Commentary: Businesses support America’s democracy

Statehouse Report, December 10, 2021
The Black Chronicle (Oklahoma City), January 2, 2022

By Frank Knapp Jr., Special to Statehouse Report

In his recent editorial, “Unite to protect America’s Democracy”, Andy Brack calls on all of us to “get off the sidelines” and “fight for America” or we will “lose our freedoms and democracy.”

He is concerned that only a few organizations have been doing this for a while, pointing to the Lincoln Project, and Black Lives Matter.

However, business organizations and business leaders have also been voicing their opposition to voting restrictions being enacted in some states. These new laws make it harder to vote for everyone, but minority populations particularly. These laws even allow state elected officials to throw out local results, not because of documented voting irregularities, but simply because the results are not what state officials like.

Some will question businesses weighing in on this issue. After all, businesses do not vote.  Nevertheless, businesses large and small are very concerned.  Microsoft, HP, Unilever, Patagonia, Airbnb, PepsiCo, IKEA have all taken actions to oppose voting restrictions and support voting rights.

A national survey by Small Business for America’s Future found that 60 percent of small business owners are concerned about the current state of our democracy and 74 percent support the bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would expand voting rights.

Other national small business organizations—American Sustainable Business Network, Main Street Alliance, and Small Business Majority—all have vigorous campaigns to support Congress passing voting rights legislation to counteract what they view as anti-democracy efforts at the state level.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, of which I am president and CEO, has been strongly supportive of protecting our democracy since 2019 in response to official government investigation findings of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Today my chamber’s concern is for domestic interference in our democracy. We have coordinated the efforts of national small businesses to jointly call for voting rights legislation to be protected by Congress.

All this concern by the business community is based on our understanding that no economic good comes when a democracy turns into an autocratic, one party-rule government.

Entrepreneurship depends on a real democracy in which people know that if they have a good idea and are willing to sacrifice and work diligently, their idea can be turned into a successful, profitable business for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Entrepreneurship and a nation’s entire economy suffer when power is taken from the people allowing government and the politically well-connected to control the business ventures of others for their own benefit.

Autocratic and strongman governments have only one goal—maintaining power for themselves and their friends.

Vladimir Putin’s Russian government uses the courts and criminal charges to grab assets of independent growing businesses and turn them over to state and oligarch-owned companies.  Xi Jinping’s Chinese government allows domestic private business as long as it does not threaten the communist state by becoming too influential. Then it steps in to block future growth.

The most recent example is in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria. With its economy collapsing, the strongman’s government is seizing control of businesses, even those of Assad’s friends and relatives, to funnel money to the regime.

Business leaders know that a strong entrepreneurial economy and a vibrant democracy go hand-in-hand. The attack on voting rights is a clear signal that the nation is sliding away from the democracy businesses need.

In early 2022, Congress must pass voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Our thriving entrepreneurial economy is on the line and will only survive if our democracy of and by the people is protected for future generations.

Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future and serves on the executive committee of American Sustainable Business Network.

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