The boycott call triggered outrage from Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans who have complained of a growing “cancel culture” backlash, and coincided with a federal hearing Tuesday featuring testimony from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams urging a sweeping federal law that could pre-empt the Georgia changes.
The boycott demand was the most significant step yet from critics of the new law who have wrestled over how forcefully to resist the changes. Some have demanded more strident action to punish companies that haven’t rejected the new law, while Abrams and many Democratic Party leaders have cautioned that it’s too soon to take that sort of step.
Organizers made it clear the boycott was “fluid,” and said other companies could be added. They say the boycott is nonpartisan and supported by leaders in other faith communities.
The Rev. Lee May, pastor of Transforming Faith Church in DeKalb County said the boycott was not a “knee-jerk reaction” but taken after weeks of attempts to hold conversations and to get corporations to speak out against the legislation, Senate Bill 202.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church and founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, said the boycott was in “Phase 1″ and warned things could escalate.
“We’re not on your property. Today. We’re not blocking your driveways. Today. We’re not inside your store protesting. Today,” McDonald said. “ ... The reason that we are here today (is) because of the actions of Gov. Kemp.”
The new law requires voters to verify their identification to request an absentee ballot, shortens early voting before runoff elections, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes, tightens the window for requesting an absentee ballot and gives the GOP-controlled Legislature new powers over local election offices.
Kemp and other supporters say they’re responding to GOP voters who demanded changes in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims about widespread voting fraud. They say the overhaul restores confidence in the vote and, in some cases, expands mandatory weekend early voting days before the general election.
Governor Brian Kemp holds a press conference at the state capitol in Atlanta, Ga. on April 20th, 2021 in response to African American religious leaders calling for a boycott of Home Depot over recent voting legislation in the state. PHOTO BY NATHAN POSNER
Credit: Nathan Posner
Credit: Nathan Posner
The governor, who signed the legislation into law last month, called the boycott “absolutely ridiculous,” warning during a separate press conference Tuesday that boycott threats could deal lasting damage to the state’s economic reputation.
“This bill makes it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Kemp said, his voice rising. “And no one — no one —no matter what political side of the aisle you’re on, should be boycotting because of that.”
Making a statement
Initially, faith leaders and voting rights advocates singled out several companies they criticized for saying nothing or offering bland statements about election restrictions. Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola eventually used more forceful language, calling the law “unacceptable.”
During Coca-Cola Company’s annual shareholders meeting held virtually on Tuesday, a group of activists pushed the Atlanta-based company’s executives to use their influence to protect voting access and to halt campaign donations to politicians who try to restrict it.
After Coke and Delta’s stronger statements against the law, the faith leaders shifted their focus to other firms that hadn’t waded into the debate. Several large, locally-based companies, as well as the Metro Atlanta Chamber, had previously issued statements about voting, but sidestepped judgment of the new law.
Sandy Springs-based UPS did not respond Tuesday to request for comment. But the company had previously said in a statement that “We are actively engaged with political leaders in both parties and other stakeholders to advocate for more equitable access to the polls and for integrity in the election process across the state.”
Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had not publicly issued a statement. A spokeswoman for the company declined comment on Tuesday. An unsigned statement on the issue has been posted on Cox’s internal website.
“We support free and fair elections and access to the ballot,” the post says. “The Georgia measure that was recently signed into law — SB 202 — contains some provisions that could restrict voting access. These changes are being made based on an unfounded allegation that our most recent election was fraudulent. It was not. This is unacceptable and inconsistent with Cox’s values.”
The faith leaders did not mention any potential actions against other companies. They said they targeted Home Depot because it did not respond to their requests to discuss its stance on the election law and did not publicly speak against it.
‘Do what’s right’
The critics say the new restrictions are a direct response to stunning Democratic victories in November and January that will make it harder for left-leaning voters, particularly Georgians of color and the elderly, to cast ballots.
04/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — AME Bishop Reginald T. Jackson makes a statement during a press conference with other religious leaders outside of the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Bishop Jackson called on people to boycott Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines because he feels they have not taken a strong stance on SB 202. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said Home Depot would not respond directly to the boycott announcement and repeated its commitment to voting. Spokeswoman Margaret Smith pointed to the firm’s efforts to help people register to vote and match up employees to volunteer opportunities at the polls.
“We’ve decided that the most appropriate approach for us to take is to continue to underscore our statement that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure,” said Smith, who did not mention the Georgia election law.
Home Depot, which has headquarters in Vinings, has about $130 billion in annual revenue, the most of any company based in Georgia. It has nearly 2,300 retail locations and about 500,000 employees.
In addition to speaking out collectively against Georgia’s law, the faith leaders are demanding that the companies back litigation seeking to block the law, oppose similar legislation in other states, and support federal legislation they say would provide uniformity in voting laws across the country.
Dwayne Johnson of Decatur was leaving the Decatur store before the press conference began. He said he would support the boycott and “do what’s right.” He said he doesn’t shop Home Depot for himself but his clients do. “I’m going to let them know this.”
AJC reporters Matt Kempner and Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.