Georgia faith leaders push big business for action on voter laws

Bishop on CEOs: “We hope that they come together and speak out”

Faith leaders have given corporate executives more time to come up with solutions to address controversial voting laws in Georgia and around the nation, with the possibility of a boycott still on the table.

“As we have said from the beginning, we take the collective action of a boycott very seriously,” Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said in a statement Friday. “No one wants a boycott, and before any decision is made, we will not rest until every option to avoid one is pursued. "

Leaders had previously indicated that a decision would be made this week on whether or not to launch a boycott of companies that they deemed having said nothing to too little to pressure lawmakers not to pass SB 202, which Gov. Brian Kemp later signed into law.

Jackson and other critics say the law will make it harder for Black voters and other people of color to cast ballots.

Earlier this week, Jackson and other faith leaders, civil rights and voting rights group met virtually with corporate executives in an effort to find common ground on a slew of election overhaul bills.

The closed summit, which lasted about an hour and a half, was led by Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey and Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The group pushed for corporate leaders “to act collectively,” said Jackson, who estimated about 25 people were on the call.

Faith leaders, along with civil and voting rights groups, have floated the possibility of a boycott of companies who they feel have not spoken out at all or forcefully enough against the legislation. Several local and state leaders disapprove of a boycott saying the action would hurt jobs in the community.

While the overall dialog was positive, Jackson said, “we are highly concerned that at the meeting we heard some of our corporate leaders repeat questionable language regarding ‘election security,’ giving credibility to the Big Lie which has been used to justify anti-voting policies.”

He declined to identify which companies he was referring to.

In addition to speaking out collectively against Georgia’s law, the faith leaders are requesting the companies support litigation that would have the law ruled unconstitutional, lobby against similar legislation in other states, and support federal legislation they say would provide uniformity in voting laws across the country.

“It’s not so much what they say, but what they do,” Jackson added.

Said the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest, “They have to decide what side they’re on and we’re requiring them to do it verbally.”

The faith leaders had requested a response from the businesses by Friday before taking further action, which could include boycotts, Bryant said.

Proponents of the changes in state voting law say the new provisions make voting more secure without much impact on convenience. And they say the rules are similar to or more voter friendly than those in many other states.

CEOs of both Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines have highlighted restrictions in Georgia’s new voting law, calling them “unacceptable.”

Coca-Cola called Tuesday’s conversation “productive” and said, “We believe the best way to make progress now is for everyone to come together to listen, respectfully share concerns and collaborate on a path forward. We remain open to productive conversations with advocacy groups and lawmakers who may have differing views.”

A Delta spokesperson reiterated CEO Ed Bastian’s past message to employees in which he criticized Georgia’s changes.

But most other major companies based in Georgia have avoided public statements directly criticizing or praising the changes.

Some major companies, including Home Depot, the largest public company based in Georgia, did not participate in Tuesday’s summit.

A spokesperson for the retailer said in an email that, ”We have decided that the most appropriate approach for us to take is to make clear that we believe that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and we support broad voter participation and to continue to work to ensure our associates, both in Georgia and across the country, have the information and resources to vote.”

Executives with UPS, Georgia’s second largest public company, were “not able to attend the meeting due to a previous commitment with a customer outside of Georgia,” according to the company.

Southern Company, the parent of Georgia Power, said it met with different civil rights and faith leaders “about their concerns related to Georgia’s voting laws” and said it remains “committed to listening.”

Retired UPS executive Teri Plummer McClure, said companies could have done more to fight the voting law changes.

McClure, who was the Georgia-based delivery giant’s chief human resources officer and general counsel, was on a different call this past weekend among national business leaders discussing what to do in the wake of voting law changes being contemplated around the country.

Companies “need to be much more aggressive in speaking up” as the issue comes up in other states, she said. “Every company is going to have to make the decision on their own about sticking their neck out on this issue.”

There has been some fallout already from Georgia’s changes.

Major League Baseball, in a strong rebuke of the new law, pulled its All-Star Game out of Georgia.

And at least one major film project, “Emancipation,” starring Will Smith and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is looking for a new location in protest of SB 202.