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A flyer for the May 1st, 2006 Great American Boycott events in Los Angeles, California.

The Great American Boycott (known in Spanish as El Gran Paro Estadounidense, "the Great American Strike") a one-day boycott of United States schools and businesses by immigrants, both legal and illegal, of mostly Latin American origin that took place on May 1, 2006.

Boycott organizers to coincide with May Day, the International Workers Day observed as a national holiday in Asia, most of Europe, and Mexico, but not officially recognized in the United States due to its Communist associations.[1][2][3 ]

The organizers called for supporters to abstain from buying, selling, working, and attending school, in order to demonstrate through direct action the extent to which the labor obtained of illegal immigrants is needed for the economy of the United States. Supporters of the boycott rallied in major cities across the U.S. to demand general amnesty and legalization programs for such non-citizens. For this reason, the day is referred to as A Day Without an Immigrant in reference to the 2004 political satire film A Day Without a Mexican.

Some waved flags of Mexico and other Central and South American countries, while others waved flags bearing the likeness of slain Marxist revolutionary leader Che Guevara, and/or the red flag.[4]

Demonstrations were peaceful, although a Vista, California rally took a violent turn at day's end when crowds began throwing rocks and bottles at sheriff's deputies. There were also two arrests made at a demonstration in Los Angeles's MacArthur Park.[5] A stabbing that occurred near the location of the march in San Jose, California, may or may not have been related to the day's events.[6]

Economic effects of the boycott are unknown. Some initial reports indicated that, while the boycott failed to halt "business as usual," commerce slowed significantly in certain areas.

Other groups engaged in a one-day boycott of U.S. products called the "Nothing Gringo Boycott", particularly in Mexico and Central American countries.[7] It was later reported that this boycott had little, if any, effect on the U.S. economy.[8] Demonstrations were also held in major cities across Mexico.[9]



Protesters waving various flags in San Francisco

The boycott was announced on April 10, 2006 in Los Angeles, California by the March 25 Coalition of Catholic groups, immigration advocacy organizations, and labor unions. Hermandad Mexicana, an affiliate of the Mexican American Political Association, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Amigos de Orange, and local MEChA chapters all promptly joined.[10] It was coordinated nationally by the May Day Movement for Worker & Immigrants Rights.[3 ]

The coalition arose out of protests against H.R. 4437, a legislative proposal that was passed by the United States House of Representatives on December 16, 2005 by a vote of 239 to 182, only to die in the United States Senate by not being brought to the floor before the 109th Congress ended. This bill would have made residing in the U.S. illegally a felony and imposed stiffer penalties on those who knowingly employ and harbour noncitizens illegally. It also called for the construction of new border security fences along portions of the 2,000-mile United States–Mexico border. The coalition takes its name from the date of the first mass protest against the bill, a day which saw upwards of 500,000 demonstrators on the streets of Los Angeles, as well as hundreds of thousands in other major U.S. cities. The March 25, 2006 protests were noted for their peaceful nature, despite the controversy surrounding the immigration issue.[11]

According to the New York Times,

"The boycott grew from an idea hatched by a small band of grass-roots advocates in Los Angeles, inspired by the farmworker movement of the 1960's led by Cesar Chavez and Bert Corona. Through the Internet and mass media catering to immigrants, they developed and tapped a network of union organizers, immigrant rights groups and others to spread the word and plan events tied to the boycott, timed to coincide with International Workers' Day".[12]

Initial response

The boycott and strike provoked controversy as soon as they were proposed. National organizations and prominent figures split over whether to support the boycott, with many moderates endorsing demonstrations but withholding support for the boycott. Many of the "moderate" demonstrations were scheduled for three o'clock in the afternoon, after working-hours for the many unskilled professions where illegal immigrant labor tends to be concentrated.

President George W. Bush urged immigrants not to boycott, and instead to protest after work and on the weekend.[13]

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that a boycott would "hurt everyone".[14]

Marchers in Los Angeles carrying a Mexican and American flag.

