Gifting water and grifting politicians

What’s the one thing we all remember about the 94-page bill passed by the State of Georgia last week to “comprehensively revise elections and voting?”

Exactly: It’s now illegal to give someone food and water when they’re standing in line to vote. As Line 1813 of the Act says: “nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gift, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector.”

Lest you think Governor Brian Kemp and his Republicans are trying to suppress the vote in a state where last November voters stood in line for hours to exercise their rights as Americans and Georgians, read down a bit to Line 1827. Here, the bill specifically allows “making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote.”

This just shows that Jim Crow 2.0 is more subtle than the original, one of whose provisions in Georgia read, “All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license.”

Back to the present, a husband who now gives a bottle of water to his wife who is waiting in line to vote is committing a crime. But that same husband who gets water for himself from a fountain or water machine is not, nor is his wife if she leaves the line in order to get water from the fountain.

There’s another outrage here: Booze has been used for centuries to bribe voters, but water? In Georgia, where the average temperature in August is above 30 degrees Celsius, it can save your life.

In the days since gifting water was made a crime, Georgia’s corporate giants like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines have followed the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in expressing their “concern and opposition” to Kemp’s bill. Voters’ rights groups, noting that 30% of Georgia’s voters are Black, threatened boycotts of companies who supported the Bill. Then Major League Baseball yanked the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. It will now be played on July 13th in Denver. Atlanta tourism officials estimate this will cost the city’s economy $100 million.

Then last Tuesday, US Senate Minority Leader (and gold medal obstructionist) Mitch McConnell, warned big business of “serious consequences” if they continued to use “economic blackmail” to influence not only Georgia’s elections laws, but similar laws being debated in 43 states.

He ended by telling business to “stay out of politics,” which prompted the New Yorker to write: “…McConnell urged the nation’s largest corporations to follow his example and not get involved in governing the country.”

But don’t Republicans always side with Big Business? Always raise Big Money from them?

Well, yes. But the herd has moved.

Last week, 170 corporate CEOs signed this statement: “We stand in solidarity with voters (and) with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement…If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of the voters.”

Then on Saturday, 100 more corporate leaders met on a Zoom call to deal collectively with the Georgia law and similar ones in other states. One proposal was to withhold contributions to Republican candidates in these states.

This spring, businesses that have giant customer bases, like soft drink makers and airlines, or that employ large numbers of women and non-white workforces, are far more aware of just how potent their customers and employees are in a way they weren’t last spring. Both BIPOC and Black Lives Matter existed before George Floyd was killed last May 25th, but today, these social movements are driving corporate agendas in ways never imagined, never dreamed of, or feared more.

I know from my own work with corporate giants that race and gender have moved almost instantly from the margins to the centre, and from HR to the C-Suite. If you’re going to give new respect to people who had too little in the past, and they had too little mainly because of politics, they can’t really be equal partners unless you address those politics, and even embrace them.

Telling companies to butt out of politics while pushing them to fund your own brand of politics is like politicians telling doctors to stay in their lanes and not comment on the pandemic, or on gun control, or on safe injection sites – issues that most politicians have failed miserably on.

On Sunday, Calgary’s outgoing Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave an affecting ‘exit interview’ on CBC Radio. He bemoaned the rise of race-based politics since becoming Mayor eleven years ago, but his congenital optimism shone through.

It reminded me of Martin Luther King’s belief that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Except of course, in the world of Donald Trump, of whom Joe Biden famously said last month: “God, I miss him.”

On the weekend the ex-President, speaking at a $400,000-a-plate dinner at Mar-a-Lago (that’s right, half a million Canadian dollars a plate), called Mitch McConnell “a dumb son-of-a-bitch.”

Not for warning big business to stay away from politics (who do you think bought those tickets to his fund-raiser?). But for not supporting Trump enough after big business attacked him for the insurrection on Congress in January.

Can someone please get this man a glass of water?

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