Measuring the Impact of the 'Great American Boycott'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:22pm EDT

( - On the day when more than a million advocates of illegal immigration were estimated to be skipping work and boycotting American goods, consumer experts were unsure if the protests would be effective.

The National Immigrant Solidarity Network (NISN) and other pro-immigrant groups urged illegal immigrants and their supporters to stay home from work and school and to boycott American businesses May 1, calling it the "Great American Boycott of 2006."

The goal of the protest, according to NISN, was to show "anti-immigrant politicians and hate-mongers" that illegal immigrants are vital to the United States economy. In addition to the calls for strikes and boycotts, rallies were held in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Dr. Carl Horowitz, director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, was skeptical that the demonstrations would make much of a difference. "Our economy is just too big and diverse for any group, no matter how well organized, to have much of an impact," he said.

Horowitz added that in order for a boycott to be successful, it would have to continue for a long period of time. "That could only be achieved by illegal immigrants returning to their home nations," he said, "an idea many Americans would gladly support."

Monroe Friedman, emeritus professor of psychology at Eastern Michigan University, told Cybercast News Service that calling the demonstration a boycott was inaccurate. "People are marching, they're demonstrating, and we don't really know how many of them are absent from work or got approved absences from work. We just know they're out in the streets," he said.

Friedman, the author of the book "Consumer Boycotts," added, "I don't see anyone that's going to stores ... checking to see whether people are buying things.

"There is a very, very emotional tone and character to the term boycott," Friedman said. "It's one of these buzzwords and I think the news media gets very excited and leaps upon it to use it as a headline word." He said protest organizers might take advantage of the media's eagerness to use the word "boycott" to describe events that don't constitute a boycott.

Friedman said boycotts are "not one-day affairs but these are much longer in duration," pointing to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr., in the mid-1950s, which lasted more than a year.

The real purpose of the "Great American Boycott" is not to squeeze the U.S. economy, Friedman said, but "it's really a day to call attention to ... some of the concerns that immigrants have had over the years."

Friedman declined to speculate on the impact of Monday's events, saying that he thought the wisest approach would be to "wait and see" what happened during the demonstrations and whether people actually skipped work and stopped shopping.

Horowitz predicted that the day's events would have "a limited effect."

"There [will] be some anecdotes here or there of people not showing up for work and businesses not functioning at full capacity," he said, "but in the main it's going to have a marginal effect on our economy and that will send a signal to boycotters that future such actions aren't in their best interest."

Anti-Bush activists attempted a similar "boycott" on Jan. 20, 2005, the day of President Bush's second inauguration. The boycott was intended as an anti-war message. Organizer David Livingstone told the Associated Press that he hoped pro-war corporations and politicians would lose money.

The NISN used Internet advertisements to emphasize its goal of showing the immigrants' impact on the economy. If illegal immigrants are a drain on society, one of the ads claimed, "then during the day on May 1st the stock market will surge and the economy will boom. If not, we prove them wrong once and for all."

The Dow Jones finished Monday down about 24 points and the NASDAQ was down about 18 points.

"The stock market can surge or fall for any number of reasons. You don't need an illegal immigrant boycott to do that," Horowitz said.

Protest organizers "want to fulfill their own prophesy," he added. "They'll set up a conclusion and then they'll cherry pick the evidence that allegedly proves it.

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