The 2016 presidential election was divisive, to say the least. In addition to the split between Democrats and Republicans, third-party voters for the Green Party and the Libertarian Party seemed fed up with the whole system. But you may be surprised to find out that another third party received more attention than it has in decades: the Prohibition Party.
To be fair, the Prohibition Party was far from a major contender. It only received a total of 5,525 votes. Yet that’s the best the party has done since 1988. Even more surprising was the fact that Prohibition Party candidate, Jim Hedges, 78, beat out Gary Johnson as the top third- party candidate in Arkansas County, Arkansas.
But his Arkansas victory is not even the most surprising thing about Hedges, I realized talking to him on the phone. Not only was Hedges open to speaking with an alcohol publication; his ideas were astoundingly progressive. He’s against building the Dakota Access Pipeline and supports free college. He wants to find a way to bring Muslims into the party and sees potential allies in people involved in progressive movements.
The party has a diverse set of ideas, though. I also spoke with Phil Collins, the leader of the party in Illinois, and Jon Make, a younger member, to get a broader perspective. Below, very lightly edited for clarity, is the story of the modern Prohibition Party as told by its own members.
How And Why Did You Get Involved in the Party?
Jim Hedges: I worked up to where I was editor of their newsletter. I’m 78 now. When I began running it, I was 76, and the fellows just thought it was my turn to be the leader for a while.
It’s an exercise in living history. Our influence today is negligible and we know it. There’s a handful of people who would like to keep the idea on the table as an option, so we’re pursuing the history of the party, working on the history of the party website, organizing our history reference book and running for office every four years. It’s because we want to keep our viewpoint in the public eye, not because we want to win anything.
Jon Make: I had found that neither of the main parties really appealed to me. While each had certain things which I liked, each had other positions I found repelling. I am also a teetotaler, who opposes intoxicants, because intoxicants are a poison to the person, their mind, and character. Intoxication is immoral, irrational, self-destructive, and harmful to both the user and humanity at large. A sensible and civilized society should not allow such poison and do what it can to combat its use, and to dismantle the greedy industries which profit off the systematic poisoning of the public.
Phil Collins: I agree with conservative views. Not many people know that alcohol is a small part of the platform. It’s an important part, but we care about other issues, too.
What Are the most important values of the Prohibition Party?
Jim Hedges: Drinking in most areas is socially acceptable now. We need to get back to where if you drink, you’re not welcome here, you’re ostracized, the way that smokers are made to go outdoors or go back to their houses now. It’s your personal choice if you do it at home. It’s not your personal choice if you do it in public and then injure other people.
Jon Make: The Prohibition Party values that appeal most to me include its opposition to intoxicants, its concern and championing of the well-being of people, its commitment to both preserving positive traditions and pursuing positive changes, its longstanding commitment to social reform, and its longstanding commitment to advancing the civil rights and equality of Americans.
Phil Collins: The alcohol part is the most important issue, but members also care about other issues: lower federal tax rates and spending, the right of unborn babies. We’re against illegal immigration.
How can the party become more mainstream?
Jim Hedges: Last year’s election was the first time that the Prohibition Party made use of the internet and the social media. Because none of us were experienced with it, we didn’t do as good of a job as we should have. I have on my list of activists here a handful of young people who use the social media all the time and I’m hoping I can develop them into an internet committee to advise the rest of us.
Jon Make: An important part of this will be building the party’s local presence. In recent years the party has worked to build its presence in a number of states, such as Florida and Illinois, and has plans to continue building groups on the state and, where possible, local level. In the 2016 election, we got on ballot in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Colorado, and we came close to getting on ballot in Iowa, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Louisiana. If we continue building up our organization overall and in these states, we very well could be on ballot in all seven of these states.
Another important matter we should tackle are local dry laws. As we work to build up our party’s presence, we can work to defend the localities which prohibit alcohol, and work to encourage other localities to adopt their own dry laws. This offers the opportunity to build a new Prohibition the way we built it the first time: town by town, county by county, building up our base of support, to enable us to launch larger campaigns.
What other movements could the Prohibition Party join with?
Jim Hedges: The Prohibition Party is pretty much America first. The Republicans talk about that a lot, but the Trump administration is so chaotic I don’t really know what is going to happen. I don’t think Trump does himself; he seems to shoot from the hip every morning.
I would like to bring Muslims into this, because they also teach against alcohol. I haven’t found a whole lot of enthusiasm for that. They’re so preoccupied with protecting themselves from discrimination right now, I don’t think they’re too worried about joining the Prohibition Party.
The original Prohibition Party in the 1800s was analogous to the Green Party today as far as being a radical outfit. Then it fell into the hands of religious conservatives, and I’ve been trying to pull it back in the direction of progressive contemporary issues. I’ve been told our platform last year was schizophrenic because it had liberal issues like the environment mixed in with hard-right things like the Second Amendment. That’s true, but I think we need to bring in some contemporary issues to appeal to younger people. I’m big on environmental issues myself, and I’d like to see us work with things like the population connection. Or work with the hot issue today — the Dakota Pipeline. I would love to get involved with those folks. These are the sort of things that would benefit us because it would give us visibility first of all, and it would make us look contemporary instead of making us look like we’re refugees from the 19th century.
Jon Make: In his campaign, Jim Hedges had stated support for a system of free college education, run by the states, which would cover the cost for students attending public and private non-profit colleges and universities. Now there is a broad and diverse support for free college education, which has been gaining traction.
There are various other potential movements which the party might benefit from cooperating with: the Standing Rock environmentalists, the anti-gambling and anti-tobacco activists, activists for expanding funding for college education, healthcare advocates, disability rights and neurodiversity, advocates for ensuring the long-term sustainability for Social Security, supporters of balancing the federal budget etc.
What are your thoughts about marijuana?
Jim Hedges: As far as growing your own, I have no problem with that. I don’t think it’s as dangerous as alcohol. I’m not sure the government should be in the business of selling it or regulating it because that gives it a stamp of approval. But if a doctor says do something, I say “Yes, sir.”
Phil Collins: We could work more with people who are against using marijuana and cocaine. A lot of people who are against alcohol are also against using illegal drugs.
Jon Make: I oppose intoxicants and that includes marijuana. Marijuana is a poison to the mind, which degrades and harms the user. It is well obvious, and numerous studies and reports have backed this, that marijuana impairs the operation of the faculties dealing with reason, moral decision-making and inhibition. The practical result of this has all too often been the worsening of the user, and increase in their propensity to engage in a variety of harmful and criminal activities.
The effort of legalize marijuana is a demented abomination. Much like the slaveholders of the antebellum period, who, rather than admit the immorality of the slave system instead created a backwards set of ideas and values to portray slavery as good, the modern day promoters of marijuana have promoted false ideas of marijuana as innocuous, have promoted a perverted notion of liberty to justify their actions, and have falsely blamed the law for the actions of the people violating it. They have appropriated the propaganda techniques, which the wets used to attack Prohibition.
Who is the future of the party?
Jim Hedges: Nobody in the group right now is a charismatic speaker or writer. We need to find someone who is better at carrying the banner than we are — younger people especially. One of the things we’re really trying to work on now is to encourage younger people in their 20s and 30s to step up and take over from us old guys who are doing the job.