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Will Georgia’s Voting Law Be Repealed as Big Business Joins Critics Opposing “Jim Crow” Suppression?

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Image Credit: Twitter: @BlackVotersMtr

Activists are demanding accountability from Georgia-based companies in opposing a law that heavily restricts voting rights in the state, which many are calling the worst voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow era. While some companies, including Coca-Cola and Delta, have weighed in on the Republican-backed crackdown on voting rights, Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, says voicing opposition is not enough. “We’re calling for a repeal of this voter suppression law, and we’re asking these companies to divest future support that they’ve given,” Albright says. “Stand by the words that you said in the midst of the summer of protest about Black Lives Matter when you had all these glowing statements about racial justice and racial equity. If you said it back in the summer, now is the time for you to actually put some actions behind it.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A stunning new report from the Brennan Center for Justice finds Republican state lawmakers have now introduced 361 bills to restrict voting rights across 47 states. Restrictive bills are now moving through legislatures in 24 states, and 29 bills have already been passed by at least one chamber of statehouses.

Early on Thursday morning, the Republican-controlled Texas Senate approved a bill to limit early voting hours, ban ballot drop boxes, end drive-thru voting and to allow poll watchers to videotape voters. This is one of just 49 bills to restrict voting being considered in Texas.

This comes just a week after Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed a sweeping elections bill that adds new voter ID requirements, severely limits mail ballot drop boxes and rejects ballots cast in the wrong precinct. One provision would even make it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places.

Governor Kemp signed the bill behind closed doors below a picture of a slave plantation; he was surrounded by six white men. Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, who is African American, knocked on Kemp’s door, saying the public deserved to witness what was happening. Cannon was then arrested by several Georgia state troopers, dragged through the Capitol and pushed into a patrol car, even as she shouted that she was an elected official.

PROTESTER 1: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 2: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 3: Stop it!

PROTESTER 1: That’s what I’m asking you.

PROTESTER 3: Stop it!

PROTESTER 2: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 1: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 4: Why are you doing this?

PROTESTER 3: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 2: What violation? Cite the code. What is she in violation of? I want you to cite the code.

PROTESTER 1: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 2: Cite the code.

PROTESTER 1: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 2: Cite the code. Cite the code.

PROTESTER 1: That’s what I’m asking you.

PROTESTER 2: Why are you arresting her?

PROTESTER 1: Why are you arresting her?

STATE TROOPER: Back up. Get out of the way.

PROTESTER 2: Why are you arresting her?

AMY GOODMAN: Civil rights groups blasted the Georgia law as the worst voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow era.

Meanwhile, a number of major corporations are finally speaking out against the crackdown on voting rights. On Thursday, American Airlines, which is based in Texas, announced it’s “strongly opposed” to the Texas bill, as well as others like it. Coca-Cola and Delta, which are both based in Georgia, have come out against the Georgia law, but only after it was signed by the governor.

This comes as some are calling for a boycott of the state of Georgia and companies based there. Even President Joe Biden has weighed in, saying he would strongly support Major League Baseball players if they decide to move the upcoming All-Star Game from Atlanta in protest.

We go now to Atlanta, where we’re joined by Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter.

Talk about the significance of this building movement, even, of course, after the bill was signed. Talk about what you’re calling for, Cliff Albright.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Amy.

Yeah, definitely, we’re still calling for corporate accountability from these Georgia companies that, as you said, came out too late to oppose the bill that was here in Georgia. But we always say it’s never too late to do the right thing, all right? So, what can these companies do? And what are we demanding that they still do?

First of all, right here in Georgia, it’s not too late to still deal with this bill that was passed. We’re calling for both repeal and divest. We’re calling for a repeal of this voter suppression law, and we’re calling for these companies to divest future support, that they’ve given, because, at the end of the day, part of the reason we called these companies out — and I’m talking about the companies like Coca-Cola and Delta and UPS — is because not only are they Georgia-based, but they had previously given significant resources to the very sponsors of the voter suppression bills, not just to Republican Party in general, not just to Republican legislators in general, but specifically to the big voter suppressors that were sponsoring these voter suppression bills. And so we’re asking them to divest future support, just like there was the call after the January 6th Capitol riot, where some companies said, “We’re no longer going to give to members of Congress that voted for — to overturn the election.” So, those are the Georgia-specific concerns.

But we’re also very much aware and in partnership with these movements in other states. I was just in Texas, as you know, for the past week. And so, part of our calls and demands here in Georgia are, one, that these companies support — aggressively support, with concrete actions — the passing of H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, because, at the end of the day, if those had been in place before this wave of suppression bills that you just talked about, that the Brennan Center has done analysis on — if H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 — and again, that’s the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — if they were in place, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.

