I am a believer that if you study history and learn from the past, then hopefully you don’t make the same mistake twice. In 1920, this country banned alcohol. The law that made that possible was called the Volstead Act. Many of us know it by its more common name-Prohibition. During that time when the average American didn’t own a car, and people barely left the neighborhoods they were born in, this country banned alcohol.
I won’t go into the entire history of the Temperance Movement, but it was part of a grass-roots movement that believed drinking alcohol was a sin and the cause of most of our societal ills. Yes, even in the early 1900s, according to the online Legal Encyclopedia, “the consumption of alcohol was responsible for many personal and societal problems, including unemployment, absenteeism in the workplace, and physical violence. Scores of short stories and books published in the mid-19th century described in dramatic detail the abuse suffered by the families of alcoholics. Alcoholics were characterized as dangerous to themselves, their families, and even their nation’s security.”
According to Wikipedia, Chicago had over 15,000 legal bars before Prohibition. One year later, once Prohibition took effect, the bars were all closed down. In their place were 23,000 speakeasies! Why is the history of Prohibition so important? Because I’ve run into several people who have been expounding that all of our problems on the West Side can be solved if we “close down the liquor stores.”
Now these folks are not saying to close down the bad ones and leave the good ones alone. They want every legitimate business to shut down because of the bad apples. Never mind that banning alcohol in one area still makes it available in another. Never mind that we are a much more mobile society than in 1920. Never mind that information on how to brew your own alcohol can be found at people’s fingertips via the Internet, as well as the ability to purchase it online.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have heard from a number of people who are frustrated by community problems and feel that banning alcohol is the answer. The area I live in has been dry even before I moved into my home over 17 years ago. Yet I still find beer, wine and liquor bottles on the streets and in the alleys. I still see young men walking with a brown bag and taking a swig. So instead of going to a liquor store on my side of North Avenue, all they do is cross the street. So I cannot rightly say what the banning has done on my side, other than to make sure we don’t get a liquor store.
One young man I spoke with mentioned the corner of Augusta and Pulaski. He spoke about a corner store that sold liquor. When the store was open, there was always a crowd of people hanging around it. But once the store closed, you no longer saw people hanging out in front of it.
“Where did the people go?” I asked. He told me he didn’t know, but they were no longer on that corner. So the question is, did closing the liquor store solve the problem or did it simply move it elsewhere? Now mind you, Brother’s Palace bar is half a block south of that corner. It’s still open. I don’t see people hanging out in front of it all day long. It might have other problems, but the question is still valid. Is the problem the liquor or the store?
Would banning all alcohol sales in Austin mean that our problems will immediately be solved? Or will new ones emerge? I remember hearing a while back that a certain ice cream truck was selling frozen drinks instead of soft serve ice cream. I also understand that some young people because of the lack of entertainment places here in Austin have basement parties where they charge admission. If there weren’t any liquor stores, would we have people selling it out of their houses the same way certain houses in Austin are now the drug houses or the houses to buy fireworks?
Now do not take this to mean that I am advocating for the liquor stores. Liquor just like cigarettes are a legal product that we base a lot of our taxable income revenue on. So when that tax base dries up, what will our elected officials tax to replace it? If a single location is the problem, shouldn’t we as a community address that specific problem?
I am changing my conference call day from Sunday to Monday at 9 p.m. for you to call in and speak your mind. Call 605/772-3200 (this is long distance so use your cell) and enter this Access code: 806598#. For cellphone users, this is just like a local call just using your nighttime minutes.