Monday 29 March 2021

Corporations Are Facing Pressure to Reject Georgia Republicans’ Assault on Voting Rights

 Activists are putting economic pressure on Georgia-based corporations and events to push back against the stunning voter suppression bill signed into law last week by Governor Brian Kemp, sweeping changes to election laws that come after President Joe Biden turned the state blue for the first time in nearly 30 years in November and the Democrats picked up two Senate seats in January. “We will speak with our wallets,” said Bishop Reginald Jackson of the AME Church’s Sixth Episcopal District, who on Thursday called for a statewide boycott of Coca-Cola products until the Atlanta-based company makes good on pledges made the midst of last summer’s national reckoning, when “Coke and other corporations said they needed to speak out against racism. But they’ve been mighty quiet about this.” 

Coca-Cola has spoken cautiously about the election restrictions, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, tiptoeing around any firm opposition and instead advocating for “a balanced approach” and “fair, secure elections”; so too have other Georgia giants being pressured to speak out against the law, such as Delta Air Lines and Home Depot, both of which previously issued statements calling for “fair” and “secure elections”—not unlike the vague language Republicans have deployed in their crusade for “election integrity,” using former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of widespread voting fraud as a pretext for such anti-democratic legislation. In fact, Coca-Cola invoked that exact phrase in a statement on the Georgia law released Thursday. “We, along with our business coalition partners, sought improvements that would enhance accessibility, maximize voter participation, maintain election integrity and serve all Georgians,” the company said.

Along with Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Delta Airlines, voting rights platform Democracy Docket said Aflac and UPS are among other state businesses facing economic pressure to voice their opposition to the law, NBC reports. Georgia’s film industry, which the state’s entertainment tax credit program has helped grow, is also part of the pressure campaign, with director James Mangold tweeting, “I will not direct a film in Georgia” a day after Republican lawmakers pushed through the restrictions. Also on Friday, sports and political commentator Keith Olbermann called on Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to immediately move the league’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta, where it is scheduled to take place this summer. (Some players reportedly want to discuss this issue with ownership.) Olbermann said players should boycott both the game and next month’s Jackie Robinson Day if the commissioner fails to do so. “For baseball players to have to celebrate integration while Jackie Robinson’s home state enacts laws designed to keep people of color from voting is beyond mere hypocrisy,” Olbermann said in a Twitter post. “It’s forcing players to participate in a humiliating sham.” 

With restrictions to absentee voting and the use of ballot drop boxes, as well as provisions giving state officials more power over local elections and even making it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in line, the measure is “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” Biden said Friday, calling the legislation “a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience” that “has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency.” Its passage in Georgia represents a victory for the larger Republican effort to profoundly limit voting by pushing similarly restrictive bills in nearly every state, a national disenfranchisement strategy that helped prompt the president’s most overt support for filibuster reform to date. At Thursday’s press conference, Biden said amending or eliminating the 60-vote threshold may be necessary if the rule prevents Democrats from enacting “elemental” agenda items such as voting rights protections.

Asked Sunday about the fate of the filibuster, Senator Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator since Reconstruction, spoke to the added urgency of Democrats’ fight for expanded voting rights—via the For the People Act, which will almost certainly need some degree of filibuster reform to pass—amid the new suppression measures. “How are you going to insist on protecting minority rights in the Senate,” noting that’s ultimately what the pro-filibuster argument comes down to, “while refusing to protect minority rights in the society?” Warnock told CNN’s Dana Bash, who also asked the senator whether corporate America must up its involvement in opposing the new law, such as through imposing boycotts. While Warnock noted companies failing to speak up for what’s right doesn’t exactly come as a surprise—“as the pastor of Ebenezer Church, I have seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday”—he brushed off concern with economic pressure and reiterated his responsibility as a lawmaker: “Listen, I am not focused on that,” he said of the boycotts. “I am focused on what I can do as a United States senator.”

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