Patagonia just announced a $1 million donation to be split equally between the Black Votes Matter Fund and the New Georgia Project, two organizations fighting an anti-voting law in Georgia. The company’s new CEO, Ryan Gellert, is calling on other business leaders to follow suit and express support for voting-rights laws currently making their way through Congress.
“On March 25, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a new, restrictive voting-access law that limits early and absentee voting and ballot drop-box locations; piles on rigid voter ID requirements; and gives people in power the ability to challenge election results they don’t like,” said an emailed statement from Patagonia. “Governor Kemp claims the new law will shore up faith in the election system, but in reality, it will only make it harder for Georgians of all racial, socioeconomic, and political stripes—especially Black voters—to elect their representatives.”
Specifically, the Georgia law limits access to voting by mail and absentee ballots, applies strict new voter identification standards in which ballot signatures must match those in state databases, limits the number and location of ballot drop boxes, shortens early voting periods, and affords the state legislature (which is heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans) unprecedented power to reject voting results. And in a state that has been criticized for creating long lines to vote in marginalized districts, the law also notably bans anyone from distributing food or water to voters waiting in those lines.
Critics have argued that the law is designed to suppress marginalized voters, in particular Black citizens. It was written and passed by Georgia’s Republican lawmakers shortly after the state swung narrowly in favor of Democrats in both November’s presidential election and January’s runoff elections for the state’s two Senate seats. Similar legislation is now being pushed in 47 states.
In a statement, President Biden compared the law to “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” and called it “un-American” and “sick.”
Black business leaders are organizing to oppose voter-suppression efforts. “There is no middle ground here,” stated Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”
In response, the largest employers in Georgia—Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola—have condemned the bill. Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, told his employees, “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie.” Major League Baseball has also pulled its All-Star Game from the state in protest, a measure that’s expected to cost the local economy at least $100 million.
But Patagonia is the first major outdoor brand to publicly join the opposition. In addition to the donation, Gellert is calling on fellow business leaders to take three steps to fight voter-suppression efforts in Georgia and elsewhere:
“First: Fund the activists working to challenge the recently passed laws in Georgia, and support voting registration efforts.”
Gellert points to the Black Voters Matter Fund, the New Georgia Project, Rise, the GALEO Latino Community Development Fund, the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Southern Poverty Law Center as some of the organizations putting their time and energy behind such efforts.
“We don’t have a PAC [political action committee] at Patagonia, but if your company does, please consider suspending contributions to any politician suppressing votes from people of color,” states Gellert.
“Second: Send a letter to the senators that represent the state(s) where you conduct business, calling on them to pass the For the People Act (H.R.1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA).”
“According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the For the People Act would make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics, implement automatic voter registration and re-enfranchise felons who have served their sentences,” states Gellert. “The VRAA would provide a long-overdue response to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, which made it easier for states with a history of discriminatory voter suppression to pass laws further disenfranchising eligible voters and laid the groundwork for the Georgia law signed by Governor Kemp. As business leaders, we should use our platforms and lobbying power to advocate for federal protection and make clear that nobody—Republican or Democrat—should play politics with the right to vote.”
“Third: Commit to reaching out to business partners to facilitate speaking out against further state laws that would restrict voting access.”
Gellert notes that, nationwide, 361 other bills have been introduced that are intended to restrict voting rights. The CEO also emphasizes the power that business leaders have to influence state politics, citing the NCAA and NBA’s success in forcing the partial repeal of an anti-LGBTQ+ law in North Carolina in 2017.
“Opting to stay silent while the constitutional rights of voters in Georgia and across our country are being threatened is tantamount to supporting these unjust laws,” he says in the statement. “Our colleagues, clients and customers won’t forget what we do in this moment.”
Lead Illustration: Wes Siler