Racist voter suppression is rampant — and corporate silence is complicity
As millions of Super Bowl dollars flow into Atlanta, we say to Delta, Coca-Cola and others: stand up and protect our civil rights.
As top Democrats start to throw their hats into the ring for the 2020, we will see policy proposals such as Medicare for All, criminal justice reform, immigration reform and more circulating as part of their platforms.
But every bold policy is meaningless until we eradicate rampant voter suppression in this country. Millions of Americans don’t have a voice on the issues that affect them — mostly because of the deliberate, concerted attempts to stop them from voting.
The blatant racist voter suppression in Georgia, Florida and elsewhere last year revealed the widening cracks in our democracy and the Republican party is becoming only more emboldened in attacking the right to vote.
In Georgia, former secretary of state Brian Kemp has purged over 1.4 million voters from the rolls since 2012. Throughout his campaign for governor, we saw reports of absentee ballots being stolen and faulty machines at voting sites throughout many communities of color.
In Fulton county, a predominantly black area, officials failed to plug in the polling machines, leaving them to operate solely on battery power. The polling place opened with only three working machines.
Let’s be clear: the politicians who win elections by targeting black and brown people with voter suppression tactics are also the ones who support policies that hurt all people living in poverty, regardless of race.
That is why voter suppression affects all voters — though it often targets black and brown people, it affects everyone.
These policies will shape the economic realities of people’s day-to-day lives. According to the Census Bureau, about 1.7 million people — roughly 16% of the Georgia’s population — are living below the poverty line.
As long as communities of color and poor people are denied voting rights, Color Of Change and Repairers of the Breach will continue to apply political and economic pressure on the corporations enabling voter suppression.
In addition to elected officials, many corporations benefit from voter suppression.
Companies such as Delta, Coca-Cola and UPS, headquartered in Atlanta, profit from tax benefits and a large customer and employee base. These companies aim to lift up Georgia’s economy — but their own employees and customers from historically marginalized communities are being silenced and shut out of the political process.
Corporations would like us to believe they’re guileless when it comes to voter suppression, innocent bystanders in their own communities. That’s simply not true.
Through key campaigns via Color Of Change and the Moral Mondays movement, we have proven our strong record of success in holding corporations accountable and working with them to prevent attacks on civil rights.
It is the communities who possess the power to make change, and we have seen the results. In 2018, people got involved in a way we have never seen before. They started paying attention. This year will be even stronger and we’re prepared to take action.
Corporate silence is complicity. These companies have the power and the resources to take a stand, and their consumers must hold them accountable to doing so. We have the power to pressure corporations, civic leaders and influencers to do the right thing and fight with us to protect our civil rights.
When corporations lean in and take action on behalf of fairness and civility, in a non-partisan way, it will immensely impact our currently rigged voting system for all Americans.
The Super Bowl is 3 February in Atlanta. Hundreds of millions of dollars will flow into the NFL and the state of Georgia because of the Super Bowl, but profit should not come at the expense of our democracy and our civil rights.
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It’s an opportunity for southern-headquartered companies to show they are willing to do more than pay lip service and are ready to take action.
Our organizations will use the big game to point to the fact that corporations are benefiting from their approval of this racist system of voter suppression.
We are launching actions from now until 2020 to highlight in various ways the disenfranchisement and expose the corporate enablers who sit on the sidelines while racist attacks prevent people from making their voices heard.
We’re drawing a line in the sand. We demand to see which side of the fight corporations are on: black Americans, civil rights and a strong democracy, or racist politicians’ intent on a regressive slide back toward Jim Crow.
This op-ed was originally published by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Rashad Robinson online at TheGuardian.com.