The other thing that we’re asking, in the spirit of recognizing that this is a national movement, is, in each of the states where we do our work, we’re asking that the coalitions acknowledge and call for support for the other states. So, right here in Georgia, our demands for Coca-Cola and Delta and the other companies is that they also speak out, that they do in the other states what they failed, epically failed, to do here in Georgia, that they actually speak out ahead of time, that they get involved in the Texas struggle ahead of time, in the Arizona struggle, in the Michigan struggle ahead of time. These are national companies, in fact, global companies, so they’re not just restricted to their home state of Georgia. They can speak out against these other bills, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the CEOs for Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, both based in Georgia, finally coming out in opposition to Georgia’s clampdown on voting rights, nearly a week after the legislation was signed and amidst mounting public scrutiny and threats to boycott the companies over their inaction. Delta’s initial statement Friday read, in part, “The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason. For the first time, drop boxes have also been authorized for all counties statewide and poll workers will be allowed to work across county lines. Nonetheless, we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation, and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort.” But then, after massive protest, they actually came out stronger, though it was after the passage of the legislation.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about then Kemp taking them on, the Legislature threatening to strip Delta of tax protections or increasing the taxes on them, and then the corporate boycott call that would include them?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, yeah. That first statement that you read from Delta was actually right after the bill was signed, and it amounted to basically just gaslighting. It sounded like Governor Kemp — fake Governor Kemp’s talking points. But then, as you said, after the pressure, they came out with a second statement, which was much stronger, but still late. And now they are facing repercussions, to which, you know, we’re saying, “Look, we want to maybe pull back on some of the challenges and the calls that we were doing on Delta,” to acknowledge the fact that they’ve now come out strongly, to acknowledge the fact that there was an attempt to pass these legislation and repealing of their tax breaks. But at the end of the day, Delta is going to be OK, right? The session ended. And so, it ended without that actually being able to get through both chambers of the Legislature and being signed by Governor Kemp. It was really more just a signal coming from the Republicans that they were displeased with Delta’s statement.

So, but what we’re saying is we need Delta to go even further. And if they do go further, we’ll have their back, right? The same way that we’re going to call them out — and not just them, but all of these companies — when they do wrong and when they’re silent on voter suppression, you know, we’ll stand by them if they do the right thing. And so, that’s what we’re asking them and the other companies, and not just the Georgia companies, but the Texas companies and others. That’s what we’re asking them to do. Stand by the words that you said in the midst of the summer of protest about Black Lives Matter when you had all these glowing statements about racial justice and racial equity. If you said it back in the summer, now is the time for you to actually put some actions behind it. And each of these companies have some very concrete actions.

Imagine if these companies, Coca-Cola and Delta, had made the statements that they came out with the other day. If they had made those statements at hearings when this bill was still being discussed, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. If they had said unequivocally what they said in their most recent statements, that this law is unacceptable — both companies said that, this law is unacceptable — if they had said that a week ago, then we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing the fact that that bill had actually passed. Imagine if every Fortune 500 company came out with a statement that was as strong as what the Black executives, the 72 Black executives, came out with the other day, on Wednesday, in their full-page ad in a major newspaper. Imagine if all Fortune 500 companies came out that unequivocally, that passionate, that clear about there is no middle ground, there is no both-sideism.

And so, that’s what we’re saying to these companies. If they wanted to squash this legislation, it would have been squashed. If they wanted to put their full weight behind H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, then H.R. 1 and H.R. 4 would already be passed. That’s what we’re demanding of them.

AMY GOODMAN: OK. So, let’s talk about H.R. 1 and H.R. 4. Explain what each are. And there, we’re talking about in Congress, in the U.S. Congress, federal laws.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Right. We’re talking about — so, H.R. 1, the For the People Act, is basically the act that has a range, a wide range, the most sweeping voting rights and voting access bill since the '65 Voting Rights Act. It would deal with some of the things that are included in this Georgia bill. It would guarantee, you know, days of early voting. It deals with restoration of voting rights. It deals with voter registration processes, basically would create some standards by which we can actually make the 15th Amendment mean something — right? — that we've got this right to vote. And so, that’s what’s included in the For the People Act.

