This weekend I caught the trailer for the long-awaited sequel, “The Wedding Singer II” and it seemed kind of lame. A washed-up ‘80s guy who’d also been 45th president of the United States reduced to performing weddings and bar mitzvahs at a Palm Beach country club ... seriously? But they did nail that wild Flock of Seagulls hairstyle!
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Why I’m done for now with Ga.-based products like Coke, Delta, Home Depot and UPS
You know who wanted you to stop buying Coca-Cola products as a means to protest systemic racism in America? The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. On April 3, 1968, in a speech in Memphis, King said Black marchers seeking civil rights didn’t need to throw Molotov cocktails when they could achieve their goals by pressuring large corporations.
King told his audience inside the Mason Temple to demand fair and equal treatment and to say: “‘Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.’ And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis.”
These were among the last few words that the great civil rights leader uttered on this earth. The following night, King — whose criticisms of American capitalism had grown more radical — was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. As the 53rd anniversary of those events draws near, citizens in King’s home state of Georgia are again pleading for civil rights, in the face of a new voter suppression law. And activists are once again weighing a boycott of Coca-Cola, the multi-national soft-drink giant headquartered in Atlanta.
I’ve been following the Republican-led assault on voting rights more than any other story in 2021, because — in the wake of Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency and the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — this is the new, do-or-die front line in the war to save American democracy. Last Friday, I broke the story that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the law — with limits on mail-in voting, early polling hours and other restrictions experts say would disproportionately harm Black voters — underneath a painting of a former slave plantation, even as a Black lawmaker was dragged away by state troopers for knocking on Kemp’s door.
These stark images evoked memories of the historic 1950s and ‘60s civil rights movement led by King, and stirred some of the same anger and passion as did ABC’s 1965 footage of Alabama state troopers clubbing John Lewis and other marchers at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, leading to enactment of that year’s Voting Rights Act, In 2021, one has to believe that — in the famous words of Barry McGuire’s No. 1 hit from 1965, “The Eve of Destruction” — “marches alone can’t bring integration.” It’s why folks are again talking boycotts, as King did on the next-to-last day of his life.
“We will speak with our wallets,” Bishop Reginald Jackson of the AME Church’s Sixth Episcopal District declared Thursday, in calling for a consumer boycott of Coke outside the dome of the Georgia capitol in Atlanta, as lawmakers were racing to pass the bill in a matter of hours. A booming state, with the kind of jobs that — ironically — have attracted well-educated newcomers who are tipping the state toward Democrats, including President Biden’s narrow 2020 win there, Georgia offers other targets. In a hub for low-cost (i.e., fewer unions) filmmaking, director James Mangold vowed to cease making movies there. In a sports mecca, the players’ union for Major League Baseball may press MLB to move the 2021 All-Star game slated for July in the Atlanta suburbs.
As a consumer, I have only minimal sway over Hollywood or baseball, but perhaps slightly more with the many consumer brands based in Georgia. Coke, Delta, Home Depot and UPS are arguably the Big Four, among many. Why target these these helpless, innocent multi-billion-dollar corporations (#sarcasm)? For one thing, these firms have enormous power in the statehouse in Georgia, thanks to their generous political gifts (since 2018, Coca-Cola has donated $35,000 to the bill’s sponsors), their legions of lobbyists, and the thousands of rank-and-file voters they employ. If you live in Pennsylvania, as I do, and you are furious over voter suppression, a Georgia legislator isn’t going to answer my call. But they’ll pick up the phone from Coca-Coca’s top lobbyist in a nanosecond.
Don’t think that these image-conscious brands aren’t highly aware of the potential harm to their reputations, and to their bottom line, from what Georgia’s GOP leaders are doing on voting. Over the weekend, an internal email from Delta’s lobbyists, bragging that they had worked to “improve” the bill (but not scuttle it), made the rounds. The other firms have issued non-committal statements that taste as flat as a bottle of Sprite that’s been sitting out and opened for four days. (In an email to employees, Coca-Cola said it’s “disappointed” in the law ... after not lifting a finger to oppose it.) This is the moral issue of our time, and we have to force them to do a lot better.
Yes, there are many potential pitfalls to a boycott. It’s hard work to convince large numbers of people to stop using a popular brand — and if they did, there’s an argument that a drop in economic activity would hurt the everyday working voters of Georgia that a boycott is aiming to help. And in such a divided country, pro-voter-suppression Republicans might increase their purchases, as happened when liberals tried to punish Chick-fil-A over LGBTQ rights.
But boycotts and sports cancellations can also work — as occurred in 2017 when North Carolina rescinded its transgender “bathroom bill.” What’s more, a number of other states are considering voter suppression laws similar to Georgia’s or even worse, and we who support democracy need to send them a message.
