Halloween in Athens is one of Ohio University's newest and best traditions. Every year, on or around October 31st, a mass of drunken students and townies take over Court Street and proceed to make merry until the morning. The last few years the inevitable event has been sanctioned by the City of Athens, but that hasn't cut down on the "anything goes" party atmosphere that prevails, and after the jail has been emptied and the litter picked up, even the Mayor has to admit that Athens' Halloween is the largest mass expression of the "sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll" ethic to be found anywhere.
Knowing this, we were quite taken aback to find that one of the PMRC's corporate sponsors, COORS BEER, was planning on showing up at our street party as part of their "Costume Craze": handing out Coors items to anyone dressed in a costume glorifying their swill. Needless to say, we at FACTS (the Friendly Anti-Censorship Taskforce for Students) were less than amused and decided to use this as a catalyst for a boycott against Coors.
We distributed several different flyers around campus, including one that, besides spelling out our reason for hating the PMRC and Coors, called for the student body to boycott and write the president of Coors a letter saying why they were doing it. We also advocated not participating in the Costume Craze or wearing a costume making fun of Coors.
A letter to the editor followed soon after detailing our planned action for Halloween: we would dress up like fascists and right wing ideologues and wear some article of clothing identifying our "love of Coors Beer, head on down to the Coors stand and say "well we're here. Where's our t-shirts?" We were planning on either donating all usable items of clothing to the Salvation Army or sending it back C.O.D.
On October 30th, three days before the scheduled shutdown of Court Street on November 2nd, we were riding high and expecting a good response from the student body at large. Our letter to the editor had been ran that morning, and we'd received a great deal of vocal support from other campus activists. We weren't expecting any trouble from police or from the Coors employees staffing the booth, but as it turned out, we should have been more worried about the corporation itself.
That night, our Vice President and myself received a call from a Mr. Richard Bartlett from the COORS BREWING COMPANY, who told us that we must return his call. Upon reaching him he told me that he'd received a copy of our flyer and read our letter to the editor, and wanted to inform us that the story about Coors giving the PMRC office space was, in fact, just a rumor, and that Coors officially opposes the PMRC.
When asked for more information, he said that he received the copy of the flyer on the 28th and had done a little "research" by calling Bob Guccione Jr. of SPIN MAGAZINE, who told Bartlett that the whole rumor was started by a "BELLO JIAFRA" (his error: should be JELLO BIAFRA). According to Bartlett, this "rumor" was supposedly put to rest four years ago, and when asked to provide proof, he offered me Bob Guccione Jr's phone number. He then asked me what my group was going to do, and I said I'd have to write a retraction if the story he was telling me was true.
After that call, to be quite honest, I freaked out. All this time I'd been going on what I'd been reading in THE ROC and PARENTS FOR ROCK & RAP's newsletter and what I'd heard from Jello Biafra, but what if they're all wrong? I knew how rumors can start and how long they can last; the big controversy about Procter & Gamble's "Satanism" being a good example. But now that I'd opened my mouth in front of the whole student body, how could I take all that back without losing all credibility we'd tried to build so that we wouldn't get grouped along with the Anti-Daylight Savings Time Coalition and other "radical" campus organizations?
So, the next day, I went back to square one and I did a little research. I looked in issue #7 of THE ROC, remembering their scathing editorial on Bob Guccione Jr., and noticed that besides "refuting" the Coors Beer claim, he also said that 7-UP wasn't giving the PMRC money even when 7-UP came out and admitted it! A quick call to Randy Payton at THE ROC for more info only confirmed the growing suspicion that maybe, just maybe, Bob wasn't all he was cracked up to be.
I also managed to get my hand on a copy of THE COORS CONNECTION (by Russ Bellant, South End Press, Boston, MA. $9.00, great for anyone wanting to research the real evil empire) and found out that even though the author didn't say anything about the PMRC, he did give me enough ammunition to take Coors on from a First Amendment standpoint.
