Activists are calling on Wayne State University to demand its vendors stop donating to political extremists | Metro Detroit News | Detroit


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Steve Neavling

Wayne State University in Detroit.

Activists are urging the Wayne State University Board of Governors to pass a measure that calls on companies that do business with the school to stop contributing to political candidates who are undermining democracy.

The idea is to discourage companies from donating to political candidates who push for restrictions on voting and spread lies about election fraud.

An hour before the board met Friday, supporters of the measure held signs on campus that read, “Defend Mi Vote” and Don’t Suppress Mi Vote.”

One of the companies with a big Wayne State contract is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, which contributed about $329,000 to politicians who pushed for “Jim Crow-style voter suppression” in Michigan since 2016, according to the Defend Black Voters Coalition. During the same period, BCBSM donated $355,000 to the party committees supporting these lawmakers.

The analysis found that BCBSM is the “largest corporate contributor to the legislators pushing extreme legislation that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters of color.”

In April 2021, the health insurance giant was among three dozen major Michigan-based employers that called on lawmakers to stop trying to restrict voting access.

“I can’t be silent on this,” Bryan C. Barnhill II, a member of the Board of Governors, said at a news conference before the meeting. “If we can’t call this what it is – racially targeted suppression and treat it accordingly – then why did our constituents put us in office? If we can’t intervene because university dollars are unconditionally supporting extremist lawmakers that are poised to suppress my community’s voices, what is the limit? In these critical times, it is important that we marshal every man, woman, child, and institution in the effort to preserve and enhance our democracy.”

The measure is similar to one approved by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners in July. The author of that resolution, Commissioner Jonathan C. Kinloch, said the county “sent a clear message that corporate bankrolling of extremist politics will no longer be tolerated.”

“This is about our civil rights,” Kinloch said. “This is about fighting extremism and the slide toward fascism. Wayne State serves the same community I do, and that’s the community whose rights are under attack. Our constituents need us to take action and take that action now.”

Since the 2020 presidential election, the Republican-led state House and Senate have introduced dozens of bills that would restrict voting access in Michigan. To justify the restrictions, the lawmakers peddled baseless conspiracy theories about voting fraud, eroding residents’ faith in elections.

“The thinly veiled efforts, which the Legislature could vote on by the end of the year, uses the big lie as an excuse to push for a set of voter restrictions designed to make it disproportionately harder for Black and low-income Michiganders to exercise their freedom to vote,” Scott Holiday, political director for Detroit Action, said.

Ken Whittaker, executive director of the Michigan People’s Campaign, said silence is no longer an option.

“We’re at a pivotal moment in our democracy and civil rights, and corporations like Blue Cross and Blue Shield and clients like Wayne State University must choose to stand on the right side of history,” Whittaker said. “These corporations can no longer declare that Black lives matter while also funding the lawmakers that are trying to silence our voices.”

It’s not yet clear when the Wayne County Board of Governors will take up the measure.

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