All-Star Game Boycott was a Bust - Or Was It?
Nearly one hundred people showed up Tuesday afternoon at the northwest corner of Chase Field to protest the MLB All-Star game in various ways. Some news stories would portray that it was a huge failure, very few people showed up, and that it was completely ignored. Granted, results varied depending on the group. Some will argue that because there were not thousands rallying against the game, the movements must not have had any support. So was it a bust?
The success of the boycott protests depends on the perspective of the observer. I was there and took pictures and a few videos so I'll post my observations and let you decide for yourself.
There were several distinct groups of people in attendance outside the stadium. They were, in order of largest to smallest, Puente and Comité de Defensa del Barrio, Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots, Unite Arizona, 4409, Jews for Jesus, a few street preachers, some guy in a horrible Superman outfit, and a guy passing out pamphlets for a Skin afterparty.
In addition, there was the usual bevy of sunburned concession stand workers, people hawking programs, ticket scalpers, bicycle cabbies, and a couple guys with musical instruments. In addition, there were a couple dozen police officers milling around and keeping everyone in their predefined "free speech areas." The reason I mention all of the extra people is to give an idea of the variety of people competing for time and space on the corner.
Basically, if you are to stand a chance at getting your message heard by the thousands of passing fans trying to get to their seats on time, you need to stand out both visually and audibly. That is usually the case for people outside of Chase Field, even on a normal day.
If you are selling programs, you have a maximum of two seconds to make fans pause long enough to pull money out of their wallets, much less give you any notice. And I have watched independent program hawkers tell short one-liner jokes that effectively get attention and make people laugh. It works and it is a lot of fun to watch them work.
So let's start with the groups, in order of smallest to largest. Superman is often seen walking around the grounds. I'm honestly not sure why he is there. But you can see that he stands out. Unfortunately for most, certain parts of him stand out a little too much. But it strangely fits in with the other weird stuff going on around Phoenix on any given day. Scale of one to ten for best chance of being seen, I would rate him a five. Good job, Superman! Although, you would have more fans if you weren't so grumpy about people's civil rights.
Next are the street preachers. Let's face it, they didn't stand a chance yesterday afternoon. I stood next to one of them for a couple of minutes and could barely hear him. He was one guy in the middle of hundreds. He didn't stand a chance. On a scale of one to ten, I will give him a two. He gets one point for effort and one for holding a Bible up high. You don't see that every day. However, I would have given him another point if he had held it over his head and thumped it with his other hand. He must be new at this.
Jews for Jesus didn't fare much better. They were across the street next to the light rail station. I think I counted two of them, maybe three. They were basically handing out some literature. Unfortunately, most people walking down a sidewalk tend to avoid people handing out things. It's human nature.
4409 is a group of local Libertarians who make the rounds at various rallies and who are politically involved in a number of ways. Yesterday morning, I received a Facebook event invitation from Alma Sommer, one of the group, that they were planning to attend and protest as well. They typically are involved in events such as protesting the TSA, advocating for Ron Paul, protesting against Real ID, speaking out against raising sales taxes, and advocating for privacy issues.
A group of them have staged protests at Sky Harbor Airport against TSA searches and once they parked over an I-10 overpass bridge with huge signs to speak out against the sales tax proposition in 2010. Depending on who you speak to, some of them have called for further investigations into the World Trade Center events and some of them have been advocating for immigration and civil rights reforms. Their opinions vary on those subjects as you would typically find in a group of Libertarians. It would be inaccurate to say that the group as a whole espouses one viewpoint or another.
There were four people in this group in attendance. They stood right on the corner of Fourth and Jefferson with block letter spray paint signs. In spite of bringing a bullhorn, they weren't audible that I could hear, but they were a bit more visible than the previous groups. Alma had a video camera and was walking around talking to a few people. Overall, it appeared that they were there as an anti-war protest, and likewise they were also competing for time on a very busy corner. Although most times I would rate them pretty high on the ability to grab attention and communicate a message, yesterday I think I would rate them at three. They just needed more people. However, I'll give them kudos for bringing signs.
