The right state official heard the right county official say the right words. In that instant, the four liquor stores in Whiteclay, NE went from being a persistent social ill to a pressing agenda item.
On November 1, 2016, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted 3-0 to require all of the stores to reapply for liquor licenses. Two things had to happen to make this possible --
- The two aforementioned officials had to be in the same room.
- For this to occur, a third official had to call a hearing, a hearing which came about because activists persuaded the third official, State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, to bring the problems caused by the stores before the Unicameral.
- The hearing was held October 11th. Sen. Pansing Brooks invited the executive director of the Liquor Control Commission, Hobert Rupe, to testify, and he was still in attendance when Sheridan County Commissioner Jack Armstrong answered the legislative committee’s question about the adequacy of law enforcement in Whiteclay.
- Officials had to know that adequate law enforcement was one of the statutory requirements that had to be met before a liquor license could be re-issued in a community.
- This statute had become common knowledge because activists had researched the statutes and had been publicizing the fact that Sheridan County could not afford a regular law enforcement presence in Whiteclay.
- Because of this publicity, Mr. Armstrong was asked if the county had adequate resources. He replied, “No, we absolutely do not.” Mr. Rupe said he was shocked by the comment, that it raised serious concerns about re-issuing the licenses, and that he would recommend to the other commissioners that all four stores go through the reapplication process.
The takeaway for me from this development is the importance of combining research and protest. Advocates took the time to study the liquor license regulations and identify those that were being violated in Whiteclay. The previous decades of work protesting, letter-writing, praying, marching and publicizing created a culture that had the political will to carry out the regulations. The verse “wise as serpents; innocent as doves” comes to mind to describe this combined advocacy strategy.