A day without immigrants: Do such strikes have any impact?

Protesters gather outside US. District Court during a hearing for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Seattle, Washington on February 17. (Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images)

by Ese Olumhense

In cities across the country Thursday, thousands of businesses closed in observance of the Day Without Immigrants national strike, designed to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies — which include the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Thousands were estimated to have abstained from work, school, and other commitments in protest and solidarity. While many nixed any shopping on Thursday, hundreds of shops and restaurants also closed or reduced their hours.

In Washington, dining services in the Senate Cafeteria were even reportedly affected by the strike, as multiple employees are said to have stayed home from work Thursday morning. As a result, the Refectory of the Senate reportedly had to shutter operations all day.

Immigration reform proponents are saying that the “highly organic” boycott’s development is powerfully illustrative of the shared power of immigrants and their allies.

“There is a growing consensus on standing up to the politics of division being played by this administration,” said Clarissa Martinez, the deputy vice president of research, advocacy, and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights group in the U.S.

“All you hear from this administration [about immigrants] is negative, but a vast population understand that immigrants are part of who we are, part of our economic engine,” she added.

Thursday’s anti-Trump resistance was the latest of several other mass demonstrations that have taken place since Trump’s election win, and more are coming. This week, organizers of Jan. 21’s massive Women’s March on Washington announced they too will hold a general strike — “A Day Without A Woman” — on Mar. 8, International Women’s Day.

“We ask, do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities?” organizers said in an Instagram post announcing the event. “Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppression?”

“We saw what happened when millions of us stood together in January,” the group added, “and now we know that our army of love greatly outnumbers the army of fear, greed and hatred.”

After millions turned out across the U.S. in every state for colorful women’s marches protesting Trump’s inauguration, organizers hope the coming day of action will again mobilize this “army of love” in economic resistance.

Though it’s too early to gauge the success of Thursday’s Day Without Immigrants, recent anti-Trump boycotts have proven effective. After Uber drivers broke a taxi strike during protests of Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven majority-Muslim countries at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in January, the #deleteuber campaign was quickly born, and upwards of 200,000 trashed the app.

The company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, soon stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council. Uber then announced that it would create a $3 million legal fund to help drivers from countries affected by the ban.

Despite this success, most boycotts and strikes don’t hurt companies’ revenues very much, consumer boycott experts say. The negative publicity generated by these campaigns hurts, but it’s relatively fleeting. It’s easy for consumers to get distracted, too, with so many campaigns happening at once, and social media quickly changing the conversation.

“We’re just overrun with boycotts at the moment,” Brayden King, a Northwestern University professor who researches the effects of social movements on corporate behavior recently told Fast Company. “We may be starting to see boycott fatigue.”

Other recent general strike actions point to potential “boycott burnout.” Even before the era of social media and viral outrage, “Day Without” campaigns struggled to maintain momentum, indicating that such actions may ultimately be more of a sociopolitical statement than an economic offensive.

On May 1, 2006, the “Great American Boycott” saw millions of marchers stay home from work and school in protest of the proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. That legislation addressed illegal immigration by bolstering of immigration laws and border protection measures, and made undocumented presence in the U.S. a felony. It also made providing humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants a crime.

Since it lasted only one day, some argue the success of the strike — which took place on International Workers’ Day — was limited. Protests also simmered when the bill died in the Senate.

“Our economy is just too big and diverse for any group, no matter how well organized, to have much of an impact,” said Dr. Carl Horowitz, director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project at the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, after the 2006 strike.

Horowitz’ feelings have changed little over the past decade. If immigrant groups are unable to get support beyond their base, he says, the situation will remain static. That backing could be hard to find, Horowitz believes, as many feel that, because undocumented immigrants have broken the law to either get to the U.S. or stay in the country, they must deal with the consequences of those actions.

“It’s like someone who kills his parents then says ‘Hey, I want leniency, I’m an orphan,’” he said.

Though Horowitz is skeptical about the actual impact the “idealistic” women’s strike will have, he is certain of one thing: organized mass resistance efforts will continue.

“This is going to continue as long as Trump is president,” he said. “And if he gets re-elected, for the four years after that.”