By QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(ATLANTA) — Facing mounting pressure, Delta Air Lines’ chief executive came out forcefully against Georgia’s newly enacted elections bill Wednesday, calling it “unacceptable” — a stark change from his initial statement praising aspects of the legislation.
“After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong,” CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo sent to all Delta employees worldwide.
Bastian’s first statement praised aspects of the new law, like the added weekend voting hours for primary and general elections, and said it “improved considerably during the legislative process.”
But since Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s Republican-sponsored election overhaul into law Thursday evening, voting rights activists from a broad coalition of more than 50 groups have ramped up their pressure campaign targeting Georgia-based businesses. Some leaders are even calling for boycotts.
Delta’s repositioning also comes as 72 Black executives penned a letter calling on corporate America to oppose restrictive voting bills being introduced in legislatures across the country, according to The New York Times.
Before the Georgia bill passed, activists had called on major corporations based in the Peach State to publicly oppose the omnibus elections bills being considered by the General Assembly, which they said was directly aimed at suppressing Black voters and other historically disenfranchised communities. But most corporations did not, instead opting to issue general statements supporting fair, accessible and secure elections.
Delta, along with The Coca-Cola Company, have been receiving much of the blowback.
On Monday, a top Coca-Cola executive issued a statement saying the corporation was “disappointed in the outcome” of the legislation, though it did not take a public position on the bill before it became law.
Before Bastian’s memo was public, Hannah Gebresilassie, a co-founder of #ProtectTheVoteGA, told ABC News both companies’ “watered-down statements” were “extremely disappointing.”
“We expect them to stand up for people across this nation, when injustices are facing our lives,” Gebresilassie said. “We want to see Coca-Cola and Delta put their money where their mouth is. Y’all better be helping pay for voter mobilization efforts in the next few months because we have a lot of educating to do with this bill being passed.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of voters, Black church leaders and activists from Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and #ProtectTheVoteGA will hold a rally in front of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, whose president and CEO issued a statement of support for several provisions of the bill, but recognized that “concerns remain.”
The demonstators will demand business leaders “speak out against voter suppression and defend voting rights.” Attendees plan to hand out water to people walking in and out of the building, which under the new elections law volunteers can no longer do for voters waiting in sometimes hours-long lines.
Other provisions in the bill activists have blasted include a shortened early voting period for runoffs, a ban on out-of-precinct voting until 5 p.m., limitations on ballot drop box accessibility and the new ability for voters to make an unlimited number of challenges to other voters’ eligibility.
Black pastors have also called for boycotts. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church’s sixth district, which includes over 500 AME churches in Georgia, called for a boycott of Coca-Cola and Delta, among others, on Friday. Social media users have used the hashtags #BoycottDeltaAirLines and #BoycottCocaCola to support that call to action.
Coca-Cola’s statement Monday faced the boycott calls head on, saying, “You may see comments and calls for protests and boycotts of our state and our company. We have never wavered on our point of view.”
Some of the same Georgia corporations being targeted over the elections law responded very differently to the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, when activists and allies protested against racial injustice following George Floyd’s death in police custody.
Both Coca-Cola and Delta came out in support of that racial reckoning. A “Black Lives Matter” flag was raised at Delta’s headquarters. Coca-Cola made a racial equity commitment plan, and a link to that plan is still on the company’s Twitter account.
“They need to understand how strong the correlation is, right? If you’re saying Black lives matter, you also need to say that Black votes matter,” Crystal Greer, the other co-founder of #ProtectTheVoteGA, told ABC News.
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