Speaking of signs, the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots didn't disappoint...well, because they brought signs, wacky signs at that. They are regular attendees at political events around the Valley and almost right on schedule, showed up for about an hour and a half to spread their inanity outside of Chase Field. Most of their signs were in support of Sheriff Joe, Russell Pearce, and bashing immigrants. Sheriff Joe had threatened to bring a female chain gang out to Chase Field to pick up trash and basically be paraded around. At the last minute he announced that he was going to pass on that idea. I suspect city leaders pressured him into avoiding making a spectacle. However, the Tea Party managed to fill in nicely in lieu of Sheriff Joe's ladies in pink.
Let's face it, a chain gang would have been less visible. The Tea Party never disappoints when you want to see a group of elderly extremists making the state look crazy. On a scale of one to ten, I'll give them a five for effectiveness. Mayor Gordon was probably shivering in his boots at the thought of anyone showing up outside the game. Well, if it makes city officials feel any better, they kind of dropped the ball as well. They usually have bullhorns and most of them were across the street as well. They should have spread out a little more and got noisier. However, they had decent sized signs to broadcast their goofy message.
Which brings me to the last two groups, Unite Arizona and Puente. A few weeks prior to the game, a campaign known as Unite Arizona emerged in the press with the goal of trying to convince players, fans, and other people to wear a white ribbon in support of civil rights efforts in Arizona. The group was comprised of a network of local civil rights organizations called Somos America. Over the past year, there have been calls for boycotts of Arizona companies, conventions, tourism, and other things. As can be understandable, opinions on whether boycotts should take place can be quite varied.
After SB1070 passed in Arizona last year, people started calling for Bud Selig to move the All-Star game to another venue. As time wore on, it became clear through the silence of the MLB that they had no intention of moving the game. Some groups, such as Puente, vowed to continue the ongoing Chase Field protests. However, some people were uncomfortable with the more confrontational manner in which these protests are carried out in plain sight of the fans. As a result, Somos America decided to switch gears and start a white-ribbon campaign to try to tone down the protest. Instead of using bullhorns and large signs, the plan of attack was to contact baseball fans and players and ask them to wear white ribbons on their shirts in support of the ongoing civil rights efforts to overturn SB1070 and similar laws.
Representatives from Unite Arizona met during the previous week, cut out white ribbons, attached them to fliers explaining the campaign, and made plans to hand them out in Downtown Phoenix all during All-Star Week at various events. I met up with Margarito Blancas on Sunday afternoon to get more details and to see how the effort was going. He was standing outside of Chase Field with Elizabeth Venable as people walked by to enter Chase Field for the Sunday afternoon game. They seemed to have moderate success getting people to take the flier and ribbon. The weather was cooling down nicely due to an approaching rain storm and they were the only two people on the corner, much unlike the busy cacophony of Tuesday's game. Margarito explained the approach to me and told me that they had several volunteers taking turns over several days passing out information.
On Tuesday, Unite Arizona had about six people on site passing out fliers and ribbons again. I noticed that they had a slightly harder time getting people's attention to take the papers. Just like the other groups had to compete for attention, I noticed that Margarito and his friends were in a similar situation. Many of the fans were in a big rush to get into the stadium and most fans passed them by. In spite of that, they did manage to hand out quite a few ribbons. Whether or not people actually wore them inside or not, I can not comment because I did not go inside the stadium. I wouldn't say that people's reluctance to accept the paper had anything to do with whether they agreed or not, simply that most people don't take anything from anyone they perceive to be street hawkers.
My personal take on the effectiveness of the campaign varies. Overall, they did a pretty decent job of raising awareness in the news. I'll say it was only moderately successful because not everyone covered them, but for a first-time campaign, they did quite well. When it came down to the streets, I'll give them credit also for spending a lot more face time with fans than the other groups during All-Star Week.
