Last week, Georgia Republicans pushed through the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” which is a euphemistic name for a set of laws that drastically restricts voting eligibility and access. The new laws — signed by Governor Brian Kemp on March 25 — cut the amount of time one can apply for an absentee ballot, while enforcing stricter ID rules, and eliminating mobile voting buses that helped alleviate long lines. In an exercise of pure spite, the laws also restrict the offering of food and beverages to those waiting on voting lines; now only poll workers are allowed to hand out water, even though some lines are hours-long, especially in communities that lack sufficient polling sites in Georgia.
The act follows the 2020 election, in which President Joe Biden won Georgia, which has historically voted Republican, and democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won pivotal senate seats. Activists, historians, and voting rights advocates view the laws as an attempt to artificially reinforce Republican control of the state, nicknaming them “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Outcry against the laws has been widespread, even coming from as high as President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola, one of Georgia’s largest employers — and whose brand is deeply intertwined with the state, given its founding and century-long history there — declined to speak out against the act as it was being debated. Instead, it offered a vaguely positive statement that the company was “active with the Metro Atlanta Chamber in expressing our concerns and advocating for positive change in voting legislation. We, along with our business coalition partners, sought improvements that would enhance accessibility, maximize voter participation, maintain election integrity and serve all Georgians,” per Bloomberg.
In response to Coke’s inaction, Black leaders across Georgia and the U.S. began to call for a boycott. Bishop Reginald Jackson of the AME Sixth Episcopal District told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “We will speak with our wallets. This past summer, Coke and other corporations said they needed to speak out against racism. But they’ve been mighty quiet about this.” Dozens of Black executives have also called on corporations to, as the New York Times reported, “publicly and directly oppose new laws that would restrict the rights of Black voters, and to use their clout, money and lobbyists to sway the debate with lawmakers.”
Responding to these pressures, Coca-Cola’s CEO James Quincey finally spoke out on Wednesday, saying, “I want to be crystal clear. The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”
“This legislation is wrong and needs to be remedied and we will continue to advocate for it both in private and now even more clearly in public,” Quincey said on CNBC. He continued that Coca-Cola “always” opposed the legislation, but held off commenting publicly until it passed. Which makes total sense — you should always hold off speaking out against bad things until after they’ve already happened, and not when you still have a chance to stop them. Coke, it’s worth noting has considerable influence, not only as one of the biggest companies in Georgia, but also because it’s one of many corporations to donate to the bill’s sponsors.
It’s just another reminder that, no matter how many “they” pronouns a company uses in an ad, companies exist to make money, not to further humane policy.