A civil rights advocate and talk radio host—with Al Sharpton’s support—is urging Americans not to spend money on Nov. 2 to protest the federal government’s handling of hate crimes as well as its handling of other issues like health care, immigration, the mortgage crisis and the war in Iraq.
But even the radio personality, Warren Ballentine, echoes financial experts who say the economic impact of his “blackout” is likely to be minimal, especially since it doesn’t target specific businesses.
“I would agree with that,” said the host of “The Warren Ballentine Show,” now nationally syndicated out of Raleigh, N.C. “It’s more of a statement type of thing. The impact it’s going to have is this: Think how scary it is. We’ve done this one day. If you don’t listen, then maybe next time, we’ll do it for three, four or five days.”
St. Louis University economics professor Patrick Welch said the boycott is more a statement of position than a statement of action, and so Ballentine, Sharpton and others may still succeed in making their point.
But it’s the message such an act would send that may have the larger impact.
Ballentine said the idea he proposed to his listeners grew out of a frustration with the Justice Department’s handling of the so-called “Jena 6” case in Louisiana, in which three white Jena High School teens weren’t held criminally responsible for hanging nooses on a tree, but six of the school’s black students were charged with attempted murder for allegedly badly beating a white peer.
He said it angers him that a new federal hate crimes bill is languishing and the one already on the books isn’t enforced as much as he believes it should be.
Ballentine said his boycott suggestion has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm and has “snowballed into this movement” beyond the hate crimes issue, a movement protesting how the existing administration and Congress are spending their citizens’ money and handling issues that affect everyone.
Truckers have called Ballentine to say they’d refuse to move products, and small business owners have vowed to sacrifice profits and shut down that day, the radio host said. People of all races and ethnicities are telling him they plan not to spend money.
Sharpton backs the boycott and is leading a march in front of the Department of Justice in Washington on Nov. 16, two weeks later. His focus will be on the DOJ’s treatment of hate crimes.
But while marching on the Justice Department and boycotting all transactions for the day may get temporary media attention for the cause at hand, critics say Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Ballentine and other activists need to do more if they want to change the way hate crimes are prosecuted in Washington.
“Sharpton is good at being a show horse, but not necessarily a workhorse,” said Juan Williams, a correspondent for National Public Radio and FOX News contributor.
The state of Louisiana does not prosecute the hanging of nooses as hate crimes. Federal prosecutors looked into the Jena case and claimed that while they would normally prosecute, the students involved were still juveniles when the incident happened and they did not take the case.