The latest criticism of Free the Hops goes something like this – Congratulations on passing the bill. Maybe next time you guys can focus on something important. A less complimentary example is, I can’t believe you guys are spending all this time on beer while there are so many more important things to worry about in Alabama.
The first bad assumption in this argument is that all the members and leadership of Free the Hops would have started some other political campaign if we weren’t currently focused on beer. I highly doubt that is true. It’s not like Free the Hops was started by a group of mercenary grassroots activists searching for a cause. It was started by beer geeks who wanted a wider selection in Alabama. Most of us got political because of one motivation – freeing the hops.
From my observations, I would be surprised if 25% of the Alabama population could name either of their state legislators. A lot of Alabamians don’t even have a clear concept that there is a state legislature. In contrast, I bet most members of Free the Hops can tell you both their state senator and state representative. Many of them have probably talked to them on the phone or via email several times.
We’re not competing with other legislation and we’re not “stealing” concerned citizens for any cause. If anything, we’re providing a doorway for people to become interested in local government. One of our successes (and a personal goal of mine) was to have maximum participation of our membership in the political process. I didn’t think it was enough for Danner, Stuart, or a lobbyist to advocate for our bill. We had hundreds and later thousands of interested members and supporters who wanted to help how they could. At first, we directed them to the legislature’s own website to find the contact information for their elected representatives. Eventually, we built our own tool where people could learn everything they wanted to know about their legislators and their record with Free the Hops. Here are my guys. We have also never given our supporters a form letter or prepared statement to use when contacting their legislators. They called and emailed anyway and really went above and beyond.
Many of our members are passionate. They don’t just wait to hear if we pass or not, they follow our bill. Our members know to ask if our bill is “on the calendar.” If there’s a filibuster, they know who it is and why they’re filibustering. They know who is going to speak against our bill when it reaches the floor. They know a veto override in Alabama requires a simple majority, and they have an opinion about it. Some of us even listen to the live audio of the session. From my experience, I think Free the Hops members are some of the most knowledgeable and sophisticated activists in the state. There are literally thousands of new Alabamians interested in state government, and it’s all because of beer.
We got involved, and we made a difference. In the Hops Community, one of our most active members recently wrote, “The last three years have really opened my eyes. It’s clear to me that there is so much more at stake for the future of Alabama than just the FTH stuff.”
So if you think there is some political issue more important than beer, start your own organization. I might even join, and Free the Hops has thousands of knowledgable citizens who have become interested in local issues.