. The protest, on Aug. 30 of that year, was the first of several at Carl's Jr. locations around Greater Los Angeles.
Spurred by founder Carl Karcher's contributions to pro-life/anti-abortion candidates, pro-choice groups staged the series of protests, which may or may not have affected sales at the prolific fast food outlet. At a December 1989 protest in North Hollywood staged by the San Fernando Valley chapter of the National Organization of Women, about a dozen pro-choice demonstrators held up signs urging a boycott while about 65 abortion opponents, alerted to the protest by ministers and a conservative talk radio talk show host, waved food items at passersby in support of the restaurant and Karcher.
Karcher also ran afoul of gay groups by supporting and donating money toward a 1978 California ballot proposition, better known as the Briggs Initiative. The proposition called for the barring and firing of teachers and school employees who practiced or advocated homosexuality. Ronald Reagan was publicly outspoken against the proposition, going so far as to write an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner opposing the measure. The proposition was soundly defeated that November.
Pro-choice proponents claimed a portion of every dollar spent at Carl's Jr. went toward anti-abortion groups, including Operation Rescue, something a representative for the chain denied as “simply not true.” The rep also called the protests “misguided,” since donations came from Mr. Karcher and other executives individually rather than directly from the corporation. Karcher was quoted as saying he contributed “a few thousand dollars a year” to anti-abortion groups.
The spokesperson stated: “It's true that Mr. Karcher has been very open and public regarding his support of the pro-life philosophy,” adding: “Mr. Karcher is not going to change his views, so we expect the opposition against him will continue … but from the company's perspective, we believe Mr. Karcher and the company shouldn't be punished for exercising his right to freedom of speech.”
Does any of this sound familiar yet? And to think it all took place before Facebook, Twitter and the proliferation of extreme left- and right-wing media and their highly charged environment.
Two years later, pro-choice and gay-rights groups opposed the prospect of Carl's Jr. opening restaurants on campus at Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine. After initially approving, the CSUN board reversed its decision, while UCI approved despite the protests.
Since then, the chain has remained mum on its beliefs, Karcher died in 2008 and protests over Carl's Jr. political stances have faded away in lieu of a series of sexually suggestive ads featuring Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Kim Kardashian, Padma Lakshmi and Kate Upton. There's probably a lesson for everyone in this somewhere, but we're damned if we know exactly what it would be.
We made efforts to contact those prominently involved in both sides of the 1989 protests for comments, but didn't hear back from any of them at time of publication.
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