Will the Great American Boycott work?
There are a handful of watershed events that define nations and generations. In this country, for some it was the assassination of John Kennedy, for others it will be the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the years to come, will you remember where you were during the Great American Boycott of 2006?To listen to the bombast and rhetoric, you’ll have no choice. The self-styled Great American Boycott happens Monday, May 1, as a nationwide demonstration in support of “immigrant rights” by encouraging everyone not to go to school, not to go to work, and instead participate in rallies and demonstrations to “shout down” those seeking to further criminalize illegal immigration in favor of more generous policies.Organizers hope to demonstrate the strength and power of the immigrant community by demonstrating the size of the community and how much they contribute to the economy.
Public demonstrations of solidarity can themselves be watershed events. The 1968 March on Washington which culminated in Martin Luther King’s extemporaneous “I Have A Dream” speech was one. GAB organizers hope for a similar result May 1, and they may get it. By 1968, the size and strength of national support for the civil rights community was generally known, perhaps too well known if you asked critics of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. The depth of support for immigrants rights is largely unknown, untested, although the numbers who have shown up at unplanned events across the nation has been quite large, 50,000 at a rally in Denver just last week.Or it may be a bust. It’s hard to imagine millions of illegal aliens publicly boycotting work and keeping their children out of school in order to demonstrate a First Amendment right of free speech which they don’t have in order to call attention to themselves. It’s hard to imagine the thousands of employers who illegally hire undocumented workers engaging in work stoppages on May 1 to call attention to their situation, having to hire low-wage illegal aliens in order to make a buck.After all, the issue isn’t immigrant rights. That’s a euphemistic way of talking about the problem of illegal aliens. We’re talking about a crime, that of illegal residency in this country by folks who are not American citizens. For a foreign national to be in this country is not in itself a crime; indeed, on the ski slopes at this very moment English has become a second language as we welcome families from south of the Rio Grande to the High Country. In point of fact, colloquial American English has almost had to move to the jump seat, superceded this week not only by Spanish but by the King’s English.
The central theme of the Great American Boycott is that we need to do something about the millions of folks in this country illegally. The solution tends to revolve around forgiving the crime of millions, accommodating them, so that all employers, not just the unscrupulous ones, can hire the formerly illegal, and the government can stop harassing either group and use its resources in more productive ways. The discussion is similar to that revolving around decriminalizing the use of marijuana. Millions of peace-loving Americans use it every day, goes the theory, and it should be decriminalized in part because so many Americans do use it, and because it’s not a violent crime, not a big deal, besides which if it were legal, the government could control it, control purity, even tax it.Maybe. I won’t join the Great American Boycott on May 1. I might, if the day were devoted to a Great American discussion, rather than a shout-filled boycott, a discussion about when does convenience outweigh a potentially archaic law, about what would happen if the illegal aliens in the U.S. became legal residents, and what we think would happen if the borders were thrown open. Simple justice required the country to do something in 1968. The situation is not the same in 2006.
A crime is still a crime, and there’s no justice in making it legal, although who knows, maybe the GAB will convince me. Ask me on May 2.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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