Black voters coalition calls out GM, Blue Cross Blue Shield for supporting ‘voter suppression’

By: - June 14, 2022 8:56 am

In a spirited 90-minute effort, protestors chanted, “Sign the pledge now!” as they marched around the GM world headquarters and a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan building. | Ken Coleman

About three dozen activists from the Defend Black Voters Coalition rallied on Detroit’s riverfront on Monday to criticize what they described as voter suppression efforts backed by corporate entities, while General Motors’ Board of Directors met in the nearby Renaissance Center.

It was the second public demonstration in the last two weeks for a coalition of social action organizations that have come together to fight for African-American voting rights. Activists argue that major Michigan corporations back GOP lawmakers who back voting restriction legislation as well as the “voter suppression effort called the Secure MI Vote initiative.” 

Following former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss, Republicans introduced dozens of voter restriction bills were introduced in the Michigan Legislature in 2021, but Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed many of them. Republicans then initiated the Secure MI Vote ballot measure.

If the initiative gets enough signatures, the GOP-led Legislature can adopt it before it goes to voters and Whitmer has no power to veto.

In a spirited 90-minute effort, activists chanted, “Sign the pledge now!” as they marched around the GM world headquarters and a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan building. They also shouted “What do we want? Our vote’s protected. When do we want it? Now!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people won’t stop!”

Black activists protest voting restrictions by land, air and sea at Mackinac Conference

“Today’s rally targeting GM was about calling out their sponsorship of politicians that are actively working to silence Black voters in Michigan,” said Vanessa Velazquez of Detroit Action.“The Defend Black Voters Coalition finds it appalling that GM has given $128,000 of direct contributions towards these same politicians.  We’re here to say that you cannot make social posts or formal statements claiming to support Black Lives or celebrate holidays like Juneteenth, while also funding voter suppression. We came out today to demand that GM choose a side, specifically, choose the voters’ side and withhold any future contributions to politicians involved in voter suppression tactics.”   

A request for comment from General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan was not returned. 

Member organizations include Moses Action, Detroit Action, Michigan People’s Campaign, Mothering Justice Action Fund, and Emergent Justice.

On June 2, attendees ferrying to the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mackinac Island Policy Conference were confronted with a Defend Black Voters Coalition protest banner hung from the Round Island Passage Lighthouse: “Loepp, pledge to defend Black voters.”

The comment referred to Dan Loepp, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. It was part of an ongoing effort by the group to pressure corporate executives sponsoring the event to stop bankrolling politicians who activists say are undermining the Black vote in Michigan.

Ken Whittaker, executive director of the Defend Black Voters coalition, told the Advance earlier this month that the group has been trying since last fall to confront GM and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan for what they view as “hypocrisy” on voting rights.

“Our message is simple,” Whittaker said. “You can’t give these empty statements about Black Lives Matter like you did after the death of George Floyd, change [your] profile pictures to black [and] issue empty policies at the corporations for their staff to feel good, but then on the backside, bankroll legislators that are literally trying to take away the ballot access for Black families, working families, communities of color.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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