Faith leaders delay boycott over Ga. election law, plan Masters protest

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)
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

A coalition of religious leaders is tapping the brakes on plans to boycott powerful Georgia-based businesses that didn’t vigorously oppose the state’s new election overhaul.

Bishop Reginald Jackson said Tuesday he will wait until after a planned virtual meeting with the executives of some of Georgia’s biggest firms to decide whether to move forward with the boycott.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to give the signal,” said Jackson, the bishop of the AME Sixth Episcopal District. “We want these companies to speak out publicly against this legislation, to use their lobbying resources to fight voting restrictions in other states and to publicly support federal legislation to expand voting rights.”

Jackson and other religious leaders planned a boycott this week to punish companies that sidestepped the debate over the new voting restrictions. Since then, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines issued scathing statements opposing the measure, and Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta.

Some Republican supporters of the measure have promoted their own calls for boycotts of Coke, Delta and America’s pastime over their opposition to the measure. And Gov. Brian Kemp has said the firms “caved to fear” from Democrats and other critics of the changes.

“I want to be clear: I will not be backing down from this fight. We will not be intimidated, and we will also not be silenced,” Kemp said.

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a press conference at the Capitol on Saturday, April 3, 2021, as he and his supporters blast Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star game from Georgia over the state's new voting law. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a press conference at the Capitol on Saturday, April 3, 2021, as he and his supporters blast Major League Baseball's decision to move the All-Star game from Georgia over the state's new voting law. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The overhaul includes new ID requirements for mail-in ballots, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes, gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more control over local elections and bans outside groups from giving water and food to voters in line. It also expands weekend voting before general elections in some counties.

The bishop said he spoke with executives with Coca-Cola and Delta shortly before they came out against the law last week, and that he’s planning to deliver similar messages to executives with Aflac, AT&T, Home Depot, Southern Co. and UPS during their virtual call next week.

In the meantime, faith leaders plan to hold a protest soon outside the Augusta National Golf Club, which is set to stage the Masters this week. Augusta National has so far remained silent about the election law, the same strategy its used when confronted with criticism over the club’s demographic makeup.

He noted the demonstrations will highlight how Augusta National didn’t invite a Black player to compete in the tournament until 1975 and didn’t admit its first Black member until 1990. His goal, he said, is to “keep the attention on Georgia” during the prestigious sporting event.

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‘Suffer the consequences’

Critics of the sweeping law are split between those demanding boycotts and others, including many elected officials and party leaders like Stacey Abrams, who say it’s too soon to take that sort of step. Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to pin the blame on Democrats for any economic fallout.

Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said the consensus among activists and other critics of the measure is that they’re ready to boycott, though she said she will support less drastic steps in the “spirit of collaboration.”

04/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference outside of the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson has 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)
04/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Religious leaders hold bottles of water with labels that read “Voter Suppression” following a press conference outside of the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson has 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

“I do not think that all the diplomacy and all the protests in the world will work as well as putting pressure from boycotting and taking action with our dollars,” she said, adding: “A boycott would send a clear unified message that we’re not going to take this foolishness.”

The Rev. Ira Joe Johnson, a historian and lecturer at Stanford University, said he’s planning his own individual boycott of Georgia-based firms that haven’t stridently opposed the new law, even though he acknowledges it will have minimal effect.

Conservatives warn they, too, could marshal an effective economic counterstrike against the firms that speak out.

“If they want to boycott us why don’t we boycott them,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said on Fox News on Tuesday. “This is the only thing that will teach them a lesson. If Coca-Cola wants to only operate in Democrat states and have only Democrats drink them, God love ‘em.”

The bishop said that kind of thinking sends the “message that if you go along and get along you’re fine, but the moment you speak out, you’ll suffer the consequences.”

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