I’ve held off blogging about the new law in Arizona that puts everyone (at least everyone Hispanic) in danger of being treated as guilty until proven innocent on the charges of illegal immigration. It was a classic case of feeling like everything that needed to be said was said better by others. But I’m going to break out and talk about it now, because I want to support the widespread calls for a boycott of Arizona. The Rachel Maddow show did a segment detailing how widespread and probably effective these calls are:
I’m usually against “boycotts”, mostly because they aren’t really boycotts. Most calls to boycott that I encounter have no objective in mind except to give the boycotter cause to feel morally superior. Most so-called boycotts are utterly useless in exerting pressure, and the targets are neither harmed nor seem to give a shit. For instance, the calls to boycott the Superbowl because of the Tim Tebow ad. What was that supposed to accomplish? CBS wasn’t quaking in their shoes. Most boycotts have no goals, no leadership, no real effect. When I asked people who were claiming to boycott Roman Polanski’s movies to punish him for raping a 13-year-old, I asked them if they really thought that Polanski was going to feel that and then….well do what, exactly? He can’t unrape her. He’s probably not going to stop fleeing from the authorities. The answer was usually, “Well, I just can’t allow myself to give money to him,” which is basically a moral argument about picking up a taint from engaging someone who did something wrong. Not that I’m criticizing that per se. I think there’s value in some kinds of moral repulsion, which is why most of us don’t want to kick around with rapists and murderers. But avoiding something because it repulses you isn’t a boycott.
Boycotts have to be targeted, specific, and wide-reaching to work. The Montgomery bus boycott is the reason people like the idea of boycotts, but you have to look at why it was effective. First of all, a specific goal for the action was outlined, which was ending the segregation policy on city buses in Montgomery. The organizers realized that to have a broad impact, they didn’t need broad action. Specificity wasn’t sacrificed to make a general statement. Second of all, the boycott created consequences for those with the power to change things. Surprisingly few calls for boycotts do this. Third, there was leadership and organization. The message of the boycott was very clear to those feeling the effects of it.
This is why I think a broad boycott of Arizona has the potential to work. First of all, it’s specific. (Repeal this law immediately.) It links the consequences to the law, and the consequences have the potential to be strongly felt, as Rachel explains in the video. It’s widespread, with people from all walks of life and all angles providing leadership on this issue. And it’s organized behind a lot of leadership. You have celebrities speaking out, politicians joining the boycott, pundits encouraging it, even sports writers! It has legs, in other words. Plus, it’s very clear that this has nothing to do with hating on Arizona or some errant issues that are attached to it. Just as the bus boycotters weren’t saying that buses were bad, boycotters here are making it clear they love Arizona, but they will have nothing to do with it until they change their ways.
Similar actions were taken against South Africa in the 80s, and I suspect that they also had tremendous effects. Anti-racism activism is particularly ripe for boycott. One reason is that it attacks the heart of racism itself. Racists are often dismissive of the economic and social contributions of the people they seek to oppress. Boycotts can clarify their contributions to society and also make clear the way that we are all interconnected economically, and that casting people as worthless is not only wrong, but simply false.
So yes, while I usually don’t think that boycotts are a good idea, in this case, I think there’s a strong chance it will work. So please, boycott Arizona until they rescind this law. Don’t visit. Don’t follow their sports teams. Send emails to the people who make money off you in Arizona but won’t explaining why. The more specific, the better. Cancel conferences in Arizona. Tweet the boycott. Encourage everyone you know. Always, always, the more specific the better.