Why I Don’t Support Boycotts

Recently I went a few rounds on Facebook with someone I went to high school with. Generally we get along fine, at least partly because we share some similar political beliefs. We don’t agree on everything, but what two people do agree on everything? Our latest scrape lead to him ‘unfriending’ me on Facebook, though I have not unfriended him. My friend is a big supporter of boycotts; and I, in general, am not.While I don’t have an issue with advocating a boycott of Glenn Beck, for example, I do have a problem with wholesale boycotts of entire companies or states, for example. If you advocate a boycott of Glenn Beck, you are possibly affecting an individual and perhaps a few people within their circle. When you start to support a boycott of an entire company, such as Exxon or BP, you are affecting a huge number of people. The problem is how are those people being affected?

The problem with these boycotts is that the people affected the most are those with the least amount of power. It takes a lot for the upper echelons of a big corporation to be affected by a boycott, though some become concerned more quickly than others do and respond better.

I remember years ago after the Exxon Valdez disaster up in Alaska there were many suggestions of boycotts against Exxon, and a number of these boycotts were carried out. In particular I remember a news story about demonstrators picketing an Exxon gas station somewhere in the Los Angeles area. A man who just happened to be driving by decided to go through the demonstrators and into the gas station to purchase some gas. When asked by the reporter why he had done so he responded that he had not been planning on purchasing gas, but on the spur of the moment had decided to come into that specific station when he had seen the demonstrators. When the reporter asked him why he had made that decision the man stated he had done it because the station owner was not Exxon, he was an independent owner who sold Exxon petroleum products. He was a businessman, not an Exxon executive, and he had very little control over the actions of the Exxon corporate machinery. As a local businessman who had had nothing to do with the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the customer had felt the station owner needed and deserved his support. In my opinion the customer made the correct decision.

The issue that caused the problems between myself and my friend was his advocating of boycotts of the State of Arizona over the recent passage of SB 1070, the immigration bill that has received so much attention across the United States and into other countries. I always find it interesting when there is a hot button issue involved such as immigration or, in this case, illegal immigration, that so many people weigh in without even knowing what they are really talking about a good portion of the time. I saw groups created and advertised on Facebook that tried to recruit members by claiming SB 1070 REQUIRED law enforcement officials in Arizona to stop anyone who MIGHT be an illegal alien. Not only is this not true, it’s idiotic to even suggest such a thing. Celebrities have weighed in, politicians have weighed in, people all over the world have weighed in, and I can’t help but wonder how many of them have even read the bill?  You can read the text of SB 1070 here , and nowhere does it suggest law enforcement MUST stop individuals who MIGHT be illegal aliens.

A city councilman in Los Angeles made a statement that he needed a passport to travel to Arizona, and if he did come to the state he might be deported if he didn’t have one. It’s difficult to know if that was a statement of ignorance of the bill, an attempt to ignite emotions, a pathetic attempt at humor, or if it was just plain stupidity. There was so much mis-information floating around that the Arizona Republic tried to help clear things up by publishing the bill’s entire text plus an interpretation of it. The article they ran alongside the full bill contained quotes from several politicians and celebrities who admitted they had not read the bill, and in a couple of cases had read only part of it.

Seriously, how can you make a decision on whether or not to support or oppose something if you haven’t even bothered to find out what it is you’re supporting or opposing?

The gist of this bill is that being an illegal immigrant is now a state crime in Arizona, and if you are stopped for something such as a traffic violation, law enforcement officials CAN ask you to prove you are in the country legally.

 The hysteria surrounding this issue is completly ridiculous. I’m not a supporter of the people who introduced, voted for, or signed this bill into existence; however, I’m also not much of a supporter of the way many people are opposing it. 

The President of Mexico weighed in on SB 1070 (this bill also does not specify ethnicity of the illegal immigrants law enforcement is allowed to question); however he is the President of a country that has one of the more restrictive immigration policies in existence, and it is somewhat hypocritical for him to critique the immigration policy of another country.

Opponents of the bill who did not like the fact he hadn’t come out in opposition of the bill more forcefully publicly took a prominent Latin-American entertainer to task. This celebrity was taken aback at first, but then he made a point of saying no one tells him what to do or how to think, and that he would not be forced into anything.

Phil Jackson, coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, was taken to task by opponents of the bill for suggesting that sports organizations such as the NBA or MLB should stay out of political issues.

Arizona was considered a front runner to land both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2012, and suggestions they should receive neither began almost immediately. The state has since lost the opportunity to host the Republican convention, and the political fallout continues.

The MLB All-Star Game will be held at Chase Field in Phoenix in 2011 and opponents of SB 1070 have suggested MLB should pull the game from the city. So far MLB commissioner Bud Selig has not agreed. There were demonstrations at Arizona Diamondbacks games in Chicago and other cities, and picketing of Suns games in Southern California.

The issue that caused the rift between my friend and myself was that he supported the economic boycotts of Arizona. As a resident of Arizona for twenty-one years, I do not. I do not like boycotts in general, but I especially don’t like a boycott that is targeting an entire state. I think this boycott of Arizona was not well thought out, and was not based on any real understanding of what this bill is about or why anyone felt it was necessary. No matter how many times I told him and his other friends they didn’t seem to get the fact the ones hurt the most by boycotts are those with the least power. He said he chose to not spend his money here in Arizona, and that’s his business and his right. However, to advocate that no one spend their money in Arizona, in my opinion, is not only wrong, but also unfair. One person said she thought the boycott ‘was great’, and I responded with, ‘Of course you do, it doesn’t affect you.’ I had said something similar before, and after my latest response I was ‘unfriended’.

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time, but I didn’t actually get around to writing much about it until I read an article in the Arizona Republic Saturday June 5th describing how some Arizonans have decided to change their summer vacation plans.  As far as I am concerned this is just one more example of how boycotts often have unintended effects or hurt the wrong people. Some Arizona residents, not necessarily supporters of SB 1070, stung by the boycott of Arizona and not sure how their Arizona license plates would be received in California, have decided not to spend their vacation time and dollars in our neighboring state. The City of Los Angeles and several other cities in California decided several weeks ago to put a stop to doing business in Arizona as part of their protest against the bill. The City of San Diego criticized the bill but did not advocate the economic boycott of Arizona. Many of the Arizonans who are now deciding not to spend their money in California would have gone to San Diego. This could potentially hurt the area for several million dollars. At a time when so many people in so many areas are hurting financially, the potential fallout from these idiotic economic boycotts is reaching far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Those people within the state of Arizona who are trying to repeal this bill deserve support.  What they do NOT need is an economic boycott that hurts them as much as those who support SB 1070, if not more.   Boycotts often hurt those who can least afford to be hurt, and those how have the least power to change things.  That may not be the intended effect of an economic boycott, but it is one of the effects that should be considered.

 
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