Remember, like “the doomsday machine” in Dr. Strangelove, a boycott doesn’t work if you don’t tell anyone, so be sure to tweet your involvement at @CocaCola, @Delta, @HomeDepot, @UPS, etc., or write them a nice goodbye-for-now letter. When a tough moral question arises, I often ask myself what would Martin Luther King do, because his instincts in public matters were close to infallible. In this case, he told us what he would do.
He would boycott Coca-Cola, and, thus, so will I.
Yo, do this
There’s the well-examined life, and then there’s rock star Tina Turner, whose travails — especially her violent, abusive marriage with ex-musical partner Ike Turner — and triumphs have been documented in a book, Hollywood biopic, a Broadway play and more. Despite this, the new documentary Tina streaming on HBO Max still has the capacity to surprise and occasionally stun, as it peels away the last onion layer of the now-81-year-old singer’s saga, to look at the secondary abuse caused by the media and the rest of us defining Turner by her past traumas, when all she wanted was to move on ... and find love. A must-see — punctuated with great performance clips if you’re too young to know what the fuss is about.
I know I’ve already opined positively about the 2021 Phillies in a recent newsletter, but today I’m here to remind you that — despite the chilly bluster of early spring — it’s no fooling when Opening Day happens on April 1, or THURSDAY, at Citizens Bank Park at 3:05 p.m., in front of 8,800 mask-wearing fans. What to watch for: Ace Aaron Nola, who becomes first Phillie since Steve Carlton to start in four straight season openers, was brilliant in his last tune-up with six scoreless inning against the Yankees, and he needs to stay hot for the Phils to have any shot in the loaded NL East.
Ask me anything
Question: [Jimmy] Breslin, [Pete] Hamill, [Mike] Royko or [Jack] Anderson? — Via Gwen Wren (@gwennwrenn) on Twitter
Answer: Gwen, you must be a mind-reader, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these great newspaper columnists who reigned during my younger days of the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, and whose bold writing and variations on a macho, urban style so inspired me as I was deciding to spend my own life as a journalist. (Also, my two favorite non-fiction writers of that era, Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson.) They were so great at what they did, and yet why did we fetishize so many white men back then, in such a diverse, colorful world? And how should we view their problematic behavior (such as Breslin, whom I technically worked with from 1990 through 1995 but never met because he’d shunned the newsroom after an ugly racist rant against a younger Asian-American journalist) through today’s prism? In 2021, I hope to be guided by their brilliant use of language and their work ethic (Royko filed five times a week!), but also to view the world through a much wider lens.
“[A]nd now the only real solution — painful as it sounds — would be to repeat March ’s shutdown and get it right this time, with adequate testing, real contact tracing, and mandatory mask wearing... And there should be monthly payments of $2,000 to every adult to survive the second shutdown.” That’s what I wrote in July 2020 — yeah, the math gets tougher as the pandemic drags on — but I still believe I was right back then. And that’s basically what we should be doing now, as cases begin to rise for the fourth time across America (including Pennsylvania and New Jersey) even as U.S. vaccinations of adults are passing 3 million a day. No one wants to hear this, but there’s no excuse for racing to open indoor restaurants, sporting events or movie theaters when case counts are rising.
Florida, as always, is leading the nation...in another downward spiral. It was less than four weeks ago that the state’s governor and non-Trump 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner, Ron DeSantis, declared “the Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn for freedom,” in ending most pandemic restrictions. One out-of-control Spring Break later, the average daily COVID-19 caseload is up 8%, driven by young people, and — given the presence of a highly contagious variant — things will likely get worse before they get better. On Monday, Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago wrote that in Florida, “according to the governor, you’re free to be as dumb, drunk and unmasked, as you wanna be.” Let’s not be that dumb up here.
Inquirer reading list
In a crazy week, I wrote on my day off to share the crowd-sourced research about the Callaway Plantation painting that evoked a tradition of white supremacy hanging over the head of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and six white male Republicans as he signed the voter suppression law that will fall hardest on Black and brown voters. The fitting symbolism is a reminder of what’s at stake in the fight for democracy and racial justice.
Ironically, Georgia was also on my mind — along with Colorado — when I wrote my Sunday column about the two recent mass shootings that rattled the nation, and the factor behind these incidents that’s so important yet doesn’t seem to fit our political pigeon holes, which is the crisis of America’s young men. The problems of alienation and a lack of focus for millions in their late teens and 20s is also linked to issues like opioid abuse or rising suicide rates — and there are things we can do to address the problem.
With testimony in the trial of the officer who kneeled on the neck of the dying George Floyd finally beginning this week, The Inquirer’s Samantha Melamed broke the story of how Philadelphia and its progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner hope to deal with many of the hundreds swept up in the city’s unrest after Floyd’s death, with a massive attempt at restorative justice that would leave the accused performing service, with no criminal record. It’s absolutely worth trying although — as the story makes clear — our lackadaisical City Hall could also do a lot more for the small businesses that were damaged. No one is covering the changes in criminal justice in Philadelphia like The Inquirer. But the only way to ensure we can keep doing this is by subscribing.