ATLANTA - Black clergy members in Georgia met with several corporate executives Tuesday to discuss their concerns about the state's new election reform law. However, not every company invited to the discussion had a representative present, and faith leaders who oppose the law said everything is still on the table--including a boycott.
In a statement following the meeting, Georgia A.M.E. Bishop Reginald Jackson said:
"This meeting had the potential to be a moment similar to 1964 when corporations stood in solidarity to support equal rights. Unfortunately, our corporate community failed to deliver during this moment when black pain is front and center."
However, Dr. Jamal Bryant of New Birth Cathedral told FOX 5 he was encouraged by the dialogue held between clergy members, NAACP leaders, and corporate executives from the Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, and Aflac.
"I walked away with great expectation and optimism that we're going to be able to pull together and work together to make a difference. It was a little over an hour of them hearing our hearts and our concerns and they, in turn, shared their challenges," said Dr. Bryant. "I felt like change was in the air."
Bryant said the request of the executives is clear--speak out against laws in any state that are perceived by critics as restricting access to the ballot or face an economic boycott.
"Bishop Jackson was very clear about asking the corporations not just to speak out about Georgia, but to speak out against the other states that look like they're following suit. We understand while it was a local meeting, it has national implications because over 43 states are entertaining replicating this same voter suppression model," said Bryant.
When asked about the meeting between clergy and corporate execs, a spokeswoman for Governor Brian Kemp issued a statement that reads:
"As Governor Kemp has consistently said, S.B. 202 makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat in the Peach State. By replacing the burdensome signature match process with a photo I.D. for absentee ballots, mandating drop boxes in every county, and expanding days of early voting, the Election Integrity Act increases access to the ballot box while also ensuring that Georgians’ votes are secured.
"Unfortunately, some corporations are putting politics ahead of their hardworking employees – in the middle of a pandemic - and ignoring the facts about what the Election Integrity Act does. Governor Kemp will continue to fight for commonsense reforms that make sure Georgia elections are secure, accessible, and fair."
"The idea of them going out there and calling this Jim Crow, you know, President Biden said this is Jim Crow on steroids, what it is is a big lie on steroids," the governor told supporters earlier in April.
Dr. Bryant, like many opponents, insists several measures in the act clearly restrict voters' access to the ballot.
"This legislation is not a penalty for voter fraud. It is a penalty for voter turnout. It was Dr. King who said, 'We are not going to remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends' and those who claim to be friends of the community cannot sit on the sidelines at this hour," Dr. Bryant told Bruner.
Home Depot executives were not present during the virtual meeting, but issued a statement indicating they are taking the matter seriously. Bryant said clergy members have given all of the companies until Friday at noon to respond to the request for support. The group members will make an announcement Friday afternoon about whether they will move forward with economic boycotts against Georgia-based corporations.
Coca-Cola released the following statement following the meeting:
"We had a productive conversation.
"Voting is a foundational right in America, and we will continue to work to advance voting rights and access in Georgia and across the country.
"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. It’s time to find common ground. In the end, we all want the same thing – free and fair elections, the cornerstone of our democracy."
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