On April 27, the California State Senate approved a measure to endorse a statewide economic and educational boycott. However, California's top education official opposed the boycott and called for students to stay in school on Monday. California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell also encouraged students interested in the immigration issue to voice their opinions after school.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city's first Mexican-American mayor since the 19th century, called for children to attend school and for a late afternoon rally.[15] He also urged protesters to carry American flags, and not the flags of their home countries.[16]

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offered Mass as an alternative to boycotting, and suggested that churches toll their bells in memory of immigrants who died trying to come to the U.S. The bishops, too, urged students to stay in school.[17]

National Hispanic and immigration-advocacy groups were also split, with some fearing that the actions would provoke a backlash. The League of United Latin American Citizens, normally a moderate organization, was one of the few to fully support both the boycott and the strike.[18]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) took a cautious stand of discouraging truancy from school, and encouraging participants in the strike to "get pre-approval of a holiday or 'leave without pay' from […] work".[19]

The Washington, D.C.-based National Capital Immigration Coalition denounced the Boycott, while the National Council of La Raza took no position whatsoever.

Numerous anti-war, left-wing, socialist and communist groups also endorsed the Boycott. The Act Now to Stop War and End Racism coalition, in particular, provided signs and mobilized supporters to attend demonstrations, and while the American Civil Liberties Union took no official stance, it offered advice and information for protesters on its website.[20] The AFL-CIO also endorsed the protests, saying that the H.R. 4437 "isn't the answer" to immigration issues.[21] The AFL-CIO's executive vice president, Linda Chavez-Thompson, stated: "We believe that there is absolutely no good reason why any immigrant who comes to this country prepared to work, to pay taxes, and to abide by our laws and rules should be relegated to this repressive, second-class guest worker status."[22]

Regional demonstrations

Organization of events fell to local groups. In some cases, the split that occurred on the national level was evident on the local level as well in that separate events were planned by the various organizers. Major events were held in:

