Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas suggested on Tuesday that Democrat Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader and gubernatorial candidate, had initially supported a boycott of Georgia in response to the state’s controversial new elections law.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights, at which Abrams testified, Cotton said, “March 31st, you wrote an op-ed in the USA Today about Georgia’s law. And your first two words in that op-ed were, ‘Boycotts work.’” Cotton repeated the claim on Twitter, saying that Abrams “wrote ‘boycotts work.’”
Facts First: Cotton’s account of Abrams’ words was highly misleading by omission. While Abrams did write that “boycotts work” and had played an important role in advancing civil rights, she proceeded to make clear in the op-ed that she was not calling for a boycott of Georgia at present – saying that this was not necessary “yet,” that “leaving us behind won’t save us” and that “I ask you to bring your business to Georgia and, if you’re already here, stay and fight. Stay and vote.” Abrams was even more explicit in a video statement she tweeted the same day, saying, “To our friends across the country: Please do not boycott us.”
Abrams said in the video that Black, Latino, Asian and Native American voters were most likely to be hurt by a boycott. She wrote on Twitter that day: “As a Black person, a Southerner, and an American, I respect and defend the right to boycott. But the communities most targeted by #SB202 would be most hurt by a boycott of Georgia. Bring your business to Georgia and, if you’re already here, stay and fight. Stay and vote.”
Abrams’ phone call with Major League Baseball
Cotton also made an inaccurate claim about when Abrams had started expressing opposition to Major League Baseball’s April 2 decision to move its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado.
“According to media reports, in the days leading up to Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star Game from Georgia, you spoke with baseball executives, you described the law as ‘Jim Crow 2.0,’ and you urged Major League Baseball to speak out. But after its decision to withdraw the game from Georgia, you conveniently claimed that you had strongly urged them not to boycott – after the horse was out of the barn and the damage was already done,” Cotton said.
Facts First: Contrary to Cotton’s suggestion, there is no evidence Abrams is being dishonest when she says she had urged Major League Baseball not to boycott prior to the league’s decision. Both a Major League Baseball official and an Abrams aide told CNN on condition of anonymity that, on a call between Abrams and a senior league executive before the decision, Abrams had indeed urged the league not to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia. Similarly, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported that “multiple” baseball and Democratic sources said Abrams had “reiterated her position against economic boycotts” on the call. And again, by the time of Major League Baseball’s announcement, Abrams had made multiple public statements opposing the idea of a corporate boycott in general.
Also, The Washington Post reported that after President Joe Biden said on March 31 that he supported the idea of baseball moving the game, representatives for Abrams and other Georgia Democrats contacted White House officials “to highlight their opposition.”
After the Major League Baseball decision, Abrams issued a statement saying she was “disappointed.” While she commended baseball leaders for “speaking out,” she repeated her call for businesses to come to the state or stay in the state.
“As I have stated, I respect boycotts, although I don’t want to see Georgia families hurt by lost events and jobs. Georgians targeted by voter suppression will be hurt as opportunities go to other states. We should not abandon the victims of GOP malice and lies – we must stand together,” she wrote.
Breaking down the op-ed
To be fair to Cotton, there was some nuance to Abrams’ USA Today op-ed. She began by writing favorably about boycotts in general.
After declaring that “boycotts work,” she continued, “The focused power of No, trained on corporate actors used to being told Yes, can yield transformative results. As a Black person, a Southerner, an American, I respect and defend the right to boycott – and the advancement of civil rights has relied heavily on economic boycotts.” Later, she wrote, “Until we hear clear, unequivocal statements that show Georgia-based companies get what’s at stake, I can’t argue with an individual’s choice to opt for their competition.”
In an email to CNN, Cotton spokesman James Arnold argued that this last sentence showed Abrams telling Major League Baseball and other companies that if they did not condemn Georgia, “they would be subject to potential boycotts.”
Fair enough. But that’s different from Abrams calling for an immediate boycott herself – especially because other parts of the op-ed explicitly explained that she did not want an immediate boycott.
Abrams also wrote in the op-ed that the “least resilient” members of society can “bear the brunt” of boycotts. She wrote that it’s not yet necessary for voters of color to endure these “hardships.” She wrote that events and films coming to Georgia would, by and large, speak out against the elections law and hire “young people, people of color and minimum wage workers.”
Then she made her call for businesses to come to Georgia or stay in Georgia.
Various media outlets did not have trouble accurately conveying what Abrams wrote. “Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams is cautioning against a boycott of Georgia businesses over the state’s new voting rights legislation, calling it ‘not necessary’ yet, as President Biden is singing a different tune,” began an article in the conservative New York Post.
Abrams updated the op-ed on April 6 so it could appear in a USA Today print edition after the Major League Baseball decision. The revised version added some nuance to her declaration that “boycotts work,” this time saying they work under certain conditions, and again made clear that she did not support a Georgia boycott.