A group of prominent clergy members in Georgia are calling for a nationwide boycott of Home Depot over what they said was the company's unwillingness to meet with them to hear concerns over the state's new voting restrictions.
Standing outside of a Home Depot in Decatur, the religious leaders blasted Home Depot both for not speaking out against the legislation before it was passed into law and for refusing to meet with activists in the weeks since. They contrasted Home Depot's actions to companies like Delta and Coca-Cola, which they said have been more willing to hear their concerns and attend roundtables to discuss issues like voting rights.
"We stand here collectively representing over 1,000 churches here in Georgia alone — 1,000 churches, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of parishioners or members," Reverend Lee May of the Transforming Faith Church in Decatur said. "We stand here collectively together to launch this boycott."
"We are honored to gather in the shadow of Home Depot, which is in the business of building homes and, it appears, tearing down democracy," Rev. Timothy McDonald, the founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, added, before leading the crowd of clergy in a chant of "teach our dollars some sense."
Bishop Reginald Jackson, who oversees more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia and has been a vocal critic of the new voting laws, is also helping to lead the effort but could not attend the news conference.
Home Depot spokesperson Sarah Gorman told NBC News that the company "decided that the most appropriate approach for us to take is to continue to underscore our statement that all elections should be accessible, fair and secure and support broad voter participation, and to continue to work to ensure our associates in Georgia and across the country have the information and resources to vote."
As examples, Gorman said the company donated 9,200 plexiglass dividers to help polling stations in Georgia comply with Covid-19-related requirements and has "promoted voter participation" with internal programs.
The speakers at Tuesday's news conference criticized the new voting measures that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law last month, which made sweeping changes to election rules, including new identification requirements to vote by mail and a ban on giving food and water to voters standing in line.
The law also strips power from the secretary of state, allowing the Legislature to appoint the chair of the State Election Board rather than having the state's top elections official head the panel. That change came after the current secretary, Republican Brad Raffensperger, denied former President Donald Trump's unfounded claims of widespread election fraud in the state.
Democrats, activists and some Republicans have decried the law as creating unnecessary restrictions on voting in the state, which they say were prompted by Trump's baseless fraud claims. The religious leaders calling for the boycott Tuesday echoed those criticisms, connecting the push in Georgia to similar bills advancing in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country.
"We are here simply because injustice is here, and we realize that Georgia is now the talking head for the entire nation," said Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta.
"This piece of legislation passed not because of voter fraud, but because of voter turnout,” he said.
Opponents of the restrictive measures have pressed corporations, particularly in Georgia, to speak out against the bills. Amid that push, Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game, slated for this summer, from Atlanta.
The pastors criticized Kemp for signing the legislation, calling on him and Home Depot to meet with them to discuss making changes.
In his own press conference shortly after the clergy spoke, Kemp criticized the planned boycott and accused them of "not telling the truth" about the legislation.
"They did not ask to be in this political fight," Kemp said of Home Depot. "It's unfair to them, to their families, to their livelihoods to get targeted. This is a great company." He noted the company employs 30,000 people in the state.
"This is not about Georgia's election law," Kemp said. "This is about a movement at the national level to nationalize elections and have an unconstitutional takeover of state elections," a reference to Democratic attempts to pass federal voting legislation.