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Coalition targets corporations funding voter suppression

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

The Defend Black Voters Coalition announces their Defend MI Vote Pledge

The Defend Black Voters Coalition announced their “Defend MI Vote Pledge,” calling on Michigan companies to cut off funding to legislators who support voter-suppression. Michigan-based companies including Ford, General Motors, CMS Energy and DTE Energy were specifically called upon to take the pledge.

“These businesses have made statements supporting Black Lives Matter or opposing voter suppression,” said Jennifer Disla, Co-Executive Director of Detroit Action and Co-Chair of the Defend Black Voters Coalition. “Yet behind closed doors, those very same corporations are chasing tax breaks and anti-worker legislation by contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the elected officials working to suppress the Black vote. Money speaks louder than words. They can’t have it both ways. If they want to be on the right side, they’ll take the Defend MI Vote Pledge.”

In the 2020 elections, Michigan saw record voter turnout, especially from Black, working class and low-income voters. Now, some legislators are backing a thinly veiled effort to make it harder for these groups to exercise their right to vote by creating unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles that disproportionately impact Black and low-income voters. The coalition launched this campaign in response to these attempts to restrict voting rights. Today’s press conference took place at the TCF Center.

“We’re holding it at the TCF Center because that was the scene of the last attempt to stop the Black vote from being counted in 2020. We protected our community’s vote then and we’ll protect it again.” said Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director of MOSES and Co-Chair of the Defend Black Voters Coalition. “These companies, through their political contributions to vote-suppressing legislators, are threatening our rights. In a democracy, everyone has a right to have an equal say in what happens in our communities.”

The Defend Black Voters Coalition includes: Detroit Action, Moses Action, Michigan People’s Campaign, Mothering Justice Action Fund, Emergent Justice, Color of Change, and convening partner Community Change Action.

“We are launching this campaign to hold Michigan corporations accountable to stand on the side of democracy so that everyone, regardless of race, zip code, or political affiliation, can make their voices heard,” said Byron Hobbs, Senior Strategic Campaigner at Community Change Action. “No company should contribute to legislators undermining the ability of Black voters to impact policies that affect our community – from workers rights to funding for schools to safety in policing.”

A company taking the Defend MI Vote Pledge would commit to cut off all forms of financial support to legislators supporting voter suppression, including direct contributions, contributions through conduit entities, or “revolving door” contributions where legislators or senior staff are employed in well-paid jobs following their time in office. Michigan vote-suppressing legislators can remove themselves from the list by publicly reversing their positions and committing to vote against future voter suppression bills, including the so-called “Secure MI Vote” initiative the Republicans have backed to bypass the Governor’s veto.

Michigan’s Proposal 3, which passed by an overwhelming margin in 2018, made absentee voting and same-day registration possible, along with automatic voter registration with a driver's license and measures to make voting more accessible. With this pro-democracy policy in place, Michigan saw record voter turnout in 2020 – especially from Black, working class and low-income voters. In response, Republican state legislators have authored a slew of voter suppression legislation since the beginning of the year. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed or threatened to veto all of them. But the so-called “Secure MI Vote” Campaign – which the Coalition refers to as “Suppress MI Vote” – uses an obscure procedural law to override the governor’s veto with the signatures of just a small percentage of voters. The demand that companies take the “Defend MI Vote” pledge is our answer to this attack on all of our voting rights.

“We have a moral calling to take action against companies like GM and Ford,” said Rev. Dr. Charles Boayue of MOSES Action. “When they market to Black communities, we need them to think about the ability of those communities to exercise their fundamental freedom to vote and raise their families in a safe, healthy environment, not just how much of these communities’ hard earned money is spent on their cars.”

“In July, I was without power for days. Power outages have happened repeatedly for me and my five children for the last three years at my home in Detroit. Companies like DTE and CMS seem to never have enough money to keep the electric power on in Black and working class communities. Yet they’ve been channeling massive amounts of money to the legislators trying to undermine the political power in these same communities” said Sonja Bonnett, Mothering Justice Action Fund member leader. “I’m here to take my community’s power back, both political and electrical.”

“The fight to protect our democracy is directly related to the fight to protect workers rights in Michigan.” said Trent Varva of Huron Valley Federation.

“I do not understand why some lawmakers in the Lansing state legislature would turn back the clock,” said Joe Zimmerman, an election observer at the TCF Center in 2020. “We should be honoring each other’s voices and protecting each other’s rights in this country.”


You can find a recording of the press conference here.

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