Hundreds of coffee shops around the U.S. are banding together this weekend to raise funds for the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to oppose President Donald Trump's so-called "Muslim ban."
The fundraiser is the latest example of how small businesses across the U.S. are joining forces to protest the policies and executives orders of the Trump administration. Most notably, taxi drivers in New York went on strike after Trump's immigration ban went into effect last weekend. That was followed by a similar demonstration on Thursday when hundreds of Yemeni business owners in the city shut down their bodegas to protest the ban.
Independent small business owners often lack the political heft -- not to mention billions of dollars in resources -- that fuel Silicon Valley, which has perhaps been most vocal thus far in its opposition to Trump. But when they come together, small businesses are proving themselves to be a powerful force. There are nearly 29 million small businesses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Together, they employ employing nearly 57 million individuals.
"What's happening in this moment shows how ready people are to volunteer and get involved," said Jordan Michelman, the co-founder and editor of Sprudge, an independent online coffee publication that organized the fundraiser. "We've gone from outrage to figuring out what we can do."
Though a Trump presidency could ultimately prove to be beneficial for small businesses -- for instance, his stance on lowering taxes and eliminating Obamacare could reduce costs -- so far, the new president seems to have done a better job at provoking many of them.
That's in part because a good chunk of business owners are immigrants themselves. Immigrants own 18 percent of small businesses in the U.S., according to a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization. That's higher than the representation of immigrants in the overall U.S. population -- immigrants make up about 13 percent of the 316.5 million people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Many coffee shop owners, meanwhile, say they have also been spurred to action by Trump's anti-immigration and anti-globalism policies. That's because the coffee industry is a global one, with beans often harvested abroad before coffee is ultimately brewed at your local shop.
"We're so unbelievably interconnected. There's so few things in this world that actually allow you to reach across continents and across oceans," said Lorenzo Perkins, 33, owner of Fleet Coffee in Austin, Texas. "You're literally putting something in your body that's from Yemen, that's from Sudan. There's just no way that we could stand by and not say something."
The Nationwide Coffee Fundraiser For The ACLU is an example of how quickly small businesses can organize. The effort was organized in the past week by Sprudge, an independent online publication that covers all things coffee. Originally, Sprudge hoped to bring together 25 shops around the country and raise $100,000 for the ACLU, but the effort quickly expanded. Now, there are about 700 shops from all corners of the U.S. that are involved, and a target of $1 million appears to be more realistic, Michelman said.
"I can't believe that currently the U.S. doesn't accept refugees, little tiny kids," he said. "I feel like the only way to make the sick feeling stop was to try to do something."
However, there is a clear downside for any small businesses who partakes in these type of political activities. Whenever you choose a side, you run the risk of losing customers, Perkins said.
That has already been the case for Taylor Gourmet, a sandwich chain in Washington, D.C. The company became the focus of boycotts after co-founder Casey Patten took part in a small-business roundtable with President Donald Trump. Reaction to Patten's visit to the White House was so fierce it even resulted in threats.
But that isn't stopping the likes of Perkins and his fellow coffee shop owners from raising funds for the ACLU.
"I've had a lot of really fantastic business mentors most of whom have said 'Don't get political, don't get involved. If you do something, if you say something, you're alienating half of your customer base,'" Perkins said. "That may be true, but there are greater truths that we still have to stand up for and speak to."
While the coffee fundraiser runs through Sunday, there may be more demonstrations later this month. Activist organizers are planning a so-called National Strike Day on Feb. 17, which calls on people throughout the country to skip work and not purchase anything in an effort to cause disruption.
If small businesses rally around the strike, and decide to support their workers by closing their shops for the day, the effects could be felt throughout American communities, said Shashi Bellamkonda, an expert on small businesses and an adjunct instructor of Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies.
"The growth of the U.S. has always been on small businesses," Bellamkonda said. "If a large number of small businesses participate, I think we are in for a lot of inconvenience."