The “anti-woke” movement in the U.S. has made waves this year, most notably by winning a pair of polarizing Supreme Court cases challenging the legality of affirmative action programs at colleges. That ruling has in turn prompted some Republican lawmakers to call into question diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs at American companies and inspired legal threats against companies that leverage inclusive policies to drive their corporate strategy.
Now, a newly formed coalition of 13 civil and human rights groups has come together to combat the conservative movement and its attempts to block companies’ efforts to level the playing field for employees of color. Alphonso David, president and CEO of the Global Black Economic Forum, announced the formation of the Council for Economic Opportunity & Social Justice at Fortune’s Impact Initiative conference in Atlanta today. The goal, he told Fortune, is to “come up with coordinated, strategic approaches to the right-wing attacks that we’re seeing against marginalized communities, and specifically black people all over this country.”
“Many people are aware that we are being attacked,” he said, “but not enough are taking action. We need to make sure that we rise up because the threats to black and brown people in this country are very real.”
The affirmative action decision should have been a wake-up call about what to expect next: lawsuits and legislation focused on employment and contracting, and more, David added. “It’ll be a slippery slope because the goal that [the anti-woke activists] have is that all programs should be racially neutral, and that ignores our history,” he explains.
“We cannot sit back while we see a rollback of our rights and our protections,” he told the audience in Atlanta.
Lawsuits inspire action
Among the members of the new council are the Global Black Economic Forum, which brought the coalition together, the NAACP, the National Action Network, the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, the Black Economic Alliance, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, and the National Council of Negro Women. (See a full list below.)
The collective’s creation was partly inspired by a lawsuit brought against Fearless Fund, a Black women-led VC group in Atlanta, by Edward Blum, the anti-affirmative action conservative who leads the activist group American Alliance For Equal Rights, which also spearheaded the affirmative action cases that landed at the Supreme Court. Through its Fearless Strivers Grant Contest, Fearless Fund offers grants of $20,000 to Black women who own businesses. Its goal is to counter the biases against Black female entrepreneurs within the VC industry. In its lawsuit, Blum’s group claimed that the Fearless Fund violates laws prohibiting racial discrimination in contracts.
David has offered his attorney services pro bono to defend Fearless Fund, which is an example of the kind of support that the Council for Economic Opportunity & Social Justice will offer to companies under attack by anti-woke activists. It will also respond to anti-DEI legislative efforts and run programs to boost civic participation ahead of the 2024 elections. “We want to make sure that people are aware that their rights are on the line,” David said.
That 13 civil groups have linked arms for this new body is not a coincidence; rather it is symbolic. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, David explained. “We know that we’re still living with the vestiges of slavery, we still know that the wage gap is significant,” he added. The wage gap between Black and white workers in the U.S. was eight to one when Martin Luther King gave his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom speech in 1963, David noted, and today, the wage gap is 12 to one.”
Here is a complete list of the organizations in the coalition:
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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