On a purely symbolic level, it’s understandable why MLB made its decision and why liberals across the country have misled each other. While the new Georgian law didn’t include the most draconian proposals from some of its Republican lawmakers – and there are indeed bright spots, such as extended early election days, including a few weekends – the new rules and stricter ID requirements have one goal: to make it harder for likely Democratic voters make to exercise their right to vote. What’s worse is that lawmakers have effectively given themselves the power to override local and regional officials and actually decide for themselves who won. Had such laws gone into effect last November, legislature probably could and would have given Donald Trump the state’s electoral vote.
So Major League Baseball’s decision to act was correct in an abstract, pro-democracy moral sense. However, politics is not just about showing off your virtue. It’s about real results – getting real people to really vote – and by that standard the league has ignored a heaven-sent opportunity to actually do it do something concrete.
This is not about the economic damage suffered by ordinary Georgians, although it is not trivial. Cobb County’s tourism CEO says this will cost the region $ 100 million. It’s about a missed opportunity to change something. There’s a reason Georgia’s particularly successful grassroots black democrats, Stacey Abrams and Senator Raphael Warnock, were both cool about the boycott. The real loss is what the all-star game could have meant for efforts to mobilize against this law.
Consider this alternative: the all-star game stays in Georgia. However, the event – a three-day affair – is based on a multi-front campaign to address the restrictions imposed by the new law. None of this would have to be framed as a partisan. It would be purely for the vote, for democracy – an equal opportunity push to make sure the good, old-fashioned American electoral process works.
The Wisconsin example in 2020 suggests efforts to restrict voters may be sparked big setback if they are well known – and there is almost no organization that can shed more sunlight on the situation and reach more people than a major sports league. Players fan out across the state, holding rallies to highlight legal restrictions, in locations near voter registration offices when possible. Attendees will be given detailed instructions on how to apply for government-issued IDs. A series of speeches and panels, similar to the one offered by the National Basketball Association during their All-Star event, shows exactly how the new law in Georgia actually dictates serious burdens on the franchise.
Coupled with these programs, fundraisers with the players could have raised serious sums of money to fund impartial efforts, register potential voters, and pay for broadcasts and digital advertisements that express the malicious intent and effect of these new rules. And across the state, in urban, suburban, and rural areas, electoral law experts turned Democratic and Republican voters alike learn how the state legislature has effectively gutted the impartial machinery of voting, giving itself the power to overthrow the will of voters and declare winners and losers themselves.
That kind of reaction would have avoided the ill-will of retreat that would make life harder for Georgia Democrats like Abrams and Warnock without actually doing anything to oppose the law. It would have spared the Atlanta area economic success, preserved the planned homage to the great Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves, and most importantly used the media focus on the game to educate and take direct action without turning a baseball game into a political one Soccer. It could also have spurred institutions in Georgia and other states where lawmakers are taking similar steps to invalidate the right to vote.
Of course, there is an argument that the MLB withdrawal is not about Georgia: it is more effective than warning Republican lawmakers in other states not to work through their own versions of Georgian electoral law. But if that’s the point of the all-star game, it’s a double-edged sword. Boycotts can work for film companies that don’t shoot in states with restrictive laws, or for conventions and assemblies that can move their events to another location. There are clear limits, however: Coca-Cola will not cease operations in Atlanta. American Airlines will not move its main airport out of Dallas. Making statements doesn’t really change the terrain. As Georgia demonstrated by lifting a $ 50 million tax break for Delta after the airline criticized the new law, lawmakers have powerful weapons of retaliation.
In contrast, large corporations across the country could put serious money into voter registration efforts. You could help voters obtain identification, as is the case now with blood and charity donations. It would be very difficult for Governor Brian Kemp, Trump, and other dignitaries to attack such efforts, or for lawmakers to punish companies for introducing impartial voter support unless they were willing to drop the mask and say (how some GOP officials did it): We really don’t want the wrong people to vote.
But perhaps the league felt that it was facing attacks from the left over something other than boycott. Perhaps they feared that many of its stars would not accept the idea of using the game as a launch pad for new voters. Or maybe the urge to make a hasty gesture – something MLB saved face without bringing it any closer to the problem – was too tempting. In the face of a hanging curve, baseball sniffed.