Late Wednesday night, Georgia Republicans tried to retaliate against Delta airlines for speaking out against SB 202, the state’s new voter suppression law. The state House passed a bill that would have stripped a major tax break from Delta, though the state Senate didn’t follow through. Delta CEO Ed Bastian had said—belatedly—that the law was “unacceptable” and “based on a lie,” i.e. Donald Trump’s lie that the election was stolen through fraud. That was apparently unacceptable to Georgia Republicans, even if they couldn’t go through with their naked retaliation.
Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey also called the law “unacceptable,” continuing, “It’s a step backwards and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity.” Coca-Cola and Delta are two of Georgia’s largest companies.
Republicans, as always, are pro-business only when it suits them.
A group of Black business executives also spoke out against the Georgia law and similar bills in other states, calling them “both undemocratic and un-American” and saying the Georgia law “unquestionably will make it harder for Black voters, in particular, to exercise their right to vote.” The executives, who include Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, argued that “Corporate America should publicly oppose any discriminatory legislation and all measures designed to limit Americans’ ability to vote. When it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to vote, there can be no middle ground.”
While there has been predictable “boycott Georgia” talk, and President Joe Biden said he would “strongly support” the Major League Baseball all-star game being moved out of the state, Stacey Abrams argued forcefully against a boycott of the state in a USA Today op-ed.
Abrams called for pressure on companies like Delta, Coca-Cola, and others to oppose voter suppression laws in the dozens of other states where Republicans are currently pushing them, and to support passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in Congress. She also called on companies in Georgia to spend money helping to alleviate the discriminatory aspects of the new law, calling on them to cut off campaign contributions to legislators who voted to make voting more difficult, and instead use the money “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.”
But “one lesson of boycotts is that the pain of deprivation must be shared to be sustainable,” Abrams wrote. “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.”
And, Abrams noted, many of the events and businesses that might decide not to go to Georgia because of a boycott are exactly the ones that could help continue changing the state. “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.”
So when you read an article that repeatedly refers to calls for boycotts without ever saying exactly who is calling for a boycott, or when you see “boycott Georgia” being shared on social media, consider Abrams’ words. Pressure the companies to oppose all those other state-level voter suppression bills. Organize to help Georgia voters stay voting in Georgia despite the attempts to prevent them from doing so. Push for federal voting rights laws. Take action, but take the actions that are most likely to bring change in the long run.