It takes a village to stop Busch

Published September 6, 2007

Bravo regarding the clever “fire with fire” marketing approach employed by the group protesting Anheuser-Busch’s distribution of beer to Whiteclay, Neb. liquor outlets. There’s just one potential snag in their play on words: culture.

Last week activist Frank LaMere and members of Nebraskans for Peace assembled near the High Plains Budweiser distribution facility to protest against the placement of beer in outlets near the alcohol-prohibited Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Their hook was “distribute responsibly,” a reference to Anheuser-Busch’s “drink responsibly” advertising slogan.

Recent (and not-so-recent) news stories have headlined the importance of addressing the social and medical problems that are rampant on South Dakota reservations. For example, a day after the beer story ran in the Journal, another linked alcohol to high levels of sexual abuse — and therefore to related rates of suicide and attempted suicide on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

The director of the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society shelter in Mission, Tillie Black Bear, identified substance abuse as a crucial “underlying issue” in a terrible trend, where three times as many Native American and Native Alaskan women suffer sexual attacks as do white women.

Black Bear also cited the European colonization of America as contributing to a decrease in Native respect for women and children.

Which brings us back to Anheuser-Busch.

In the European-inspired, commerce-based culture, Anheuser-Busch has only to respect the boundaries of the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when distributing its products. Since Nebraska is not dry, beer and other alcohol can be sold there, and — the distributors would argue — should be sold there.

I would imagine that Anheuser-Busch, not particularly prioritizing the values of communal-based social systems, finds the struggles with alcohol on reservations adjacent to their outlets to fall within the purview of tribal governments, or medical and psychological facilities, or individual families. And particularly within the purview of individuals with drinking problems.

That is, as a card-carrying member of the dominant culture, Anheuser-Busch is saying “drink responsibly.” It is saying this to individuals who drink, assuming that how one behaves while under the influence is the responsibility of that person.

I forget who thought up the slogan, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” but that catchy phrase allows for pals to pitch in, broadening the scope of responsibility. But neither of these approaches assumes the “global village” sense of the Nebraska protestors’ admonishment.

From their cultural perspective, one could conclude that we all have a responsibility to assist with social challenges. And further, in this particular case, that a beer company should curtail selected distribution and cut into its own profits for “the good” of a group struggling with its product.

Wow. This perspective is bigger than beer; it asks how we live as neighbors. I want to “sit in” on that conversation.

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