In the hopes of railroading an upcoming talk by racist alt-right leader Richard Spencer at the University of Florida, Alligator Brewing of Gainesville last week offered a two-for-one of sorts: bring the company a pair of unused tickets to the talk and exchange them for a free draft beer.
The hope, the company said at the time, was to generate enough buzz to ensure Spencer, a white supremacist, would speak to as sparse an audience as possible. “We unfortunately can’t stop him from bringing his hate to Gainesville, but we can empty the room so his disgusting message goes unheard,” the company said at the time.
The announcement earned the brewery considerable press, praise and, inevitably, word reached Spencer’s camp. In turn, and in hopes of neutralizing Alligator’s efforts, The Miami Herald reports that tickets are no longer available in advance and must be procured at the event itself, which, as of today, is still scheduled to take place on Thursday. Meanwhile, Alligator’s standing by its pledge.
This particular stunt, while independently newsworthy, is about more than individual protest, however. Rather, the episode succeeds in adding new gravity to what it actually means to be part of a community as a brewing business. That is, true community-minded breweries don’t “stick to beer” as more politically averse drinkers often advise. They stick to their communities. More than that, they’re willing to take the subsequent heat associated with standing up on principle.
This notion becomes clear in Alligator’s own explanation of the stunt. On what it means to be a part of a community, head brewer Aaron Kahn tells GBH this: “The truth is Gainesville is our home. It’s a large part of our identity, both as a brewery and as individuals.”
In the fallout, Kahn says the “vast majority” of responses to its protest initiative have been positive. And to that end, there’s no shortage of praise to be found on social media, with a growing—if largely symbolic—number of pleas for expanded distribution into new territories from would-be supporters.
This wasn’t a risk-free proposition from a brewery nestled comfortably in a liberal enclave, either. At home in a red state, Kahn says the company’s ploy has also elicited “negative responses.” Meaning, the company took a risk. It risked not just losing out on cash from handing out free beer (and with a reported 800 tickets being made available, it could be a considerable amount of beer). But it also risked permanently alienating an untold number of both potential and pre-existing customers.
Most importantly: by showing willingness to take that risk, to forsake cash and “good” business sense for the benefit of its neighbors, and, indeed, risk irrevocably turning off others, Alligator has highlighted one of the real, tangible differences between businesses that exist in a community from businesses that exist for a community. Adds Kahn:
“This institution believes in non-violence. But that doesn’t [mean] we are going to sit back and let potentially dangerous elements set up here unchecked.”