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Denim Executives Respond to Capitol Riots

The storming of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday by a pro-Trump mob that interrupted Congress’ counting votes to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory and left five dead unnerved the world.

It shook fashion figureheads and organizations as well. The National Association of Manufacturers president and CEO Jay Timmons denounced the unfolding “chaos” as “mob rule” that meets the definition of “sedition and should be treated as such.” The American Apparel and Footwear Association also issued a statement against the “violent assault on our democracy and democratic values.”

Executives at denim companies took a few days to digest the mayhem before publicly speaking out.

In a message to employees published on the Levi’s Unzipped blog on Friday, Levi Strauss & Co. CEO and president Chip Bergh shared how he “watched with horror” as rioters ransacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to disrupt the certification of the presidential election.

Describing it as an “attack on America” and an act of treason, Bergh said he was “mad and sad at the same time as I watched the foundation of democracy, and the Capitol building itself, under siege.”

Bergh, who asserted last May that the denim giant“condemns all forms of racism” following the murder George Floyd by police, went on to draw comparisons between the violent mob and “peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters met with tanks, rubber bullets and tear gas as they marched to assert their humanity,” and underscored the need for resiliency and efforts to uplift marginalized voices.

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An example of that work, he added, was the result of Georgia’s Senate runoff election that ended with upset victories for Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black senator, and Jon Ossoff, the state’s first Jewish senator.

“The election results were the outcome of massive voter turnout following a herculean get-out-the-vote drive,” Bergh wrote. “More than 4.4 million Georgians voted in the runoffs; an estimated 800,000 were registered just this cycle.”

Many of those registered, he noted, were minorities in urban areas—the same voters whose ballots President Trump and other politicians repeatedly tried to have thrown out before, and even after, the attack.

“We pushed to register and educate citizens ahead of the U.S. General Election; we pushed for Americans to exercise their sacred, fundamental right,” Bergh wrote. “We must keep pushing, just as we must keep pushing to fix inequities both in our communities and in our company. This work is necessary—not because our democracy is strong, but because it’s fragile.”

CEO Mark Walker, CEO of Levi’s collaborator Outerknown, echoed Bergh’s sentiments in an Instagram post Saturday, pointing out how many “rightfully asked what would have happened had this insurrection been carried out by an almost entirely Black community instead of an almost entirely white mob.”

Though the sustainable brand is optimistic about the Biden-Harris administration’s stance on the climate crisis, Walker stated that the events in D.C. last week “requires us all to face the truth” and acknowledge what brought the country to that previously unfathomable point.

“We witnessed an assault on the citadel of freedom—the U.S. Capitol—incited by a compulsively dishonest sitting President of the United States, enabled by cravenly opportunistic colleagues in Congress, designed to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in our country,” he stated.

Walker concluded his statement by calling for the country to shift anger into positive change. “This isn’t about power,” he said. “This is about purpose.”