Good message, bad methods

A boycott is an inefficient, destructive way of changing Arizona’s immigration law

By Matt Barnum

When the Supreme Court came down recently in favor of more generous campaign-spending laws for corporations, liberals were in a tizzy. The New York Times titled an editorial “The Court’s Blow to Democracy,” which argued that the Citizens United decision “has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.”

When progressives consider the power of corporate money they’re prone to hyperbole; when they consider the value of their own side’s money—well, they can’t even consider it. Their delicate hands, it sometimes seems, are too clean, too pure to even touch a dirty dollar bill.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fight to change Arizona’s immigration law. The goal is great; the methods are horrible. Let’s make it simple: The best way to change the law is to support candidates for Arizona’s state legislature who support repeal. And since many of us who are against the law aren’t from the state and thus can’t make our voices heard at the ballot box, the next best thing is to donate money.

One would imagine, then, that immigration and civil-rights advocates would spend their time raising money for candidates who vow to try to repeal the law. Probably some activists are doing just that. I’m having trouble finding them, though. Most, it seems, are too busy celebrating the Phoenix Suns’ jersey protest or staging sit-ins in John McCain’s office—things that will, no doubt, lead to glowing editorials in The New York Times, but that won’t get us any closer to scrapping the law.

Far more troubling are calls for a statewide boycott. If a boycott were effectively implemented, it’s certainly possible that in its own ineffective, inefficient, and destructive way, such a protest could lead to repeal. But who will be hurt in the process? If Arizona’s economy is harmed—and a boycott would obviously do this—it won’t be the governor or state legislators who bear the brunt of the burden. It will be the state’s lower-income residents, including many of the very immigrants that boycott leaders are purporting to help.

Instead of considering the potential harms of such a ploy, the Times editorial board writes, “Before this goes any further, Arizona should check the scars of the early ’90s when the state arrogantly rejected Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday and prompted cancellations of more than 100 lucrative conventions and events, including the Super Bowl. It’s pathetic that Arizona’s politicians would put the state through that once again. Arizona should repeal this law immediately.”

A boycott, then, is asking that the same wrong-headed politicians who made the law bail the state out of the trouble they themselves created. But instead of hurting Arizonans, why not make politicians who support the law feel the pain they caused?

By donating money to candidates running against such legislators, we can hit them where it hurts. Not only would doing so avoid the unnecessary casualties inevitable from a statewide boycott, but it’s also more likely to be effective; it’s using a scalpel rather than a hatchet, to paraphrase President Obama. It will be a victory of substance over symbolism, and it will harness the power of the dollar that the Times’s editorial board understands in some circumstances but ignores in others. Indeed, it would be a victory for democracy: evidence that if money has the power to corrupt, then it also has the power to purify.

Matt Barnum is a fourth-year in the College majoring in Psychology.