CHECK THIS OUT:
1) In 1988, Coors gave $10,000 to ACCURACY IN ACADEMIA: a right-wing watchdog group that spies on university professors who teach, in the words of AIA director Malcolm Lawrence, "incorrect information which leads to conclusions that may be distasteful from the point of view of our national heritage or national security." Offending professors are blacklisted and the AIA use economic pressure to have the instructor removed.
2) $5000 went to the COUNCIL FOR NATIONAL POLICY, a right-wing think tank that deals with national policy objectives. Members include such "luminaries" as Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Don Wildmon (head of the American Family Association-AFA), and Phyllis Schlafly (head of Eagle Forum), who helped Tipper Gore apply economic pressure on record chains. They are anti-ERA and wanted the Nazis to win against the USSR in World War II.
3) And $20,000 went to EDUCATION RESEARCH ANALYSTS, a group run by Mel and Norma Gabler who try to ban textbooks that espouse sentiments that they interpret to be unchristian, unpatriotic or anti-family. They also want all mention of the Great Depression stricken from the books because it places doubt on our capitalistic society, and think that certain mathbooks have to be altered because, "When a student reads in a math book that there are no absolutes, suddenly every value he's been taught is destroyed. And the next thing you know, the student turns to crime and drugs."
Encouraged by this cuddly cast of characters, we decided to go ahead and protest anyway. Our faculty advisor assured us that we were safe from all successful litigation, since Coors would have to prove that we manufactured the PMRC story ourselves out of "malicious intent." We weren't looking forward to a possible lawsuit, since we would have to defend ourselves out of our own pockets, but this was one challenge we couldn't back away from.
The protest flopped. Everybody either showed up at a different time, couldn't get up there on time, or had last minute schedule changes. Having been a little late myself, I can't throw too many stones. What we did instead was pass out a new flyer informing the public that we'd been called by Coors and apparently lied to, and reaffirming the boycott.
As we passed the flyers out, we noticed that the Coors "Costume Craze" stand was hardly visited at all. Very few students chose to dress like Coors Beer items, and by the end of the craze the employees resorted to offering gaudy, pink "COORS" caps to all passers by; a few were accepted. Most of the students we talked to about Coors and the PMRC were very receptive, and the general consensus was that they either didn't drink Coors, or, now that they knew what was going on, never would again!
I'm sure that a copy of our new flyer has made it's way to Mr. Bartlett's desk by now, but as of this writing we have had no further contact with Coors. Maybe we'll get another call when we start the second wave of our boycott, or, then again, maybe we won't.
What did we learn from all this? Well, the first was that FACTS was created as an educational group, not an activist one. We were so wigged out over Coors coming to our town that we forgot all about this, and would have made fools of ourselves if we'd alerted the media.
Another thing we learned was that from now on we have to be sure about our information. In the past we had relied on our sources out of blind faith, but this time we found ourselves bending at the knees when we were called on the carpet. If you're going to dance with corporate America, you've got to have something solid to back up your bullshit, otherwise you're screwed.
In a way, this experience has been an affirmation of what we created FACTS for in the first place. There were only 8 or so of us working on this boycott, but we had Coors scared of bad P.R. Imagine what would happen if a student group at every campus in the U.S. called for a boycott of Coors Beer for whatever reason: just pick a lefty cause and you can almost be sure that Coors is funding your opposition.
We'd have them crying uncle so quick it wouldn't be funny, especially if a lot of Colorado universities cried foul. You see, as college students, we make up a large percentage of their market. So far we've been content to chug their swill and let them play the music, but what will happen when we start calling the tune?
If you haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet, now's as good a time as any to "just say hell no, to COORS BEER and spread the word. We'd be more than happy to join forces with any other student groups orchestrating a boycott of any PMRC sponsors, and I'd love to hear your war stories. And remember, sometimes the best way to scare people is to hide behind a Trojan horse and let your invisibility work for you. It works for us!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Tremlett is the President of FACTS. You can contact him by writing: 434 Brough House, Athens, OH 45701.