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License Flap Prompts Protest

Hispanic organizers angered by the repeal of a law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses kicked off a statewide boycott of businesses, schools, and radio stations with a rally at a historic Mexican-style plaza.

Advocates planned the one-day boycott in response to the Legislature's action last week and as part of an effort to highlight the economic contribution of California's Hispanic community, the nation's largest.

"Our people are waking up to their economic power," said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, one of the organizers of the boycott.

"This is a call to people not to go to work, not to go to school, not to shop in stores, basically to withhold their individual and family economy from the economy of California," Lopez told the crowd at the downtown Rivera plaza near Olvera Street on Thursday.

At 11.9 million, Hispanics make up about a third of the state's population.

Organizers said they expected tens of thousands to participate in Friday's boycott, but some supporters said the biggest effect of the strike would likely be symbolic.

"I don't think it's just about the impact on the economy. It's about bringing dignity to California's immigrants and to Californians," said American Apparel clothing manufacturer Dov Charney.

Charney was among a small group of business owners throughout the state who agreed to close their doors Friday.

During the rally, Lynwood High School junior Pricilla Olguin urged students not to attend classes Friday. She said the issue of driver's licenses affects children because some students can't get to school if their parents can't drive.

Eastman Elementary School teacher Fernando Ledezma, who attended the rally, said he planned to stay home Friday.

"It's part of our teaching that we lead by example," he said. "We have to show our kids that they still have to fight for their civil rights."

Some have expressed reservations. Xavier Reyes, communications and education director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said his group supports the idea of the boycott, but is worried about those who can't afford to miss a day of work.

"Our concern is the folks that are going to leave their jobs and may not be able to come back to their jobs. There's basically no safety net for those people," Reyes said.

The license law was passed by the Legislature in September and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, fueling criticism he was pandering to Hispanic voters.

Fulfilling a major campaign promise, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation repealing the law last week. He has said he wants a "whole new package" that includes more safeguards and background checks on applicants. But many Republicans vowed they would oppose any bill that allows residents living illegally in California to get a driver's license.

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