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Arizona Boycotts: Are they working?

Many states and cities are now boycotting Arizona because of SB 1070, its newly enacted immigration law requiring possession of immigration documents at all times. A whirlwind of criticism has emerged, much of it directed at SB 1070’s alleged inherent racism; proponents counter that such a law is necessary to protect Arizona, which they dub a “leading magnet of illegal immigration” (New York Times). While such debate has achieved media prominence, boycotts offer an intriguing alternative through which to examine reactions to this bill. 

Boycotts have long been a democratic instrument of change, even in the formative years of America when colonists refused to purchase British imports. Following in this tradition of passive resistance was the Rosa Park’s inspired Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, which brought much momentum to the Civil Rights movement. Yet another significant initiative was the Delano, California grape farmers’ persistent boycott of their employer for better wages. These boycotts were enormously successful, as history suggests, which begs the question: how will history assess the SB 1070 resistance efforts? 

Many city councils have pushed for boycott initiatives.  San Diego protested the bill by issuing “an ordinance that ‘urges the State of Arizona to repeal SB 1070’ and takes no further action,” observes the Washington Times.  Other councils like that of Seattle and Oakland took harsher measures, proposing the termination of all Arizona contracts within their cities. Los Angeles arguably implemented the strictest boycott which “outright bans official travel to Arizona and seeks even to cancel existing contracts,” writes Jason Arvak of the Moderate Voice. Boycotts of SB 1070 have extended beyond the West Coast; Chicago also passed a resolution mandating that existing contracts with Arizona be terminated.

These efforts have elicited a range of responses. Some view the boycotts as necessary to combat the unjust Arizona immigration bill. Americans are faced with a choice in how to respond to SB 1070, remarks Huffington Post’s Mario Solis Marich, they “can ignore the menace in our midst or we can join hands and push back with moral authority and economic resistance.” Others concede that while Arizona boycotts might yield unwanted results—Latino workers would be the ones most affected by lost tourism—“the idea that in their own state, for many their birth state, they are subject to random inquisitions by law enforcement officers who will question their right to be in this country” (latinalista) is abhorable.

Yet there are those who question the boycotts’ merit. Calling attention to Seattle’s continuing purchase of Arizona manufactured red-light cameras, the Washington Times remarks cynically, “It’s time for these arrogant local officials to grow up and drop their ineffective and unpopular cameras and boycotts.” If cities maintain business relationships with Arizona, then boycotts are devoid of any real value, it argues. Others agree. Seattle’s boycott will not “have much practical effect. The resolution was written to protect the only substantial contract Seattle has with an Arizona company,” writes the Seattle Times; cities like San Diego and Chicago have followed suit. But some point out that the Arizona boycotts are merely symbolic in gesture, attempts at generating a public discontent with SB 1070.

How would you rate the boycotts’ effectiveness? If SB 1070 is provoking unjust, tangible results, then what do you make of cities responding symbolically? Do you envisage the boycotts as exemplifying democracy or a gloomy image of capitalism? Both, perhaps? Imagine you had the authority to orchestrate a boycott: what measures would you take against Arizona?

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