Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Backlash Getting Underway: Just Look at Arkansas — A Footnote to My Earlier Posting

Earlier today, I noted that the business community in Arkansas has been conspicuously silent about the right-to-discriminate legislation just passed by the Arkansas legislature, which Arkansas's governor Asa Hutchinson says he will permit to be enacted. As I noted, an article yesterday by Jeff Guo in the Washington Post points out that the legislators who crafted the right-to-discriminate bill have framed it as legislation that will be good for business in Arkansas.

Since I wrote my posting earlier today, I've noticed two additional articles to which I'd like to point readers: 

First, in Arkansas Times, that publication's editor Max Brantley notes this morning that the silence of Arkansas business leaders about the right-to-discriminate legislation is in sharp contrast to the vocal opposition to similar legislation in Arizona and Michigan, where it was that vocal opposition that torpedoed anti-gay discrimination bills in both of those states. Business leaders of both Arizona and Michigan opposed similar right-to-discriminate legislation because, as they pointed out, educated and creative people who build healthy economies and healthy cultures avoid places that practice open discrimination: they refuse to choose such places as places to which ro relocate and in which to raise families.

In Arkansas, by contrast, as Max Brantley notes, 

Actually, it's been worse than mum. So-called "business leaders" in Fayetteville at the Chamber of Commerce led the charge to repeal a local civil rights ordinance. In Little Rock, businessman Lance Hines and the Chamber of Commerce's designated city director, Gene Fortson, have already made it clear they want no part of a civil rights ordinance for gay people. No need to protect that class, Hines said bluntly.

And second, in The Guardian today, Jessica Glenza also discusses the conspicuous silence of Arkansas (and national) business leaders about the right-to-discriminate legislation in Arkansas. As she writes,

When Arizona lawmakers wanted businesses to be able to choose whether to serve LGBT customers based on the religious convictions of their owners, there was a national outcry. Especially, it seemed, from the business community. 
The National Football League threatened to move the Super Bowl. The Arizona Cardinals football team sent a letter condemning the law. Wells Fargo, Apple, Bank of America, Marriott and American Express all criticized the bill
In Michigan, an analogous act met the same fate. Business leaders who had originally come together to add LGBT protections to the state's civil rights law ended up fighting against a religious freedom bill introduced in response. 
"By not having inclusive policies we’re contributing to brain-drain," said Sommer Foster, director of political advocacy at Equality Michigan. "We were able to get a number of CEOs to sign on and say discrimination doesn’t represent Michigan values." 
But now in Arkansas, where a bill to stop municipalities from passing ordinances to protect the LGBT community is almost certain to become law, national business leaders are keeping mum.

As I said earlier today, since the right-to-discriminate legislation in Arkansas is seeking to pass anti-gay discrimination off as a good thing, as something that will entice businesses to Arkansas, part of the dynamic that I see at play in the loud silence of state and national business leaders here is that many business types want the Arkansas experiment in discrimination to stand as a possible template to be copied by other states. It would not surprise me in the least to discover that some influential and well-heeled CEOs of various corporations are in close collaboration with right-wing political activists at the national level who helped develop this legislation and are watching it closely — and actively cheering it on.

They're hoping it will succeed in demonstrating, that is, that anti-gay discrimination is good for business. The template can then be more easily copied by other states, once it has proven its validity.

Standing behind this "experiment," of course, is also the strong GOP sweep last fall, which has emboldened right-wing pushback in all kinds of areas, from gay rights to healthcare to immigration. The 1% have a strong vested interest at the national level in having the Republican party control Congress, state legislatures and governors' mansions, and, if this can be pulled off again, the White House. After last fall's strong GOP showing, the business community will be more and more inclined to entertain GOP-sponsored legislation rolling back civil rights of minority groups and putting workers in their place.

Arkansas is and has long been a place in which the 1% — a handful of exorbitantly wealthy dynasties of families — control just about everything. In that respect, it's not really an unattractive model at all for the 1% in the nation as a whole. If achieving more control depends on finding a vulnerable minority group to scapegoat, and if that scapegoating succeeds in diverting the attention of conservative working- and middle-class people with strong religious beliefs from the way in which the 1% are robbing all of us blind, then more power to the discrimination!

In the 1950s, the Arkansas business community did not merely stand by in silence (along with the leaders of the white churches) as right-wing groups attacked the rights of African Americans. In fact, the business community of Arkansas actively assisted in those attacks. As Sarah Alderman Murphy's book Breaking the Silence: The Little Rock Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools, 1958-1963 (Fayetteville: Univ. of AR Press, 1997) points out, it was not until the wives of many influential white business leaders around the state, in collaboration with black women activists, refused to accept the racist shenanigans of their husbands any longer that a few timid voices here and there began to break silence about how damaging the racism was to our entire state. 

Not much has changed in this small, poor, backwards place from then until now — except that it appears now that powerful right-wing interest groups with a great deal of money behind them would like to see the discrimination model to which we Arkansans have long been attracted replicated in other places, if it can be protected and fostered in the now GOP-controlled state of Arkansas. A state with a tiny minority of gay citizens, who have historically found ourselves unable to overcome divisions of race, gender, and class and to pull together as a visible minority group, in any case — so that we who are gay in Arkansas bear our own share of the blame here, too . . . . 

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