“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That’s the consumer rights lesson I’ve learned this year, and bar none, the wine-related hot button issue potentially affecting consumers this same year has been HR 5034, a part of the wine niche headlines since April. Yet, a consumer-led backlash AND HR 5034 haven’t exactly been two predicates sharing the same subject. I’ve learned the backlash lesson elsewhere … and it’s a lesson all wine lovers would do well to learn, as well.
HR 5034 is a well-chronicled would-be affront to consumer access to wine, as prepared by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, in a lobbying function, before being introduced into the House of Representatives as a bill for consideration as law.
HR 5034, for all intents and purposes, is an attempted circumnavigation of federal law (including Granholm vs. Heald, the landmark 2005 Supreme Court decision that prohibited out-of-state wine shipping discrimination against wineries while granting them the same consumer access liberties afforded to in-state wineries).
In essence, HR 5034 would significantly restrict (or eliminate) consumer access to wines in their state for anything that wasn’t provided directly through a distributor (a lawyer by day, see Palate Press Publisher David Honig’s, excellent breakdown of the legal context for HR 5034). Temporarily shelved with the recent November elections after initial hearings in late September, it’s expected that the bill (and proposed law) will be re-constituted (no pun intended) in January for additional review by the House Judiciary Committee.
With small ripples of consumer opposition, the net-net of HR 5034 is this:
• Is the will of the people stronger than the will of special interest lobbying group’s intent on protecting and expanding their financial interests?
It’s an interesting question because our rule of land – democracy—is by any theoretical measure, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Does HR 5034 follow this most basic of US principle?
Not so much.
A funny thing learned while observing HR 5034 over the last seven months:
• Its introduction into the US House highlights how ill-prepared consumers are in understanding the nuances of our government and how we can affect change that reflects democracy’s fundamental premise.
• Our media absolutely has to assist in publicly fomenting consumer opposition above and beyond core constituents of an issue.
With HR 5034, aside from the obvious wine-related coverage the story has received, the proposed bill measured just a blip on the national radar. I never got a sense that a real consumer coalition was happening—that credible, legitimate, populace-based mindshare was fomenting. Ditto that lack of mindshare as facilitated by the media.
Not that it wasn’t attempted.
Amongst many people, Tom Wark, Executive Director for the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, did fantastic job leading HR 5034 opposition, including being a pivotal leader in thought-leadership, the first person out of the gate to create both a central hub for consumer information as well as a Facebook Fan Page for interested consumers. This activity led to pockets of media coverage.
Yet, those efforts notwithstanding, Wark also realized the need for a broad line consumer organization. He is developing the American Wine Consumer Coalition to represent the views of wine drinkers across the country. This is good, noble and something I wholeheartedly endorse and will support with my participation and my money. Yet, there is still something missing … something missing related to, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
In a year filled with political cacophony, tea partiers and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) search related headlines, the missing bullet for a successful kill shot on HR 5034 is a publicly-led backlash with enough sensationalism to capture the media’s interest.
Consider: Were it not for loosely organized rallies, costumes, and hand-lettered placards, the Tea Party would not (could not) have achieved the wide recognition they have received, fueled by the media. This is, after all, a movement that is still without central leadership, or ideology.
Consider: Were it not for national media making John Tyner of “If you touch my junk I’m going to have you arrested” fame there would not have been a media fueled “National Opt-Out Day” creating awareness for consumer rights against invasion of privacy at airport security checkpoints.
This all leads me to my central point, underscored by the Japanese proverb, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back an ass.”
In practical terms, we have the knowledge that HR 5034 is bad for consumers, but do we have the wisdom to do what is necessary to counteract it?
Do we have the wisdom to organize an event that is sensational in nature that will be picked up by mainstream media to carry the message to greater awareness?
My suggestion is the online wine community dumps all of these friggin’ Zinfandel, Pinot, Cabernet, and Champagne Days on Twitter and does something meaningful.
How about, “National I Want my Wine Shipping Rights Day”
It’s really not that hard to organize and the genius is all wine lovers can participate in willful disobedience.
You see, the real secret here in the wine shipping wars is there is no enforcement—its fear by intimidation by states and the feds based on winery and retailer licensure (and potential seizure).
Yet, there are retailers (plenty of retailers) who ship across the country, door-to-door, and thumb their nose at the TTB and state governing bodies.
To wit, here’s the language on the shipping page from one prominent east coast retailer who places ALL of the shipping risk on the consumer:
”-Company Name Redacted- does not, as a business, ship wine outside of New York State. We are happy, however, to coordinate shipment of your wine, by you, to any location in the U.S. or abroad (for international shipping, see below). By authorizing shipment of your wine, you are allowing -Company Name Redacted- to engage a third party common carrier on your behalf. We provide all shipping coordination as a free service and do not profit from any shipping arrangements we make for you. Insurance (for breakage only) will be added to ALL shipments at an additional charge unless you assume all responsibility for breakage during shipment.”
What a beautiful dodge!
So, a mass coalition of consumers gets together and says, “I’m ordering wine on this day, having it shipped to me and I don’t give a damn what the laws say about it.”
Don’t tread on me; don’t touch my junk and stop messing with my ability to buy the wine that I want to buy from where I want to buy it!
Instead of making this a fight in the halls of government presided over by lobbyist money; let’s make this a fight in the streets based on the will of the people, amplified by media ready to exploit a cause.
Regardless of whether a “national” wine consumer backlash day ever happens for wine shipping, you understand my point – empowered people must assume power. Until wine consumers rise up with broad mindshare, carry a stick, and demand logical action that serves the interests of the majority, we’ll always be subject to the whims of big money lobbyists protecting the few.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way … because … I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.
Who is with me?
Filed Under: Review Wine