With events such as the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade having rocked our country throughout past weeks, several companies and politicians have come out to support those that these events most directly affect. However, this has led some to question whether the actions being taken are sincere and well-intentioned, or simply performative activism designed to help them from a publicity standpoint. In reality, the situation is rarely that black-and-white.
For example, several companies have come out of the woodwork offering to provide assistance to employees who now must travel between states to receive reproductive healthcare. However, many of these same companies made campaign donations to Republican politicians who contributed to SCOTUS’s ultimate overturning of Roe v. Wade.
It is time that businesses put their money where their mouth is.
Zee Cohen-Sanchez explains how her company, grassroots political organization Sole Strategies, sets the example of making a genuine difference: “We had a great previous quarter, so we decided that we were going to donate money to the causes, organizations, and candidates that we really care about and want to see win.”
If a company wants to show that these issues are genuinely important to them, they must make a similar effort and invest the money to support them. Still, it’s important to note that just because a business does good doesn’t eschew the negative things it may have done. If a business actively supports candidates who advocate for causes that are prejudiced against their employees, offering this type of support to them is effectively disingenuous. Hypocrisy is not a good look for any company.
How Businesses Can Inspire Legitimate Change
When a business — especially a major one — does the right thing, it can inspire politicians to follow suit. Businesses are where many significant campaign contributions come from, after all, and some politicians tend to guide their actions in a way that will gain them more donations. Hence, if more companies refuse to support politicians who advocate for causes or legislation that will ultimately oppress the rights of others, those politicians may not align their campaign platforms with those causes.
“There needs to be a very large separation between business and the folks that we are electing,” explains Cohen-Sanchez. “But if we can’t end that, then there needs to be an influence that is strong in a positive direction.”
Indeed, much of the political game comes down to a balance of power dynamics. “A lot of folks that go into the political scene are looking for power,” explains Cohen-Sanchez, “except for campaigners. They’re in this for a very different reason, and if you ask different people, their answer will be different as to why they chose to go into campaigning.”
While politicians can make a lot of money, campaigning work is largely underappreciated and undervalued. Many campaigners are underpaid and work tirelessly for long hours, but they don’t do it for the money or the power — they do it because they are passionate about the cause and want to do the right thing.
Creating an atmosphere conducive to change
For Cohen-Sanchez, her inspiration was being around injustice and social activism from a young age. “I grew up with parents who were Jewish socialists, and then I went to college in New York City across the river from what was, at the time, the Occupy Wall Street movement,” she recalls. “That really opened my eyes to the injustices happening in the world, and it was then that I decided that my future was going to entail fighting for civil rights.”
Although fighting for civil rights can take many forms, Cohen-Sanchez started by working in the labor field. Yet, she found that simply joining an existing organization wasn’t quite as fulfilling as she had hoped. The work she was doing was still advocating for civil rights, but not in a way that was inspiring the real, tangible change that she had envisioned her work contributing towards.
Additionally, in many of these existing organizations advocating for civil rights, it’s even discouraged to speak up. This didn’t sit right with Cohen-Sanchez, and she made sure to not implement such policies — unspoken or otherwise — within Sole Strategies.
“Our staff is free to talk how they want. We want them to use their voice. We want them to be empowered, and we don’t punish people. In fact, we encourage people on our staff to do that,” says Cohen-Sanchez. “It’s just about creating a space in which people feel comfortable to do that. People don’t speak up when they don’t feel comfortable.”
Cohen-Sanchez hopes that others can see this environment of respect and openness as inspiration for actions they can take within their own organizations and companies. Allowing your staff to speak up about things they care about is integral to running a business with integrity, especially if you want to be the force of change for good.