If you read my post a while back, God is Not Dead, you know that I strongly support the right of church people to be engaged in public life.  That’s why it annoys me when a prominent member of the clergy does something crazy or misguided to ruin things for the rest of us.  In this case, the misguided person is Rev. Miguel Rivera of Ridgefield Park, NJ who is still urging undocumented immigrants to boycott the Census

Rivera, leader of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, has done some good work in the past (e.g. suing the town of Riverside, NJ for an anti-immigrant renting ordinance targeting undocumented Brazilians).  Yes, Rivera is ultra-conservative on some issues, but for the most part he does seem to have his heart in the right place when it comes to the Latino Community.  But that’s why his advocacy of a boycott is so problematic.  He does have some authority as a man of the cloth with a pro-immigrant track record.

There is some reason to this scheme.  Yes, undocumented people lack representation but are taxed on multiple levels.  Yes, the undocumented have a major impact in many parts of the country as to how legislative districts are drawn.  Yes, the undocumented numbers count for federal dollars allocated in terms of infrastructure and social services.  With those premises, it easily follows that undocumented people ought to be recognized officially so that their head count isn’t merely benefiting politicians and agencies that have no legal duty to represent them.  But the problem is that the census boycott is not winnable.  A few areas in the sphere of Rev. Rivera and a few others may go through with it.  A few people watching the Spanish newscasts may also join in, but so what?  Rivera does not have the clout to carry the whole country.  No one I know in Chicago, for example, is planning to join the boycott.  We are the second largest Mexican community in the country and the largest Polish community outside of Warsaw–trust me, we know about undocumented people.  If Chicago isn’t in on it, then they are wasting their time.  Even outside of the “North,” most major Latino organizations such as NCLR and LULAC are promoting the census.  All this boycott is doing is dividing the community.

Perhaps a surgical strike could have convinced the rest of us to risk losing vital social services for our communities in exchange for removing a specific politician or at least forcing his or her hand on the issue of immigration reform.  But a national boycott?  In this day and age?  Boycotts can be effective in the commercial realm when they are clear and strategic (think Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott).  But a general boycott without a clear target is nothing short of irresponsible.  That is “Community Organizing 101.”

To be fair, Rivera is not the only one advocating this tactic.  Nativo Lopez in California (someone who I respect very much) has also been advocating such a boycott at least until he came up against recent legal troubles.  I am sure there are others as well who long for the good ole days of boycotts and mass movements.  I do too.  But we just rode the wave a national mass movement for immigration reform that also spawned a few national boycotts that went absolutely nowhere.  Why should we expect people who aren’t even marching anymore to make this boycott work?  I’m not cynical at all.  The resilience of immigrants in the face of modern capitalism has been extraordinary.  In fact, I think if they put their collective minds on a task, they can achieve just about anything.  But organizers, clergy, and other community leaders have a responsibility to help them come up with strategies that they will actually benefit from.  At the very least, we have a responsibility not to promote pendejadas.

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4 Responses to Boycott the Census???

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K.V.

January 6th, 2010 at 10:39 am

It has worked real well for Michelle Bachmann, looks like Minnesota might loose a seat and most likely it would be hers. Every rant and rave has an impact; how much and to what ends is the entertaining part…

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Rey Lopez-Calderon

January 6th, 2010 at 10:40 am

Yes, every rant has an impact and often not the one the person intended! Serves her right.

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Carlos Cumpian

January 7th, 2010 at 7:45 am

Don’t BOYCOTT the census….

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David Hatch

January 7th, 2010 at 7:46 am

lose dollars and political representation? As Michael Jackson would say, ‘that’s so ignant”

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While some people look at cockroaches as disgusting pests, We view them as resilient organisms that predate humans and will likely outlive us as well. People of color, the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed, much like cockroaches, are often despised, feared and in some cases have been the objects of extermination.

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