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Commemorate MLK Day With Voting Rights, Say Business Leaders

By Leon Kaye

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes at a particularly fraught time, considering the state of racial relations across much of the U.S. and the fact that at the present time, the chances any federal laws designed to secure the right to vote for all citizens appear slim to none. The current state of affairs, in fact, have pushed King’s family last month to urge “no celebration” of this year’s MLK Day unless the U.S. Congress passes any meaningful voting rights legislation.

To that end, King’s daughter, Dr. Bernice A. King, who’s CEO of The King Center, has called for a “shift” in how we commemorate MLK Day, as in:

“We must shift our thinking and our perspectives in recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependence. We must shift power and resources to eradicate racism, inequity, and poverty. We must shift our energy and time to focus on the authentic so that we do not explore the artificial, including A.I., without heightened attention to our moral and ethical responsibility as well as our accountability to humanity.”

On the topic of accountability, as in voting rights and protecting democratic norms, business leaders are getting the hint that something needs to happen on this front.

For example, a recent Morning Consult poll of 400 business executives found that the future of U.S. democracy is a leading concern. At a rate of approximately 75 percent, executives agreed on topics ranging from supporting the two major federal bills that are designed to ensure and protect voting rights; support amending Senate rule so such legislation could pass; and 85 percent agreed with the statement that “capitalism is dependent on a well-functioning democracy.”

And last week, a coalition of small business groups, led by the American Sustainable Business Network, expressed a similar sentiment, saying they are united “to express their opposition to the attack on voting rights and support the United States Senate passing voting rights legislation using filibuster reform to protect the fundamentals of American democracy.”

Many founders and CEOs of marquee companies and brands, including Etsy, Patagonia, Reddit and Twilio, sent a letter to the U.S. Senate’s leadership urging them to find a way to pass both voting rights bills. “The stability afforded by our democratic system of government and our open economy are the cornerstones of American innovation and our economic dominance around the world,” are among the points these executives made a week ago.

True, the impatience that many citizens and business executives currently feel is shared by some political leaders such as President Biden, who last week voiced support for bypassing the filibuster in order to allow voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority in the Senate. Professional athletes have lent their names and voices to this call as well.

Here’s the rub: MLK Day offers us the reminder that sentiment, letters and public statements are steps in the right direction, but they alone aren’t getting the work done. The hard part is actually convincing political leaders that such legislation benefits all U.S. society.

Furthermore, while the overriding issue this month is voting rights, the same can be said for racial equality and climate change. The bottom line is that MLK Day should be one in which we can celebrate progress instead of reminding politicians that yet again, they need to get their act together if we are to move forward.

After all, remember that King himself didn’t only write letters. He marched and went above and beyond as he put himself out there.

“Business’ public messaging has shifted dramatically in recent years, with much more emphasis on societal issues like climate change, racial equity, and voting rights,” Michael E. Porter and Daniella Ballou-Aares wrote for the Harvard Business Review last fall. “Yet today, when we are presented with a once-in-a-decade opportunity to support federal legislation addressing these challenges, business leaders are not backing up their words with action.”

For more on Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach toward striving that all U.S. citizens would have the fundamental right to vote, this op-ed on The Hill from last summer is a fine start.

Image credit: Dineda Nyepan via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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