Civil Liberties

Forces Align Against Arizona: 4 Major Cities Threaten Boycotts, Baseball Flexes Its Muscles, Citizens in Uproar

As calls continue to boycott Arizona over its racist immigration law, many are focusing on Major League Baseball, where nearly a third of the players are Latino.

Editor's note: Sign the petition -- Ask the Department of Justice to block Arizona's racist law, the greatest threat to civil rights in America in a generation.

Immediately after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the racist new anti-immigration law, calls for a boycott of her state arose, from La Opinión, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper, to Democratic Representative Raúl Grijalva, who called for targeted economic sanctions of his own state, saying that "good" and "decent" organizations "should refrain from bringing their business" to Arizona. Colombian pop star Shakira traveled to Phoenix last week, appearing on CNN to condemn the law; meanwhile local politicians from at least four major cities are weighing whether or not to issue resolutions to stop doing business with Arizona.

With calls to boycott Arizona continuing to grow over the weekend, and May Day protesters marching in cities across the country, perhaps one of the most visible -- and potentially influential -- is the campaign to move Major League Baseball's 2011 All-Star Game out of the state. With the percentage of Latinos who play professional baseball comparable to the percentage of Latino U.S. citizens who live in Arizona, players and politicians are speaking out.

"Major League Baseball needs to revisit the issue of whether the All-Star Game, one of America's greatest televised exports to Latin America, should be played in a state that doesn't show any respect to Latinos," Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano, who represents the Bronx, home of the New York Yankees, told the NY Daily News last week. The 2011 All-Star Game is currently scheduled to take place in Phoenix.

Adrian Gonzalez, first baseman for the San Diego Padres, and a two-time All-Star player, has vowed to skip the All-Star Game if the law stands. "If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I'll probably not play in the All-Star Game," he said in an interview this weekend. "Because it's a discriminating law."

Last week, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner issued a statement in opposition of Arizona's new law, warning that it "could have a negative impact on hundreds of major league players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association."

"If the current law goes into effect," he warned, "the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members."

Many have drawn parallels to the National Football League's boycott of Arizona following its opposition to Martin Luther King Day. Under pressure from its own players, the NFL was forced to move the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Los Angeles. "I urge the Major Leaguers playing today to follow the lead of their NFL counterparts in taking a strong stand against racism," Rep. Serrano said.

Efforts to boycott Arizona go beyond the sports realm. In cities across the country, local politicians are weighing resolutions to impose sanctions on Arizona. In Los Angeles, calls from city council members to boycott Arizona were joined by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week. "What we want to do is make sure we understand and review every monetary transaction, any kind of funding that comes from Los Angeles [to Arizona], evaluate it, refrain from conducting business with them and make them aware that their actions have real consequences from a monetary view," Councilman Ed Reyes said.

Reyes, along with Councilwoman Janice Hahn, have introduced legislation that calls for L.A. to "refrain from conducting business with the state of Arizona including participating in any conventions or other business that requires city resources, unless SB 1070 [Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act] is repealed."

In Milwaukee, WI, where thousands took part in May Day protests this weekend, Alderman Jim Witowiak reportedly plans to announce legislation to boycott Arizona-based companies. "If the resolution passes, city workers would also not be allowed to go to Arizona for any meetings or conferences," reports a local ABC affiliate.

In Boston on Monday, city council members Michael Ross and Felix Arroyo Jr. announced they are "crafting a resolution asking city officials to find out what investments the city has with Arizona and Arizona-based companies, and pull that money immediately,"  according to the Boston Herald. "The resolution would ask city employees not travel to Arizona for conferences or other city business."

And in San Francisco, Supervisor David Campos introduced a resolution -- embraced by Mayor Gavin Newsom -- that discourages doing business with Arizona, while also calling on professional and collegiate sports organizations to do the same. According to SF Weekly, the resolution "also commands the clerk of the board to send a copy of the resolution to the governor of Arizona and the commissioners of the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball; and the President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association."

Beyond local governments, numerous organizations across the country that are not necessarily involved in immigration policy are calling for a boycott.

"Among the widening reverberations from the Arizona law," reported the New York Times on Sunday, "the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, a historically black organization whose members included Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Justice Thurgood Marshall, announced that it was moving its annual convention in July to Las Vegas from Phoenix. The fraternity said it had been expecting as many as 10,000 people, including members and their families, to come to the meeting."

On Facebook, a page titled "Boycott Arizona 2010" has some 11,000 fans; its first target is the Arizona Diamondbacks, which, it notes, is the third-highest contributor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee this year. (More targets are promised.)

Even relatively obscure organizations are taking a stand: Sociologists Without Borders (SSF) "will refrain from holding any meetings or soliciting the services of any entity, public or private, located in the state of Arizona," according to its Web site. "We call on SSF members and Sociologists to boycott travel to or soliciting the services of entities located in the state of Arizona unless absolutely necessary until the law is repealed or deemed unconstitutional."

Predictably, all the calls to boycott Arizona have led to counter-calls from the Right to support Arizona and its anti-immigrant law. A "National Arizona BUYcott" campaign already has a Web site and a Facebook group with more than 1,300 members. Media figures like Tennessee radio host Steve Gill are calling on listeners to patronize such Arizona-based establishments as Cold Stone Creamery. ("We're going to go out to Cold Stone Creamery and dish out some free samples to local listeners and let them buy some Arizona ice cream as part of our 'buycott' to support Arizona," Gill told KTAR.)

Beyond the right-wing backlash against the boycott, business trade groups and organizations are combating calls to boycott Arizona, saying it will hurt their businesses and employees. Upon hearing that the Washington D.C. City Council was considering a boycott of Arizona, Joseph A. McInerney, president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, sent a letter to Council Chair Vincent C. Gray, calling the measure "ill-advised." "In Arizona, the state's lodging industry alone employs 52,000 workers, as well as hundreds of thousands of other employees in related tourism businesses such as restaurants and entertainment who depend on visitors and investments," he wrote. "Do the council members know -- or care -- that they are hurting lower-income workers in Arizona when it pushes something like a 'boycott' proposal through its chambers?" The city council has since decided to postpone any such move.

For the moment, the baseball boycott looks like it will be the one gaining steam.

"In California, Senate president pro tem Darrell Steinberg is drafting a letter to MLB asking for the league to move spring training out of Arizona, noting that one in four professional baseball players is an immigrant," Newsweek's Arian Campo-Flores reported on Friday. "And state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo of Los Angeles tells me that he's going to be speaking to Dodgers officials to urge similar action. 'This is the team of Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier,' says Cedillo. 'This is the team of Fernando Valenzuela, and now the team of Manny [Ramirez].' How, he asks, can that team continue to train in a state that just put a target on the backs of every one of its Hispanic residents?"

Sign the petition -- Ask the Department of Justice to block Arizona's racist law, the greatest threat to civil rights in America in a generation.

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage. Follow her on Twitter.