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Checkmating the right wing political agenda

By George E. Curry/NNPA Columnist
On July 13, 2015
Nikki Haley

Republican S.C. governor Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol. Large corporations followed with pressure and toppled what was once a mainstay in conservative political agenda.
Credit: Sgt. Jorge Intriago/defenseimager.mil

(NNPA) – There’s a lesson to be learned from the Confederate flag quickly and unexpectedly falling into disfavor. The lesson is that the economic clout of African Americans and their progressive allies can be used to pressure businesses to do the right thing, keeping the far right wing in check.

With every Southern governor’s mansion, Senate seat and 12 of the 13 Southern Statehouses controlled by Republicans, a corrosive sense of helplessness had begun to set in among some Blacks. After all, the majority of Blacks live in the South and once powerful Black Democratic state legislators have been politically neutered now that they are in the minority.

The tragedy in Charleston may have provided us with a blueprint for improving our predicament. First, it’s necessary to understand the role businesses played before and after Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina, reversed her long-held position and advocated for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia.

There were business reasons that motivated this change.

“They were tired of explaining why a symbol of the American Confederacy lingered at the capitol of a state that wanted to lure workers from all over the world,” explained the Times. “To many of them, it was a source of embarrassment that the NCAA would not pick South Carolina to host championship events because of the flag, and in the college-sports-crazy state, coaches said it was an obstacle to recruiting.”

To be clear, African Americans were at the forefront of this movement long before the business community belatedly flexed its muscles.

On July 15, 1999, the NAACP announced a boycott of South Carolina because it refused to remove the racially offensive flag from the Capitol. Five days later, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s old organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), voted to move its 2000 national convention from Charleston.

The group Black Lives Matter, which grew out of the movement to protest the deaths of African Americans killed by police, organized an online petition at Moveon.org, collecting signatures at a rate of 5,000 signatures per hour.

The floodgates were opened when Gov. Haley pronounced on June 22: “Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will, to say it’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds. A hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, the time has come.”

Within hours, a stampede of businesses, led by Walmart and Sears, announced they would no longer sell Confederate memorabilia. Other retailers fell in line, including Amazon, eBay, Target and Etsy.com.

This was old-fashioned capitalism at work. Why risk alienating a large base of consumers for the sake of a small segment of lunatics who not only wanted to turn back the clock, but also the calendar?

Leaders throughout the South got the message.

Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe decided Virginia will no longer sell license plates that honor the Old Confederacy. Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley ordered four different Confederate flags at the state Capitol be promptly removed. In Mississippi, House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, called for changing the state flag, which incorporates the Confederate insignia.

In turn, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked state legislators to “clarify” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that he had already signed into law. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson threatened to veto similar legislation unless it, too, was “clarified” to say that it could not be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

In both the Confederate flag and religious freedom controversies, we have seen the clout of business leaders. According to the University of Georgia Terry College of Business’ Selig Center for Economic Growth, Black spending power reached $1.1 trillion in 2014.

It’s time to exercise that clout by putting pressure on businesses, compelling them to apply pressure on Republican lawmakers who work against our interests.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of NNPA and BlackPressUSA.com. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com and via Twitter at @currygeorge.

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