  • Atlanta - An estimated 2,500 protesters turned out for the event, although Atlanta police had been prepared for as many as 100,000.[23]
A rally in Chicago
  • Inland Empire Riverside police estimated that approximately 3000 people marched from UC Riverside to the steps of the county administrative building in downtown Riverside. 1500 people congregated outside San Bernardino City Hall and later marched throughout the city. Many area businesses closed for the day, schools across Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties saw extra absences and UC Riverside's cafeteria traffic dipped 20%.[24]
  • Indianapolis - An estimated 20,000 people participated in a march downtown to Monument Circle.
  • Milwaukee - Nearly 70,000 people participated in a march through downtown Milwaukee, according to an organizer estimate. That number is more than double the estimated 30,000 who attended a similar event about five weeks before, on March 23. Though Police has estimated attendance there at 10,000-15,000 Participants marched along Wisconsin Ave. until reaching Veteran's Park, the site of a rally at noon on the lakefront. Mayor Tom Barrett addressed the ralliers, saying "Thank all of you for the fight you're fighting for peace and dignity. You're showing Milwaukee and Wisconsin and the U.S. that the fight for justice can be done peacefully." Wisconsin Restaurant Association president Ed Lump also spoke, emphasizing the importance of immigrants to the restaurant industry as workers, customers, managers, and entrepreneurs. The crowd was littered with American flags and red, white, & blue signs—people who brought Mexican flags or those of other nations were urged to put them away during the march. According to Christine Neumann-Ortiz, director of the event's main coordinator Voces de la Frontera, roughly 200 Milwaukee businesses remained closed for all or part of the day.[31]
  • New York City - A march of over 200,000 people began in Chinatown, rallied in Union Square Park, and continued down Broadway to Federal Plaza was led by a diverse coalition of workers' and immigrants' organizations. Jesse Jackson and Roger Toussaint were among the leaders of the march.[32] In a poll, the majority of New Yorkers believed that the protest would result in a backlash.[33] However, very few stores closed for the boycott. Organizers formed a human chain.
Union Square Park, New York City.
  • Olympia, Washington - Demonstrators carried a banner that read "Hands off our Immigrants, workers, families" was hung from the capitol building.
  • Orange County, California - Of the 89,000 companies in the county, most remained open on the day of the boycott. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people marched in Santa Ana. Two protesters were arrested after rocks and bottles were thrown at the police. Turnout in other parts of the county were negligible. Some Orange County public schools reported no change in the number of absent students, while others were slightly higher.[34]
  • Providence, Rhode Island An estimated 15,000 - 20,000 people marched outside the Statehouse after work, but only around 500 attended a rally during the day.[35]
  • Salem, Oregon - 8,000 to 10,000 protesters began marching in downtown Salem, after first gathering at the capital.
  • Santa Fe/Albuquerque - Rallies were organized by Somos un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant-advocacy group. 74 businesses closed in Albuquerque, as did another 50 in Santa Fe.[37]
  • San José, California - In one of the largest demonstrations in the city's history, approximately 100,000 protesters marched to La Plaza de César Chávez.
  • San Rafael, California - Canal Alliance, an immigrant advocacy group, scheduled two events, one at 10:00 a.m. and the other at 5:00 p.m. for those unable to abstain from work.[38] An estimated 3,000 people assembled near San Rafael Transit Center in the downtown area.[39]
A child holds a sign at a May Day march.
  • Santa Barbara, California - Numerous businesses, particularly in heavily Latino areas, closed for the day. As many as one third of Santa Barbara School District students did not attend classes. Many of them marched from their schools to City Hall before meeting up with other protesters for the main rally and march, which attracted some 15,000 supporters.[40] Mayor Marty Blum declared the first week of May "The Week of the Immigrant", and the Casa de la Raza scheduled citizenship workshops, cultural events, and lectures during the entire week.[41]
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg - The largest rallies in Florida were held in Hillsborough County, whose seat is Tampa. Across the county, approximately 12% of middle and high school students were absent (five percentage points higher than the average). Several tomato farms closed for the day when agricultural workers did not arrive.[44]
  • Tucson/Phoenix - In Tucson, many businesses, particularly on the city's predominantly Hispanic South Side, closed for the day.[45] In phoenix, demonstrators made history on April 10, with the biggest march in the history of Arizona, the boycott was less successful due to exhausted resources.
  • Washington, D.C. - Business closures and higher-than-normal absentee rates were reported. Little impact to area business resulted.[46]

Business response

  • Cargill Meat Solutions, the No. 2 US beef producer and No. 3 pork producer, closed five of its U.S. beef plants and two hog plants due to the immigration rallies. 15,000 workers were given the day off.[47]
  • Goya Foods, which bills itself as the nation's largest Hispanic-owned food chain, suspended delivery everywhere except Florida, saying it wanted to express solidarity with immigrants who are its primary customers.[48]


Two people protest the Great American Boycott in Santa Barbara, California.

Republican congressman Tom Tancredo stated that "The iron triangle of illegal employers, foreign governments and (interest) groups ... puts tremendous pressure on our elected officials to violate the desires of law-abiding Americans. As nearly every recent poll shows, Americans want secure borders -- not amnesty -- and sooner or later they'll elect representatives who will listen to their constituents." [49]

Counter-demonstrations took place in various cities to coincide with the day's events, although they were mostly small in size.[31] Some encouraged their members to buy from American businesses to offset the economic impact of the boycott. Among them are the Southern California talk radio hosts John and Ken, who called for "The Great American Spend-a-Lot", a contest with prizes for listeners who spent the most money.[50]

The volunteer border security Minuteman Project, which has organized citizens' patrols along the US-Mexican border to monitor and deter illegal immigration, hosted rallies across the country, starting on Wednesday, May 3 in Los Angeles.[51] They also began constructing a six-foot high barbed wire fence along the border in Arizona.[52] According to Minuteman Project founder Jim Gilchrist, "It's intimidation when a million people march down main streets in our major cities under the Mexican flag. This will backfire."

