In their fight against voter suppression Democrats and progressives should not believe that boycotts hurt low wage workers and small businesses.
Do they think we’re stupid? Now we are supposed to stop putting pressure on corporations and businesses that stand idly by and let Republicans roll back hard fought gains on the voter rights front because someone, somewhere might lose a job or a chance to make a quick buck. Fannie Lou Hammer, Martin Luther King and John Lewis would all roll over in unison in their graves if we were to fall for this false narrative.
If Republicans and others who have bought into this new big lie were concerned about the loss of jobs and contracts in our state they would not have initiated the new Jim Crow voter suppression policies in the first place. In the past it was commonly known by protesters that disrupting businesses by boycotting or heaping negative media attention on them would affect their bottom line and, theoretically, someone could lose a job or contract in the process. But boycotting, demonstrating and marching were, and still are, effective tactics used during the civil rights era and afterwards.
Ironically, some Black leaders who supported boycotts of South Africa are critical of them today. The South African boycotts went on for more than 40 years. Closer to home, I can remember leading up to the 1996 Olympics Games then city councilman Bill Campbell and others demanded that organizers not hold events at private country clubs that barred Blacks and Jews from membership. As a result establishments like the Augusta National Club and the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta admitted their first Black members. They got to see first hand that Blacks didn’t really have tails.
Boycotting or threatening action is not just an effective tactic but a democratic right. One has the right to bring shame to businesses that align with racist policies openingly or through complicity, as was the case when businesses stood and let Georgia become the first state to enact new voter apartheid policies. The often maligned governor in an effort to get back into the good graces of the defeated–and twice impeached former president–tripped over his shitty boots rushing to sign the draconian bills into laws.
Boycotts work best when you have the power of moral persuasion on your side. The Republicans’ attempt to suppress the minority vote based on the first big lie after losing in Georgia and other battleground states is so fundamentally wrong, arrogant, and corrupt that progressives better seize upon this opportunity while it lasts.
We have reached a place wherein our collective experiences in America cry out for truth-telling. We all know that many American multinational corporations are among the strongest purveyors of racism in the U.S. They do this in many ways: Racist hiring practices, failure to do business with enough minority vendors, and hiring lobbyists to pursue grotesque tax breaks and oppose common sense regulation aimed at curbing the effects of environmental ruin (a real justice issue that often impacts minority communities disproportionately). Despite this, people of color still spend their hard earned cash with banks, corporations, and retail businesses resulting in one the largest trade deficits in the world.
This window can close quickly. Shortly after George Floyd’s murder many pundits and media analysts proclaimed a racial reckoning was on the verge of happening. Instead by Thanksgiving all had changed and 75 million Americans–our distant neighbors and coworkers–had punched the tab for the 45th president, obviously willing to let him sow the seeds of authoritarianism, fear and racism for another four years. Many of these Trumpsters lead and work in major corporations and businesses.
Merely asking American businesses to support democracy and stand against voter suppression is asking too little. Based on the amount of money we spend with them, they should be begging, wanting and willing to do more. We must seize upon this opportunity to call businesses into greater account for hiring, contracting and using their voices as a force of good for all of society and not just their stockholders.
Finally, a point of personal privilege: I am for giving Stacey Abrams a pass for her comments opposing the business boycotts because we all know that Kemp and other Republicans will use any advocacy (or silence) on her part of a boycott against her in the next race for the Georgia governorship. We don’t want her to have to fight any unnecessary battles while we are able to carry some of that load.
But for others who are equivocating about the boycotts, I say to them–shut the fuck up!