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Starbucks Flexes Its Political Muscle With Petition

Starbucks Flexes Its Political Muscle With Petition

Photograph by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Starbucks (SBUX) has once again inserted itself into Washington politics. Almost two weeks after the government shutdown shuttered the White House petition site, We the People, Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz declared that “the American people have no platform with which to voice their frustration,” then took matters into his own hands. The politically vocal CEO is now calling on Americans to sign a “Come Together” petition online and at stores.

Here’s the text:

To our leaders in Washington, D.C., now’s the time to come together to:

1. Reopen our government to serve the people.

2. Pay our debts on time to avoid another financial crisis.

3. Pass a bipartisan and comprehensive long-term budget deal by the end of the year.

Starbucks, it seems, has grown increasingly comfortable talking politics and social issues. For the past few days, the chain has been offering customers a free tall brewed coffee if they bought someone else a drink, as a symbolic gesture to show politicians that it’s possible to work together. Last December, as the fiscal cliff approached, baristas wrote “Come Together” on cups to encourage a debt deal. Granted, these broad calls for bipartisanship aren’t particularly controversial. Some 60 percent of Americans say they’d fire all of Congress, so Starbucks probably isn’t alienating any of its customers by pleading for an end to Washington dysfunction.

But Schultz hasn’t been afraid to speak his mind on touchier issues, either. He defended the company’s support for gay marriage by telling off a shareholder in March, to great applause. And when the company got stuck in the middle of the gun rights debate after pro-gun activists organized Starbucks Appreciation Day events, he asked customers to leave their weapons at home. Schultz told Bloomberg Businessweek that the chain wanted no part in the debate, saying, “We’re not pro-gun or anti-gun.” Still, he made a decision to say something as the debate became “uncivil” and “threatening.”

Today, Schultz insists he’s not organizing the petition in the interest of his business, but rather as a frustrated citizen, albeit one with thousands of stores at his disposal.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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