A new group, the 'You Don't Speak For Me' coalition, was formed in response to the boycott to challenge the notion that May 1 protesters speak on behalf of all Hispanics. According to former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Pete Nunez, who is the group's spokesperson, "Millions of Hispanic-Americans -- including many who have gone through the immigration process the right way -- are offended by the demands being made by people who have broken our nation's laws."[53]

CNN's Lou Dobbs, criticized the boycott for its promotion by groups such as the radical protest organization ANSWER, (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Dobbs also stated that "It is no accident that they chose May 1 as their day of demonstration and boycott. It is the worldwide day of commemorative demonstrations by various socialist, communist, and even anarchic organizations."[54]

The Washington Post suggested that the May 2 ouster of the mayor and two council members in the town of Herndon, Virginia who had suffered criticism for their support of a day-labor center was a negative reaction to the Boycott.[55] Some Southern and Western states drew up new tougher anti-illegal immigration laws.[56] The Post also credited backlash from the Boycott support in the Arizona legislature for the passage of laws penalizing businesses who hire illegal immigrants and on other crimes associated with illegal immigration.[57] Georgia has also since passed a law, which will take effect in 2007, that prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving many social services and requires police and employers to report illegal workers to the Immigration Service.[58]

Fox News's Sean Hannity asked "Why is it that so many people who didn't respect our laws and our sovereignty are demanding for the right to stay here, demanding for the right to jump in front of other people who are going through the process properly, and those that disagree are being called racist and bigoted?"[59]

According to an editorial by conservative commentator, Cinnamon Stillwell of the San Francisco Chronicle, "The one thing the boycott did achieve was to expose the lie that the country cannot function without the labor of illegal immigrants. While some may have been inconvenienced by the experience, the economy hardly came to a grinding halt. It seems there are still some jobs Americans are willing to do."[60]


The boycott highlighted the concerns of millions living in the United States legally and illegally and the highly emotional issue of illegal aliens in the US, provoking intense debate on all sides of the political spectrum.[61]

On May 15, 2006, President Bush announced plans for the Pentagon to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to help secure the Southern U.S. border.[62]

H.R. 4437 was passed by the House of Representatives on December 16, 2005 by a vote of 239 to 182.

On May 25, 2006, The U.S. Senate approved by a vote of 62-36, its own White House-backed immigration reform bill that would grant some illegal aliens a chance at citizenship and strengthen border security. Negotiations were held with the aim of meshing the Senate's immigration bill with H.R.4437, no agreement was reached before the election in November.[63]

