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One Plank for Good Public Relations
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., August 1945
its brief few years in the public eye, Alcoholics Anonymous
has received hundreds of thousands of words of newspaper
and magazine publicity. These channels have been augmented
recently by radio commentators and, here and there, AA sponsored
radio broadcasts. Hardly a word of criticism or ridicule
has ever been uttered about us. While our publicity has
sometimes lacked a certain dignity we can scarcely complain
of that. After all, drinking is not such a dignified business!
surely have reason for great gratitude that multitudes of
writers, editors, clergymen, doctors - friends of every
description - have continued so sympathetically and so enthusiastically
to urge our cause. As a direct result of their efforts,
thousands of alcoholics have come to AA It is a good record.
Providentially good, when one considers how many mistakes
we might have made; how deeply, had other policies been
followed, we might now be involved. In the "wet - dry"
controversy for example. Conceivably we might even have
fallen out with our good friends, religion and medicine.
None of these things have happened. We have been unbelievably
fortunate, thank God.
by the Grace of God
While this makes fine success story reading, it is not,
to our way of thinking, any reason for self-congratulations.
Older AAs who know the record are unanimous in their feeling
that an Intelligence greater than ours has surely been at
work, else we would never have avoided so many pitfalls,
could never have been so happily related to our millions
of friends in the outside world. Yet history records the
rise, and let us not forget, the fall of any number of promising
and benign undertakings - political, religious and social.
While some did outlive their usefulness the greater part
died prematurely. Something wrong or unsound within them
always became apparent without. Their public relations suffered,
they grew no more; they bogged down to a dead level or fell
glorification, overweening pride, consuming ambition, exhibitionism,
intolerant smugness, money or power madness, refusal to
admit mistakes and learn from them, self-satisfaction, lazy
complacence - these and many more are the garden varieties
of ills which so often beset movements as well as individuals.
we AAs, as individuals, have suffered much from such defects,
and must daily admit and deal with them in our personal
lives if we are to stay sober and useful, it is nevertheless
true that such attitudes have seldom crept into our public
relations. But some day they might. Let us never say, "It
can't happen here."
Did Happen Then
who read the July Grapevine were startled, then sobered,
by the account which it carried of the Washingtonian movement.
It was hard for us to believe that 100 years ago the newspapers
of this country were carrying enthusiastic accounts about
100,000 alcoholics who were helping each other stay sober;
that today the influence of this good work has so completely
disappeared that few of us had ever heard of it.
cast our eyes over that Grapevine piece about the Washingtonians
and excerpt a few sentences: "Mass meeting in 1841,
at City Hall Park, New York City, attracted 4,000 listeners.
Speakers stood on upturned rum kegs." "Triumphal
parades in Boston. Historic Faneuil Hall jammed." (Overdone
self-advertising - exhibitionism? Anyhow, it sounds very
alcoholic, doesn't it!) "Politicians looked hungrily
at the swelling membership ... helped wreck local groups
through their efforts to line up votes." (Looks like
personal ambition again, also unnecessary group participation
in controversial issues, the hot political issue was then
abolition of slavery.) "The Washingtonians were confident
... they scorned old methods." (Too cock-sure, maybe.
Couldn't learn from others and became competitive, instead
of cooperative, with other organizations in their field.)
AA, the Washingtonians originally had but one object: "Was
concerned only with the reclamation of drunkards and held
that it was none of its affair if others used alcohol who
seemed little harmed by it." But later on came this
development: "There was division among the older local
organizations - some wanted wines and beers - some clamored
for legislation to outlaw alcohol - in its zeal for new
members many intemperate drinkers, not necessarily alcoholic,
were pledged." (The original strong and simple group
purpose was thus dissipated in fruitless controversy and
again, "Some of the Washingtonian local groups) dipped
into their treasuries to finance their own publications.
Editors of local papers got into squabbles with editors
of temperance papers." (Apparently the difficulty was
not necessarily the fact they had local publications. It
was more due to the refusal of the Washingtonians to stick
to their original purpose and so retrain from fighting anybody,
also to the obvious fact that they had no national public
relations policy or tradition which all members were willing
are sure that if the original Washingtonians could return
to this planet they would be glad to see us learning from
their mistakes. They would not regard our observations as
aimless criticism. Had we lived in their day we might have
made the same errors. Perhaps we are beginning to make some
of them now.
we need to constantly scrutinize ourselves carefully, in
order to make everlastingly certain that we always shall
be strong enough and single purpose enough from within,
to relate ourselves rightly to the world without.
then, does AA have a public relations policy? Is it good
enough? Are its main principles clear? Can it meet changing
conditions over the years to come?
that we are growing so rapidly into public view, many AAs
are becoming acutely conscious of these questions. In the
September Grapevine I'll try to briefly outline what our
present public relations practices are, how they developed,
and where, in the judgment of most older AA members, they
could perhaps be improved to better cope with our new and
more pressing problems.
we always be willing to learn from experience!
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., August 1945
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