Over 70 Black executives, led by former American Express CEO Ken Chenault, signed a letter released at the end of March that pressed corporate America to take a stand on voting rights, one of the central moral and political issues in the United States today. “The new law and those like it are both undemocratic and un-American, and they are wrong,” the letter explains.
“Memo to Corporate America: The Fierce Urgency of Now,” which debuted as a full-page ad in The New York Times, channels Dr. King’s words from his April 4, 1967, Riverside Church Speech criticizing the Vietnam War to uphold the sanctity of voting rights in America. The letter outlines the way that seeming race “neutral” or ostensibly colorblind laws and policies can be designed to have race-specific outcomes that harm the Black community. King described the need to transform American democracy against the maelstrom of war, racism, violence, and poverty as “the fierce urgency of now.”
The letter spoke for many by expressed a blunt truth: “There is no middle ground here,” he said. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.” Other high-profile signers of the letter included Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck, Melody Hobson, the co-chief executive of Ariel Partners and Robert F. Smith, the billionaire CEO of Vista Equity Partners.
The letter triggered national media attention, as did belated criticism of the law — which includes provisions to impose restrictions on distributing food and water to people waiting in line to vote — in corporate statements by Atlanta-based companies Delta and Coca-Cola expressing public support for voting rights. Major League Baseball has moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver and grassroots organizers are calling for boycotts of the state of Georgia until the recently passed legislation is reversed.
Backlash from the some on the right against MLB was immediate and harsh, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott refusing to throw out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ opening game. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned corporate leaders to “stop taking cues from the Outrage-Industrial Complex.” Former Arkansas governor turned pundit, Mike Huckabee, went further, tweeting: “I’ve decided to ‘identify’ as Chinese. Coke will like me, Delta will agree with my ‘values’ and I’ll probably get shoes from Nike & tickets to @MLB games. Ain’t America great?” That tweet has roundly been condemned as overtly racist, but also exemplifies the…