However, I noticed a few things that they might want to work on. I'm not being overly critical but they faced some challenges. My first real gripe was that with all of the online support from Somos America, there weren't many people on the ground on game day. If they could have had fifty or sixty people in the vicinity, they would have been able to hand out a lot more ribbons and fliers. I'm a little disappointed that the various organizations making up Somos America didn't mobilize a little better. Margarito and his friends did quite well for six people but they just didn't stand a chance against hundreds of people at a time walking in groups toward the stadium.
As I was stating above, visibility is also very important. Some signs would have been helpful. Even some of the media was having a hard time finding them. One photojournalist was wandering around asking where they were. I ran into him and when he mentioned who he was looking for, I was able to direct him to the group. So overall, my rating of the effectiveness of the Unite Arizona campaign is a six. On game day, I would say it was a three but the overall press campaign pulled it up significantly. They generated quite a bit of buzz among the local population of activists. Plus they get points for being there multiple days. I can see that they have potential to continue to make waves if they keep going.
Of all the groups who were there, Puente Arizona and the Comités de Defensa del Barrio by far had the largest and most visible group. They are old hats at producing a loud protest when they need to. They always show up in brightly colored t-shirts, bring drums and musical instruments, large stenciled signs, and best of all, a decently sized crowd who knows how to make some noise. This protest has been in the plans for over a year. They were actively protesting the Arizona Diamondbacks since last baseball season, protesting SB1070, and have been instrumental in protesting Sheriff Joe outside of his offices in the Wells Fargo building for over two years.
The primary reason for the protests against the Diamondbacks has been that Ken Kendrick, owner of the team, has actively supported Republican lawmakers who were responsible for the passing of SB1070 and anti-migrant legislation. He has claimed that he does not directly support SB1070 but he has provided his facilities for Republican fundraisers and has made numerous campaign donations. As a result, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been a target for protests and calls for boycott.
Many fans seem to have a problem connecting the protests with baseball. They often claim that politics and baseball should not mix. Many would agree with that sentiment and perhaps if Ken Kendrick could keep his political leanings out of the game, maybe this would not be happening. It is notable that Puente and similar groups have not been protesting outside of the Phoenix Suns or the Arizona Cardinals games during the past year. All of their boycott efforts have been at companies who have directly or indirectly shown support for these types of laws.
Overall, I would rate the Puente/CDB's protest as an eight. They had a sufficient number of people to effectively grab attention. They had a variety of signage that was visible from a distance. And they were loud enough to be heard. The only gripe I heard about their messaging was from my lost photojournalist friend who I mentioned previously. He stated that he was having a hard time figuring out exactly what they were asking of the Diamondbacks. So I had to explain the campaign contributions to him. Shortly after, he did make the astute observation that most of the fans walking in were probably more concerned with what $3.5 million baseball deals were being made than about civil rights and politics.
Perhaps he is right about that. I have thought in the past while attending baseball protests that maybe it would be good to also hand out fliers explaining the protest. However, after viewing the litter from other group's fliers being carelessly tossed aside, perhaps it wouldn't help either. I think the photographer is more on point that people just don't care and want to live their material lives of comfort rather than fight for freedom and basic rights for all residents of this continent.
I've read various accounts of whether people think these protests are effective or worth the time. It has generally been my observation that rallies and loud protests have their place in the political arena. Demonstrations do not change people's minds but they are very useful for raising awareness of an injustice. Many people are unaware of things around them and when they encounter a passionate group of people, it makes them curious about what is going on. That is why it was good for Puente to be displaying a giant AltoArizona.com sign. Fans who want to know more will go home and look at the website and google the complicated topics of migration and will perhaps learn more about the subject.
Because of that, people need to keep being loud and raise awareness in whatever way they can. It is far from a waste of time because some people can be reached. It just takes a lot of work from all sides. Whether you think the protests are successful or not, it would definitely be wrong to stay home and do nothing. And for that, the organizers of actions to protest unjust laws deserve a solid ten for caring enough about their neighbors to get out in the heat and try to do something positive for others.