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Black Leaders In Georgia Say Corporate Backlash To Voting Law Is Too Late

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Major League Baseball has announced it will pull the All-Star Game and the league's draft out of Atlanta in response to Georgia's newly passed voting laws. Other iconic name brands in the state - Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot - are facing pressure to more forcefully oppose the measures, measures that progressive groups call restrictive and a throwback to the Jim Crow era.

As Emil Moffatt of member station WABE in Atlanta reports, companies that have spoken out in the past week have already gotten pushback from some of their strongest allies - pro-business Republicans.

EMIL MOFFATT, BYLINE: When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 202 into law, it represented the culmination of a bitter months-long fight at the state Capitol over the future of voting in the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN KEMP: And contrary to the hyper-partisan rhetoric you may have heard inside and outside this gold dome, the facts are that this new law will expand voting access in the peach state.

MOFFATT: While the legislation does add another mandatory Saturday of early voting, most larger counties were already offering those days. And voting rights advocates say there's a lot more not to like about the 98-page bill, such as reducing access to absentee ballot drop boxes, requiring more identification to get a mail-in ballot and giving the Republican-controlled legislature more power over the state election board, which certifies election results.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Keep your hands...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Keep your hands...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: ...Off our votes.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: ...Off our votes.

KEMP: Despite daily protest outside the state Capitol against Republican-backed voting bills, prominent Georgia-based companies held their strongest statements until after the legislation was signed into law. Coca-Cola said it was disappointed with the outcome. Delta called the bill unacceptable and said it will, quote, "make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right."

In response, the speaker of the Georgia House, Republican David Ralston, cracked open a Pepsi for the first time in years. He also had pointed words for the airline.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID RALSTON: You know, Delta had been at the table in discussions on the bill. They were a part of a dialogue that we had actually going on for several weeks. And so the statement today kind of came out of the blue.

MOFFATT: That same day, Republicans in the Georgia House made a last-minute bid to reimpose the tax on jet fuel, a break that saves Delta tens of millions per year. But the state Senate adjourned without taking it up.

For voting rights activists like Bishop Reginald Jackson of Georgia's AME Church, the most recent statements from Delta and Coca-Cola are too little, too late. Outside the World of Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Atlanta, he called for a boycott against the companies and Home Depot starting Wednesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REGINALD JACKSON: We will not give them our money. We will learn to like some other drinks. We will learn to go to some other stores. We will learn to fly on some other airline. But we're not going to support these corporations.

MOFFATT: Jackson says he will continue to talk with leaders from these companies. And while he acknowledges the recent statements from Coke and Delta, he says these powerful Georgia-based companies had the influence to change lawmakers' minds before the bill was passed but didn't.

JACKSON: Now, I suspect that the reason they spoke out was because of this press conference announcing the boycott. If it wasn't for the boycott, I'm not sure they would have spoken out.

MOFFATT: Not only is Bishop Jackson calling for a reversal of the new voting laws in Georgia, but for these companies to use their national clout to help pass federal legislation to protect voting rights across the U.S. In a statement Friday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said moving the All-Star Game out of Georgia was, quote, "the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport." Fair access to voting, Manfred said, continues to have our game's unwavering support. For NPR News, I'm Emil Moffitt in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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