Economic Impact of Spending 'Blackout' Protesting Government and Hate Crimes Likely Minimal

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.

"Even a one-day boycott, if it were honored for businesses, it wouldn't make much difference because they would say, 'OK, I will just wait until tomorrow,' " said Welch, noting that he was not previously aware of the Nov. 2 blackout.

But it's the message such an act would send that may have the larger impact.

"That may be exactly what they are trying to do — make a statement that people recognize, and that may do the job for them," Welch said. "Ordinarily when you boycott, it's to accomplish an economic agenda. But this is to bring presence to a social concern."

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.

"The American people have had enough," he said. "It’s gotten to the point now where America shouldn’t be so black and white anymore. We’re global now. Everybody is tired of what’s going on in this country."

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.

"We completely support the efforts that are taking place Nov. 2 but are not an organizer," his organization, the National Action Network, wrote in an email Thursday. "We are organizing a major march in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16 against the U.S. Justice Department's negligence around the prosecution of hate crimes and racial attacks, i.e. hangmen nooses and other forms of racial hatred."

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.

Announcing the march at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Tuesday, Sharpton said people who use symbols to promote hatred should be targeted for stronger punishment.

“We feel that the federal government has failed to intervene in the cases of hate crimes — swastikas and nooses," Sharpton said. "Since the federal government won't come to the people, we're going to bring the people to the federal government."

The civil rights leaders expressed dismay at what they called “copycat crimes” involving nooses following the super-charged incidents in Jena, La., last year. Race relations in that town and beyond have been strained over the attempted murder charges on the six black teens. Critics say the black teens were treated much more harshly than the white teens involved in the dispute.

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.

That was enough for Sharpton and others.

"The Justice Department is missing in action," King said.

Williams said a media showcase is fine, but Sharpton and others need to get local, state and congressional leaders to focus on the issue of hate crimes and pressure the government to follow through on prosecutions

“I think obviously the media attention will help to raise the profile and put pressure on the Justice Department and in that regard, it is helpful,” Williams said. “But will Sharpton be doing the real work?”

Pastor Harry Jackson, chairman of the conservative High Impact Leadership Coalition, an organization of African-American pastors, said he would like to see a “new civil rights movement,” but is not on board with Sharpton.

Jackson said the Nov. 2 boycott and Nov. 16 march are “lobbying efforts,” to help push through hate crimes legislation that President Bush has promised to veto.

“It’s a lobbying technique … and politicians are very susceptible to such lobbying,” said Jackson, adding that federal hate crimes legislation is not the answer.

He suggested addressing the issue at the local level through better education and re-education of people with racist tendencies.'s Sharon Liss contributed to this report.