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Julianna Pijar / Gavel Media

Don't be Fooled by Corporate 'Activism'

In the wake of the ban on abortions after six weeks that the Supreme Court allowed to go into effect in Texas on September 1, many have found themselves asking, “What can I do?” With a 6-3 right-wing Supreme Court majority, as well as the overwhelming Republican bias in the Senate and Electoral College, it becomes clear that electoral politics is not the level playing field we like to imagine it to be. Thus, efforts to build progressive coalitions to defend against reactionary policies require an uphill climb to build supermajorities, while the right-wing does not even need a majority to enact such an agenda. Democratic politics cannot be relied on if one side is able to rule with increasingly small shares of the electorate. There is also the fact that the right will hold on to the court for decades. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was 87 at the time of her death; Amy Coney Barrett will not turn 87 until 2059. Meanwhile, the 83-year old liberal Justice, Stephen Breyer, is hesitant to resign. In short, for those on the left hoping to fight against the worst of right-wing governance, the political realm looks increasingly bleak. 

Corporate America has taken it upon itself to fill the void left by American democracy. Lyft and Uber both plan to cover legal fees for drivers who may be at risk under the Texas law. In addition, CEO Logan Green said Lyft plans to donate $1 million to Planned Parenthood “to ensure that transportation is never a barrier to healthcare access.”Although these are noble efforts, it is important to remember that these are the same companies that spent far more than that lobbying, most notably to exempt drivers from labor laws that entitle workers to benefits. Uber spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 202o, while Lyft spent $2.2 million passing laws like Proposition 22 in California.

Prop 22 exempted drivers from basic rights like paid sick leave, access to unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Rather than employer-based insurance, employers only had to provide subsidies equal to 82% of the average California Covered monthly premium. Flimsy labor protections create barriers for their workers’ healthcare access and general livelihoods. No donation to Planned Parenthood can make such an organization “progressive” or “feminist,” especially when Prop 22 rolled back rights for women who are harrassed on the job. Corporations like Uber and Lyft are doing the least they can to protect their drivers in the face of this horrific law, but it cannot be ignored that these are the very same corporations that have worked tirelessly to reclassify gig workers into a legal underclass. To quote the infamous dril tweet, “you do not, under any circumstances, ‘gotta hand it to them.’”

Corporations go where the money is; their motive is profit above all else. Even as some companies have taken action, many have not. Business columnist Chris Tomlinson said in an interview to NPR that the divisive nature of abortion has led to far more corporations staying silent than they would in the case of a less controversial issue, like gun control. In a world where politics is increasingly unyielding to the demands of a progressive majority, people turn to business leaders to take action. “Well, undoubtedly,” Tomlinson said. “consumers, Americans in general, expect their corporate leaders, the makers of the products they care about, to take stands on social issues.” 

To accept this model of change would be a grave error for any semblance of progressive policy in America. Take the example of the rideshare companies—they set up legal defense funds for their drivers while at the same time stripping drivers of their rights. Such an example seems totally contradictory, but it isn’t at all, really. Rideshare companies profit from having a “progressive” image, just as they profit from laws that allow them to exploit their drivers. At the bottom of all of it, there is profit. So too is the case with all so-called “corporate activism;” your rights matter insofar as they don’t threaten the corporation’s bottom line. 

Brands will not save us. The only real way to counter the worst impulses of right-wing governance is by instituting a more robust democracy that does not allow for the minority to rule over increasing shares of the majority. And in the meantime, as we build those institutions, we can stand in solidarity with the people in Texas. You can donate to organizations who are fighting this law like the Texas Equal Access Fund, Avow Texas, the ACLU, and many more.

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International studies and theology major, nap enthusiast