Boycotts work. The focused power of No, trained on corporate actors used to being told Yes, can yield transformative results. As a Black person, a Southerner, an American, I respect and defend the right to boycott — and the advancement of civil rights has relied heavily on economic boycotts. Indeed, the very threat of such a call to action by Georgia’s faith leaders spurred the hasty adoption and cloistered signing of our state’s new restrictive voting law. In Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Florida and across our fractured, diversifying nation, similar voter suppression bills proliferate. While their employees and customers face new obstacles to the ballot box, the business community’s response has been untenable.
Since the bill’s signing, some corporate titans have acknowledged that their posture during debate on these bills puts them on the wrong side of history. They witnessed the shameful juxtaposition of Georgia’s controversial governor signing the anti-voting legislation while a young Black state representative got hauled away by state troopers for a door knock. Unfortunately, other companies continue to maintain a damning silence, hoping the furor will fade with time.
Boycotts not necessary — yet
Be warned, though. Georgia is just one of the first in the orchestrated march of voting restrictions that Heritage Action and the Republican National Committee intend to secure in every state that will have them. According to the Brennan Center, there are 125 bills that would restrict mail voting, 66 bills that would create new, more restrictive ID requirements and three states that would make it more difficult for students to vote.
Sadly, Republicans in my home state have outperformed in the category of suppressive laws with the passage of Senate Bill 202: criminalizing handing out water, increasing unfounded challenges of voter eligibility that will no doubt lead to the racial profiling disenfranchisement, seizing power from election officials, limiting access to drop boxes, restricting provisions for mail ballots, and more.
The impassioned response to the racist, classist bill that is now the law of Georgia is to boycott in order to achieve change. Events hosted by major league baseball, world class soccer, college sports and dozens of Hollywood films hang in the balance. At the same time, activists urge Georgians to swear off of hometown products to express our outrage. Until we hear clear, unequivocal statements that show Georgia-based companies get what’s at stake, I can’t argue with an individual’s choice to opt for their competition.
No more Jim Crow: Fight voter suppression laws in the states. Don’t let America go backward
However, one lesson of boycotts is that the pain of deprivation must be shared to be sustainable. Otherwise, those least resilient bear the brunt of these actions; and in the aftermath, they struggle to access the victory. And boycotts are complicated affairs that require a long-term commitment to action. I have no doubt that voters of color, particularly Black voters, are willing to endure the hardships of boycotts. But I don’t think that’s necessary — yet.
By and large, the events and films that are coming to Georgia will speak out against the laws. And they will hire the targets of SB 202: young people, people of color and minimum wage workers who want to elect leaders to fight for their economic security. I again repeat my admonition from 2019 that leaving us behind won’t save us. So I ask you to bring your business to Georgia and, if you’re already here, stay and fight. Stay and vote.
Businesses can redeem themselves
But having your hometown corporate heroes turn their backs does nothing good. That’s why I recommend the following course of redemptive actions for those corporations that want to show they know what’s at stake:
First, publicly acknowledge the truth of what’s happening. Georgia corporations should leave behind tepid statements of self-congratulations for turning horrific intent into terrible reality. Yes, we stopped complete annihilation of long-protected rights. But the damage done by SB 202 and its companions in other states will hurt thousands upon thousands of voters. For corporations doing business in the other 42 states considering voter suppression legislation, speak out now when it might actually stop the bills from becoming law.
Second, corporations eager to prove their good faith can do so by putting their resources to good use. Rather than financing state legislators pushing these anti-democratic bills, refuse to fund their efforts. Instead, use those earmarked campaign dollars to support projects that help the poor, the elderly, students and the isolated get the identification they need to cast their ballots in 2022. In Georgia, for example, an estimated at least 200,000 Georgians do not have the required restrictive photo ID. The so-called “free” ID offered in Georgia and other states is not free when the hours to access it are limited, transportation is difficult and the documents necessary are hard to locate, too expensive or unavailable.
Stacey Abrams:Rewrite democracy rules to build an America that serves its people
Third, companies must stand up for voters by endorsing the federal voting rights standards included in the For the People Act (H.R. 1 and S. 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). The For the People Act would ensure that Americans’ access to democracy does not depend on the state in which they live. As proposed, automatic voter registration, in-person early voting and no-excuse absentee voting would be guaranteed for voters regardless of geography. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore enforcement of the historic Voting Rights Act, blocking state laws that would disenfranchise voters of color in the future.
In speeches I give to young activists and seasoned advocates, I urge them to speak up, show up and stand up. We can expect no less from the economic pillars of our communities. So I ask like-minded Americans to hold corporations to their professed values — by measuring their actions and demanding they stand with us.
Stacey Abrams is the founder of Fair Fight Action and the former Georgia House Minority Leader. Follow her on Twitter: @staceyabrams