See also


  1. ^ Coalition plans May Day actions
  2. ^ May Day: The Fight Behind the Protest - Business - redOrbit
  3. ^ a b National May 1st Movement for Worker and Immigrant Rights
  4. ^ Corsi, Jerome (2006-05-03). "May Day protest organized by communists". World Net Daily. Retrieved 2007-08-20.  
  5. ^ Gorman, Anna; Marjorie Miller and Mitchell Landsberg (2006-05-02). "Immigrants Demonstrate Peaceful Power". Los Angeles Times (David D. Hiller). Retrieved 2007-08-20.  
  6. ^ "Update: Stabbings reported in area of SJ march". CBS News.  
  7. ^ "Migrants' Boycott Plan Is Crossing the Border". Los Angeles Times.,1,5337488.story?coll=la-headlines-world&track=crosspromo.  
  8. ^ "Group: Mexico Boycott Has Little Effect". SF Gate.  
  9. ^ "Holiday, boycott combine to slow business in Mexico". Seattle Times.  
  10. ^ Pacific News "Groups Call for ‘A Day Without an Immigrant’"
  11. ^ LA Times"500,000 Pack Streets to Protest Immigration Bills"
  12. ^ New York Times "Immigrants Take to U.S. Streets in Show of Strength"
  13. ^ Los Angeles Times "Bush Asks Immigrants to Reject Work Boycotts"
  14. ^ Coos Bay Sun "Immigrants flex economic muscle with boycott"
  15. ^ Los Angeles Daily News "City's students absent in droves"
  16. ^ Coos Bay Sun "Immigrants flex economic muscle with boycott"
  17. ^ Fox News "'A Day Without Immigrants'"
  18. ^ League of United Latin American Citizens LULAC press release
  19. ^ Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund MALDEF press release
  20. ^ American Civil Liberties Union "Immigrant Marches / Marchas de los Inmigrantes"
  21. ^ Why We Fight for Immigrant Rights
  22. ^ Remarks by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson at Immigration Press Briefing
  23. ^ WSB Radio "Pro-Illegal Immigration Rally at Capitol"
  24. ^ "Marchers Crowd Inland Streets" Los Angeles Times; May 2, 2006.
  25. ^ KLAS-TV "Las Vegas Boycott Organizers Plan Next Move"
  26. ^ CNN "Thousands march for immigrant rights"
  27. ^ Mexican American Political Association Events
  28. ^ We Are America "Thousands Unite on the Day of the Worker to Demand Just and Humane Immigration Reform: "We are America" Coalition leads action to Call on Congress to Enact Fair and Rational Immigration Reform"
  29. ^ "FROM E.LA TO OLVERA STREET NO BUSINESS AS USUAL" Los Angeles IndyMedia; May 2, 2006.
  30. ^ "Report back: Troqueros May Day strike shuts down port" Los Angeles IndyMedia; May 4, 2006.
  31. ^ a b Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "A mass appeal for immigration reform"
  32. ^ Village Voice "A Day Without White People"
  33. ^ ABC News "Immigrants turning out for nationwide boycott & day of protests"
  34. ^ "Boycott participation mixed across O.C." Orange County Register; May 2, 2006.
  35. ^ "Businesses close, hundreds rally in support of immigrants' rights", Eric Tucker, Associated Press Writer; May 1, 2006
  36. ^ BAYAN-USA Press release
  37. ^ New Mexico Business Weekly "Immigrants, NM businesses join national economic boycott"
  38. ^ Marin Independent-Journal "Immigration protest plan fuels debate"
  39. ^ Marin Independent-Journal "'We are all immigrants'"
  40. ^ Santa Barbara News-Press "A Sea of Voices", May 2, 2006
  41. ^ Santa Barbara City Council Redevelopment AgencyCity of Santa Barbara City Council Redevelopment Agency April 25, 2006 Action Agenda
  42. ^ The Seattle Post-Intelligencer "Thousands join rally for immigrant rights"
  43. ^ The Seattle Times "Huge turnout for rally in Seattle"
  44. ^ Tampa Bay Business Journal "In Tampa Bay, immigration boycott has little impact on business"
  45. ^ "1 million+ in U.S. join in immigrants' boycott"
  46. ^ ABC News "Immigrant Boycott Affects Some D.C. Area Businesses"
  47. ^ CNN "U.S. prepares for 'A Day Without an Immigrant' - Organizers plan massive boycott on Monday to stop business as usual"
  48. ^ SF Gate "1M Immigrants Skip Work for Demonstration"
  49. ^ Newly empowered, undocumented immigrants plan more US protests
  50. ^ John and Ken Show "The Great American Spend-a-lot"
  51. ^ Grand Forks Herald "Groups rally in Minneapolis for tighter immigration controls"
  52. ^ Columbia Missourian "Walkout by Latino immigrants set for today"
  53. ^ Yahoo Business News "Illegal Aliens on the Streets 'Don't Speak for Us,' Says New Hispanic-American Coalition"
  54. ^ CNN "Radical groups taking control of immigrant movement"
  55. ^ Washington Post "Labor Site Backlash Felt at Polls In Herndon"
  56. ^ Washington Post "After Protests, Backlash Grows"
  57. ^ Washington Post "Hill Impasse Spurs States to Tackle Illegal Immigration"
  58. ^ BBC News "Mexico slams Georgia migrant law "
  59. ^ The Great American Boycott. | The America's Intelligence Wire (May, 2006)
  60. ^ "The Day Without Immigrants Backfires"
  61. ^ US: Millions of immigrant workers join May 1st "boycott"
  62. ^ [CNN "The Situation: Monday, May 15"]
  63. ^ [CNN "Senate passes immigration bill"]

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