People marched for beer

The momentous day was May 14th, 1932. New York Mayor, Jimmy Walker, organized a march through his city by people who wanted beer. Originally planned as a “Beer for Taxation” march, it soon transformed itself into a “We Want Beer” parade, with over 100,000 taking part, and with banners bearing that slogan.

The point was that New Yorkers were as fed up with Prohibition as was most of the rest of the US. Without revenues from alcohol duty, New York had been forced by lack of funding to cut back its police and fire department budgets. Gangsters had taken over the production, import, distribution and sale of alcohol. There were estimated to be over 400 bootlegging-related murders in New York every year, and corruption was rife among the police and judiciary.

There was also rampant unemployment as the Great Depression gripped America. The Mayor’s case was straightforward. If Prohibition were ended, it would cut crime, raise revenue in taxes, and create tens of thousands of jobs. It was compelling. He might have added that it would stop ordinary Americans who wanted a drink becoming criminals at odds with the police and the law.

The marchers chanted “Beer for Prosperity,” but they also chanted the question, “Who wants beer?” and shouted in response, “We Do!” It had an effect on events because it took place shortly before the Democratic and Republican Conventions for the upcoming Presidential election. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, running for the Democrats, took due note, and let it be understood that he would not oppose the repeal of Prohibition. This was brave because the “drys” still commanded huge voting strength across the country.

Roosevelt took office the following year, and December saw ratification of the 21st Constitutional Amendment, repealing the 18th that had banned alcohol. Prohibition was ended, and the marchers celebrated with the beer they had demanded. The demonstration saw a successful outcome because it didn’t inconvenience people and because it was supported by authority. Ordinary Americans were fed up with gangster violence, graft and prosecutions, and preferred instead the combination of jobs, better public services, and of course beer. The authorities listened because they wanted it, too.