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Trump Council CEOs Had Been Pressured to Step Down For Months

August 16, 2017, 9:38 PM UTC

It may seem like two of President Trump’s advisory councils decided to disband overnight. But activists have been working for months to make that happen.

Racial justice activist group Color of Change (COC) was one of the groups leading the campaign to persuade CEOs and other members of Trump’s advisory group to distance themselves from the President.

The group, which counts one million members, began the campaign in January, when Trump issued a “Muslim ban” for the first time, intended to bar citizens of seven Islamic countries from entering the U.S.

“That’s when we first decided that we needed corporations to pick a side,” says Brandi Collins, senior campaign director at COC. The group sent letters to every member of a presidential advisory council asking him or her to resign.

Though the letters were sent indiscriminately, Collins says COC publicly targeted certain CEOs and increased pressure on those “who we feel like should be on the right side of this.” This made leaders like PepsiCo’s (PEP) Indra Nooyi (whose food and beverage company filed a statement to the Supreme Court in favor of affirmative action) and Amazon’s (AMZN) Jeff Bezos (who has made strong statements about climate change) prime targets.

The group had applied pressure to Nooyi this week and planned to target Bezos. Neither executive is an advisor to the President any longer, as the strategic and policy forum—of which both were members—chose to disband Wednesday afternoon. The other business advisory council, the manufacturing initiative, was ended by Trump after it lost seven of its members.

Collins dismisses the idea that leaders who were on the business councils before they collapsed had the ear of the president: “You’ve been sitting on this council for eight months and everything. You haven’t gotten him to shift any of his narrative, you haven’t gotten him to fire the white nationalist on his staff…At no point have you shown us that he’s doing anything different because of your presence on the council.”

The disbandment of the councils comes in the aftermath of a weekend white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va., which seems to have been the last straw in getting CEOs to “pick a side.”

Merck (MRK) CEO Ken Frazier was the first to speak out; he stepped down from the manufacturing initiative Monday after Trump failed to denounce hate groups and instead blamed “all sides” for the violence.

The President made a statement calling racism “evil” Tuesday morning, but then reaffirmed an earlier statement that “both sides” were at fault.