Like most people who were raised in Colorado, Allyson Brantley has a twelve-ounce space in her brain reserved for Coors Brewing. “Coors has this sort of outsized influence for people,” she says, either because they worked there or know someone who did, because they drink the beer, follow the politics of the family or simply pay attention to history and local businesses.
“My parents grew up in Iowa and were taken by the mystique of Coors and of Colorado, so when they eventually moved here, Coors Light was always in the fridge,” says Brantley, who is now a Ph.D. and history professor at the University of La Verne, east of Los Angeles.
But as a grad student at Yale University, where she studied Latino and labor history, Brantley learned about Coors in a new way when, in her readings, she came across a single paragraph about Mexican-Americans boycotting the company in the 1950s and ’60s. That paragraph would lead her down a decade-long path of research that resulted in her new book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors & Remade American Consumer Activism. Brantley will be in Boulder to talk about the book on Wednesday, July 14.
The book details the forty-year boycott of Coors by a coalition of labor unions, black Chicano and Native American activists, and LGBTQ+ organizations who targeted Coors because of allegations of anti-unionism and discrimination, as well as conservative political ties. Using oral accounts and a vast amount of written documentation, Brantley also delves into how this “unlikely coalition” of progressive groups worked together to mold “the boycott into a powerful means of political protest,” according to a summary of the book, and to create an “enduring legacy of that organizing for communities, consumer activists, and corporations today."
After reading more about the boycott, Brantley spent the summer at home in Boulder and uncovered boxes of material at the public library about Local 366 of the Brewery, Flour, Cereal and Soft Drink Workers International Union — the chapter that famously went on strike against the brewery in 1977. “Someone had dropped the boxes off in the 1980s, and no one had ever gone through them,” she says. From there, she learned about the national boycott that extended from Detroit to San Francisco and grew to include all aspects of the Coors business.
“I realized that there was this whole world of what had gone on, and that maybe we didn’t really understand the scope of it,” she says. She's talking about the connections that were forged between these seemingly disparate groups — connections that still exist today.
"The objective," she adds, "was not to say they were terrible employers, but to tell the stories from the perspective of the grassroots."
Coors was eventually able to “break” the union that was at the heart of the boycotts in 1978, when employees voted to de-certify and went back to work. So from that perspective, “Coors wins,” Brantley says. “But the boycotters don’t see it that way. They tell a different story.”
The people whom Brantley talked to believe that their efforts had a long-term effect on the company, which began “putting money back into black and Latino communities — and even into LGBTQ+ causes, despite the right-wing politics of the Coors family itself," she notes. “I don't think Coors would have thought they would have had to do that without the pressure of the boycotts.”
And that “act of organization and being in solidarity was very transformative” for the activists — from Chicano and gay and lesbian to Black and labor — and was “key for building an activist sensibility," she says. "Connections that were built during the boycott did transfer to other fights.”
Brantley will host an in-person book launch at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14, at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street in Boulder; find out more here.
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