Private Business is Driving Support for America’s Changing Values

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As our social mores change, most people are apt to point out religion, parents, or what they learned in kindergarten. While all those factors have an influence on individuals – as it has throughout history – private industry has the power and the motive to change the morals of a civilization. While Christian missionaries played a major role in colonization, most explorers were more looking to trade, conquer, or loot. Their adventures were funded by investors seeking profits. The King and Queen of Spain financed Christopher Columbus’ voyages to acquire gold, jewels, and slaves to enrich the country’s economy. His poor navigation skills led not to new trade routes to India but to the exploitation of a New World.

Hundreds of years of slavery in North America and the Civil War were driven by the desire to maintain the economic benefits of non-paid labor. Subsequent Jim Crow laws and suppression of Blacks in America or slaughter of Jews in Europe used the ideology of racial and religious superiority to achieve and maintain economic superiority of white Anglo-Saxons in the first half of the 20th century.

Religious mores and economics continued to be symbiotic through the rest of the 1900s. Televangelists created a new and profitable religious industry promising favor for parishioners that pursued material success. Members were now encouraged to envy, support, and mimic religious leaders with limos and private planes.

Despite the Statue of Liberty’s tome, America’s policy of Mexican immigrants throughout history seems to be dependent on whether cheap labor was needed or not. Likewise, it was great during the 1940s for women to go to work when there were not enough men to fill the factories. Women’s liberty was scorned and women’s equality via pay and position in the workplace was doomed when the men came back after World War II.

Some of the most dramatic examples of business influence on social attitudes are in the history of Arizona. Few people can say much about the 48th State, which was one of the last to join the union. Its early image was touted as a rural place for ill people (e.g. tuberculosis, allergies) to recover. Its livelihood during the 1900s came from the four C’s: copper, citrus, cotton, and cattle. Later with the help of a fifth C, climate, Arizona became a retirement mecca for the rich, military veterans, and people from the frigid Midwest.

In Arizona, there had always been an undercurrent of racism without the visually dramatic lynchings and police dogs of the South: whether one thinks of its late adoption of Jim Crow laws, Japanese internment camps, redlined housing, or the profiling of Latinos. Lincoln Ragsdale, who founded the Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity, once tagged Arizona as the “Mississippi of the West.” But there are at least three examples that can be cited where business, not just a desire for social justice, has helped change the culture of the State.

Republican Governor Edward Mecham was impeached and indicted for misuse of State funds. What he was most infamous for was his 1987 revocation of the Martin Luther King Holiday. While there was shock and consternation, nothing changed until the NFL canceled the proposed 1993 Super Bowl in Phoenix and ignited the ire of the business community. Demonstrations, petitions, and activities were led by civil rights advocates. However, these events were populated with people who cooked, cleaned, organized events, managed hotels, and sold tickets. This was financed by the business community, resulting in approval of a ballot referendum, and the MLK holiday becoming a law in Arizona in 1992.

Arizona had recovered from its image as a racist state when the state legislature suddenly passed State Bill 1070 in 2010. What would have been the most virulent anti-immigration law in America was promoted and symbolized by the “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio. Remember him? Arpaio was a favorite ratings-generating guest on the TV networks and talk radio. Arizona businesses gasped again as it lost an estimated $132 million in direct spending from conventions during the nation’s boycott of doing business with Arizona.

While civil rights groups filed lawsuits, Arizona businesspeople again formed committees and task forces and organized protests. They also boosted positive advertising campaigns to offset the negative image of the State. Ultimately, the harsh provisions of the law were either overturned by the Supreme Court or not implemented; Arpaio was convicted of criminal intent, voted out of office and replaced as Maricopa County Sheriff by former Hispanic-American policeman Paul Penzone in 2016. Phoenix recovered from the recession (but was one of the slowest big cities to do so).

In 2017, the LGBT consumer buying power was over $917 billion. In the US, television shows starring gay characters get great ratings, print, and television advertising feature LGBTQ characters and issues, and retailers and travel agents actively pursue this growing market. Logically, the strongest advocate for LGBTQ rights in Arizona has been the business community.

The oldest non-profit LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce in the US is the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (GPGLCC), which is nearly 40 years old and boasts over 2000 members. GPGLCC created a Business Equality Survey, one of the first such research documents in the country, which has revealed findings of work environments for LGBTQ members in Arizona businesses. One Community (OC), launched in Phoenix in 2008, is a statewide coalition of socially responsible businesses and individuals who support diversity, inclusion, and equality. OC created a Unity Pledge in 2013 that has been signed by innumerable businesses and individuals, who have pledged to advance workplace equality and equal treatment in housing and public accommodations.

Most recently, in 2014, the Arizona State legislature sent State Bill 1062 to the Governor for signature. The bill would have allowed any individual or company to use religion as a reason to refuse service to any customer. Many major corporations – including Apple, AT&T, and American Airlines – publicly opposed the bill, and the NFL again threatened to relocate the upcoming Super Bowl to another state. The GPGLCC and One Community campaigned vigorously against the SB 1062. A local sign shop donated thousands of “Open for Business to Everyone” signs, which were displayed in storefronts and offices around Arizona. After much suspense, Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

Ironically, public and business attitudes may change, but politics is not always as responsive. A person can still be legally fired or evicted in over 20 other states for their sexual orientation.

Of course, businesses can go too far in, purposefully or inadvertently, influencing the public opinion on socio-political issues, as evidenced by the current Facebook controversies. But private industry is usually adept at identifying new markets and aligning their missions accordingly.

Throughout the past decade in the US, both national and local corporations and employee’s unions have successfully opposed proposed legislation that impacts the rights of women, people of color, and LGBTQ communities. Corporations demonstrate their support for social causes through lobbying, commercials, and financial support of local chambers and non-profit organizations. Businesses have both driven and been more in tune with the changing mores of the country, which have resulted in increasing national poll support for comprehensive immigration reform, gay marriage, and other social issues.

James Carville’s campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid,” was not just relevant to President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The economy has always and will continue to help shape our acceptance of what is right and wrong in the US.