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What corporate America is doing to fight systemic racism

ACLU National Political Director Ronald Newman joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down what corporate America is doing to fight systemic racism and how ACLU plans to tackle racial injustice.

Video Transcript


KRISITN MYERS: Welcome to A Time for Change. I'm Kristin Myers here with Sibile Marcellus and Jen Rogers. So do you want your coffee company taking a stand on social issues, or how about the people who make your laundry detergent? Do you want them working to make social change? More and more, we're seeing that the answer to that question is yes.

JEN ROGERS: That's right, Kristin. And in fact, listen to the statistics that actually back this up. From a survey of thousands of people around the world, the vast majority, 68% said CEOs should step in when the government does not fix societal problems. 66% said CEOs should take the lead and not wait for government. That's probably music to the ears of two of our guests today, the founders of Ben and Jerry's, who built their entire business around their social conscience. And we'll be talking to them shortly.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: But first, we're joined by the ACLU's national political director, Ronald Newman. Now the ACLU has been fighting for civil rights and social justice for more than 100 years. Ronald, how is it that-- how much do you rely on corporations to really fight alongside you? And how do you hold them accountable?

RONALD NEWMAN: So first, it's good to be with you this afternoon. I think this is an important question. Here's how I look at it. We're in what I would call an all-hands-on-deck moment on issues related to racial justice and systemic equality and social justice. And so corporations and companies are part of that effort. They're necessarily part of that effort.

And I think you see two dynamics playing themselves out. One, in some cases, you have good corporate leadership that is driving the car and getting companies into the mix. In other cases, you have employees that are demanding of their employers that they take more significant, more meaningful action on these types of issues. And given how difficult these fights will be, the more, the merrier. We welcome it.

KRISITN MYERS: So Ronnie, you said that right now it's an all-hands-on-deck kind of moment and that some of these fights are going to be difficult. But I'm wondering what are some of the areas where big changes, at least on the social justice front, can either be made quickly or somewhat easily, because they're already big areas for compromise there-- or common ground, I should say.

RONALD NEWMAN: Yes, so I think there are a few different examples. Take the issue of criminal justice reform. I think it's an issue where we've made good progress over the last 5 to 10 years. There's still lots of progress to be made, but it is an area where we've seen some bipartisan agreement, some cross-ideological agreement, and also corporate engagement. So that's a good example of where you've seen that type of progress.

I think we're also hoping, as we move beyond the Trump era, that immigration also grows as one of those areas. Historically, the corporate sector was quite supportive of immigration. Because when you move beyond the sort of moral and ethical and humanitarian reasons to treat immigrants well, there are also economic reasons, reasons that accrue to the benefit of all Americans to be smarter and more sophisticated about how we address issues related to immigration. So those are two examples.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Passing legislation on the issue of reparations is a top priority for the ACLU's new systemic equality agenda. What's the latest on that front? And is there specific financial compensation that you're seeking for every Black American? And where does it stand in terms of the Biden administration's support of this kind of bill? I know that you guys already wrote them a letter.

RONALD NEWMAN: Yeah, so we're super excited about systemic equality. It is our flagship campaign for this year. And what we are trying to do is draw societal equity and increase civic participation for Black and indigenous people of color. We're trying to close the racial wealth gap. We're trying to bring a real reconciliation to this nation after centuries of racism.

And this is an area where presidential leadership is really important. So we've engaged the Biden administration, including because there are a series of actions that can be taken by the Biden administration on their own. So take an issue like student debt. We've asked for the president to take action in that space. There are issues related to broadband access, related to access to financial services for people in low income communities. And lots of those areas, the executive branch of the federal government can take significant action that helps us get at some of these enduring problems that we face as a nation.

KRISITN MYERS: So Ronnie, I only have about 90 seconds left with you. And, you know, as Sibile was introducing you, she mentioned that the ACLU has been working in this space for over 100 years. I'm curious to know or I'm curious to see if you think that right now, in this moment that we currently have, if now is the time for some of these more progressive policies, like reparations, for example, to either have some hope or some chance of either being moved forward or even passed.

RONALD NEWMAN: Yeah, so we have obviously been in this fight for quite some time. We published a report back in 1931 called Black Justice that involved sort of thorough discussion of some of the challenges we faced in the voting rights space and in the economic inequality space. Sadly, some of those challenges are still with us. But it is our hope, and it is our expectation that we are finally getting to a place where we can fully get over the hump on some of these issues.

We came out of the year last year where the country as a whole experienced a bit of a reckoning that flowed from the tragic events related to George Floyd's murder and also continued as we entered into a pretty tension filled electoral cycle. Coming out of that year, we see opportunity like we have not seen in quite some time to really, really dig deep and make progress on these issues.

So we are optimistic. We think there's action to be taken at the federal level, also action to be taken at the state and local level. And we are 120% behind this push to see if we can, as a nation, get to where we need to be.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: It's definitely a time for change, as is the name of our show. Ronald Newman, thanks so much.