And then, for H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is basically the enforcement part. It’s the reestablishing parts of the Voting Rights Act that have been stripped away, that have been gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby decision back in 2012 — which, by the way, at the time, you know, Justice Roberts made the case that, “Oh, the country has changed — right? — that, you know, we’re not seeing these sweeping attacks against voting rights. You know, we’ve got a Black president.” And so, you know, here we are in 2021, again with all these bills, going across 47 states, over 360 bills. And it’s not just like it’s this year. This has been happening consistently since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. That’s why we need H.R. 4, to restore the Voting Rights Act. If those two bills were actually law, then right now the vast majority — I think the Brennan Center said this, as well — the vast majority of what these state-proposed bills are trying to do would not be possible.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the children of three prominent civil rights leaders who have condemned Georgia’s business leaders for their silence on the voter suppression efforts. They wrote a joint letter. They are Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King; they are Al Vivian, the son of Reverend C.T. Vivian; and John-Miles Lewis, the son of the late Atlanta Congressmember John Lewis. In that letter, they said, “The failure of corporate leaders across our state to live up to their racial equity commitments made in the last year disregards and disrespects our fathers’ tireless work and jeopardizes the soul of Georgia and the promise of democracy.” If you can talk about the significance of this? And then, is Black Voters Matter supporting a corporate boycott? I know there’s a division within the pro-democracy community in Georgia, Stacey Abrams not yet there for calling for this corporate and state boycott, but religious leaders yesterday coming out, holding a news conference in Atlanta, calling for a corporate boycott.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, no. I’m glad you read that letter and that you put it together with that question about boycott, because it’s important to note the role that those leaders, the role that the spiritual community, that our church community played in the previous iterations of the civil rights movement — right? — previous boycotts — you know, of course, we’re all familiar with the Montgomery bus boycott — and connecting that to this current question of boycott, because, you know, at the end of the day — and there’s something to be said about boycotts require sacrifice, right? Any of our friends in the labor movement can tell us about that, right? But at the end of the day, we’re already experiencing the economic consequences, right? We’re already experiencing the economic repercussions of Jim Crow, of structural racism, right? And so, the question isn’t whether or not we’re going to face some kind of consequences or if there’s going to be some kind of backlash in terms of, like, jobs and economic growth. We’re already experiencing that.

And so, you know, we’re always in a situation of having to choose between do we take the sacrifices — you know, even when you look at the protests of the summer, the question was: Do we risk our lives by going out and doing protests against police violence in the midst of a pandemic, or do we sit back and we not do anything and we just continue to suffer the pain and the trauma and the death that comes from police violence? Even during the election season, we faced the same choice: Do we risk our lives in the midst of pandemic in order to go out and vote in the face of all this voter suppression, or do we take these chances and we wait in the long lines? And Georgia voters did that, you know, and literally shocked the country, but we had to make this choice. We always have these choices to make, because, at the end of the day, our daily lives are facing the economic consequences of Jim Crow and structural racism.

And so, you know, we make the case — or, I’m making the case that, you know, we’re not calling — our coalition here has not called for a boycott. But nor are we saying — except for the clergy, which are a part of the coalition. They stood out, and they said, “No, we want to go on with a boycott.” And I clap for them. We support them, right? We’re there with them. We’re not going to tell anybody to not boycott. And I think that’s the difference in the debate that you raise, is that we’re not calling for it, but we’re not standing in the way of it. And if some of our friends and colleagues or individuals even do it, then we support that. We support the Major League Baseball Players Association in the debate about whether or not the All-Star Game should be moved from Georgia. In fact, we’re going to be reaching out to some other sports leagues and conferences and organizations that are going to be traveling to states like Georgia and Texas, and reaching out and saying, “Look, you see what’s going on.”

And so, yes, there is this debate. And I think at the heart of that debate, what we all have in common — this is important, because it’s not a thing where, you know, there’s a major fight going on, because what we all have in common is that however we structure a boycott or however we structure calls for companies or leagues to not travel to Georgia or Texas or someplace else, that we’ve got to do it in a way where we’re cognizant, where we’re aware and we’re thinking about what the repercussions can be. We believe you can have the best of both worlds, right? We believe that if the All-Star Game doesn’t come to Georgia, guess what, some of those resources that they might have put in Georgia, they can still send to Georgia to support getting photo IDs — right? — in case we don’t repeal this act, to support some of the mobilization that’s going to need to take place. So, it’s not as if saying that you’re not going to travel here means that you’re not going to support those marginalized and vulnerable communities that, at the end of the day, are going to be most impacted by the voter suppression.

AMY GOODMAN: Cliff Albright, I want to thank you so much for being with us, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter.

Coming up, Oregon Governor Kate Brown on her efforts to expand vote-by-mail, a practice used in Oregon for decades. Stay with us.

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Oregon Governor Kate Brown Pushes Expanding Vote-by-Mail to Counter GOP Voter Suppression Efforts

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