Corporate suffrage activism echoes role in LGBTQ battles
With Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the books, the center of American racial politics returns to the GOP’s efforts to limit access to the vote in states across the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, lawmakers in 47 states have introduced 361 such bills, some of which have already been passed. It means more pressure on business to support what happened Delta, Coca Cola, Microsoft and other companies when Georgia instituted new restrictions in late March, which made it more difficult to vote, especially for black people.
The intense focus on racial justice, spurred by the events of George Floyd’s murder to Republican electoral restrictions, has created a growing expectation that businesses will respond or be censored from their employees, customers and local communities. On April 20, a coalition of Georgian religious leaders representing more than 1,000 churches launched a boycott of Home Depot Inc., which they say has not sufficiently opposed the new state law. “It’s not just a Georgia problem; we are talking about democracy in America which is under threat ”, Timothy McDonald III, pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said to New York Times.
So far, corporate responses have been largely ad hoc. Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Ed Bastian, initially criticized for not speaking out forcefully against the restrictions, later denounced the new law as “unacceptable” and “based on a lie”. Home Depot angered black religious leaders and other activists by refusing to address Georgian law directly, issuing a statement that simply said that “elections should be accessible, fair and secure”.
With electoral restrictions Spreading across Florida, Arizona and other states, the pressure on companies to respond shows no signs of easing. Veterans of past fights for social justice say the current one reminds them of another political battle that plagued American businesses five years ago and could unfold the same: the push for LGBTQ equality.
In 2016, North Carolina’s infamous “toilet bill” targeting transgender people, HB2, led many companies to boycott the state, including the National Basketball Association, which moved its All-Star Game to Charlotte – a move that presaged Major League Baseball’s decision earlier this month to move his All-Star Game to Atlanta. In Washington, the fight against anti-Gay discrimination has shaken House Republicans, many of whom wanted no association with bigotry, as I have covered extensively in Bloomberg Businessweek at the time.
American companies – and Wall Street companies, in particular – have been instrumental in lobbying lawmakers to reform discriminatory laws such as HB2, and have also retained contributions from lawmakers such as the former New Jersey Representative Scott Garrett who espoused anti-Gay views. Eminent financiers, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein to hedge fund tycoons Daniel Loeb of Third Point and Paul Singer from Elliott Management, has become a strong public advocate for LGTBQ equality. “I talk about it in almost every conversation we have with Republicans,” Loeb told me in 2016. “It will be good for the country and good for the Republican Party.”
Political strategists say the current pressure on businesses to defend black suffrage is driven by many of the same forces that prompted them to become publicly involved in the previous fight.
“The question five years ago was: how do you attract and retain talent if you are hostile to LGBTQ people? Now it’s: how do you attract and retain talent if you are ambivalent or hostile to an employee’s right to vote as a person of color? Says Bill Smith, a seasoned strategist who has worked on LGBTQ issues in several states. “How can you have a successful brand if you help and encourage politicians who engage in massive deprivation of their rights?”
Five years ago, an important factor was that many business leaders did not see the promotion of LGBTQ equality as a typical ‘political’ issue like taxes or regulation, but rather saw it as a rights issue. fundamental humans. Beyond the simple need to attract talent and appease clients, it showed itself as a moral issue, which made action easier.
A Democratic strategist close to the Biden administration, who is involved in behind-the-scenes talks with companies and requested anonymity to describe the private negotiations, says he was struck by the number of business leaders who feel the same with voting rights, especially after January. 6 storming of the US Capitol. “They are not against the [new voting laws] because they are bad for business; they’re against them because they’re just plain bad, ”he says.
As new bills to limit voting find their way through legislatures in places like Arizona and Texas, large companies based in these states, including Dell, American Airlines, and AT&T, were more forceful in their opposition, even as Republicans increased threats and attacks against them. The attacks echo those launched against businesses five years ago, when Republican North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory slammed the boycotts that followed his bathroom bill as “total PC BS.” and “insulting our state”.
In the years that followed, opponents of HB2 and their business allies finally prevailed. More generally, the question of what businesses could and should do to oppose discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws has been formalized and codified in benchmarks such as the Corporate Equality Index of the Campaign for Human Rights. man, who follows policies and practices and has contributed to guidelines to be followed by companies. In part as a result, anti-Gay legislation and openly anti-Gay views among Republican lawmakers waned (Garrett lost his race for re-election to a Democrat). Politicians know that HB2-type bills can be expected to generate almost unified opposition from the business community.
The new attacks on voting rights and the companies that do not speak out against them could follow a similar trajectory. LGBTQ pressure veterans say the obvious next step should be to track the actions of companies and establish a set of standards to guide future behavior – not just public statements of opposition, but positive actions such as the support for laws on the right to vote or the organization of local voters record readers. Battles for social justice are won, they say, only when declarations turn into collective action.
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