On Wednesday, I joined Cigar Rights of America. This was a big departure for me. When CRA was first formed, I looked over the site, read other bloggers’ opinions, and listened to cigar podcasters talk about. And I found myself being unable to join.
I did not consider it to be a viable organization capable of achieving their stated goals. I got in several discussions on various cigar message boards about whether or not to join CRA. Some of them got down right heated. Some people were of opinion that you should just join, and they will figure it out later. I didn’t think that way. Here’s what I wrote almost a year ago:
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Cigar Rights of America and how they intend to accomplish their goals. And unfortunately, I can’t seem to find what exactly it is they plan to do to achieve those goals. Who is running the day-to-day operations? I can’t find any sort of board of directors listed, much less the actual head of the organization. They have been very big in touting their affiliation with the large manufacturers including (but not excluding) Fuente, Padron, CAO, Rocky Patel, Torano, Camacho, and many, many others. But what is their involvement outside of the tour? Are they donating money or resources also? Their web site is underwhelming with very little real information besides what they hope to achieve. I would wholeheartedly endorse and support the organization if they could just provide a plan. The groups that are trying to keep us from our basic personal rights and freedoms are exceedingly well organized and committed. I would like to see the same from the CRA. They’ll need to be to win. September 8, 2008
As you can tell, I was pretty passionate about the subject. Having attended some workshops on campaign organization and grassroots fundraising, I was discouraged by the lack of long-term plans (or at least the lack of revealing it to the cigar smokers it was trying to recruit), and even simple things such as the structure of the organization. And I can’t say I was the only person to feel this way. Several of my fellow brothers and sisters of the leaf expressed the same reservations. Especially when it was revealed that the membership form wasn’t encrypted at first, and credit card information could possibly be exposed. Luckily that was quickly remedied.
Over at Cigar Weekly, one of the members started a poll last September to see who had joined. Out of 48 responses, 42 either said no or they hadn’t heard of it. That was roughly 3 months after they had launched the CRA. When the poor results came back, the member who started to poll got angry and demanded to know why. In addition to my above comments, I posted this:
If you are trying to influence lawmakers, why isn’t Washington, DC on the tour? Chicago, New York, and Orlando I get. Milwaukee and Minneapolis I don’t. Too close to Chicago, and the West Coast is totally ignored.
The tour CRA put together with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Jorge Padron, Rocky Patel, Carlito Fuente, and Nick Perdomo. Smokers were enticed by event-only cigars, and to see their favorite “cigar stars.” I know the purpose of the tour was a membership drive and influence lawmakers. The problem is, they avoided Washington, DC of all places. They also ignored the west coast, where some of the most onerous anti-smoking laws are in place. I just didn’t get it. It all sounded good, but I didn’t see how it would be sustainable in the long run. The cigar manufacturers were on the tour and pushing the organization, but what was their involvement beyond the tour? Where they donating time, money, people, or all three to the organization? This comment I wrote probably summed up my feelings the best:
I do want CRA to succeed. I want them to stand up for our personal property rights and freedoms to choose as adults. I just want them to tell me how. I don’t think that is too much to ask. I’ve been to a few political activism training sessions. One of the first things they tell you is “If you tell people you want to change something, you better be prepared to tell them how.”
A year later, I can now say that my concerns over Cigar Rights of America have been resolved, and I can fully support the organization.
Why I Support CRA Now
So what changed in CRA to get me to be a member? Two things.
1. An organizational structure with a grassroots support system
Last year, the CRA site did not have an organizational structure posted. Today, their structure is well defined on the About Us page along with biographies for the CRA Executive team of J. Glynn Loope (Executive Director) and Brian Berman (Director of Membership). The board of directors is also spelled out, and is comprised of 10 members who are either cigar manufacturers or owners of large retail establishments.
The second part of this, and the part that I think can have the most influence, is a grassroots system of CRA Ambassadors and retail tobacconists to bring the message to the smokers who aren’t like you and I (read: obsessed), and read blogs, participate in message boards, listen to podcasts, and get on Twitter. Cigar smokers are a minority of a minority. And the hardcore smokers who have heard of CRA so far are not necessarily the ones that need to be convinced that something must be done about the oppressive, Prohibition-like laws that are being pushed onto us. It’s your average smoker who buys a couple of sticks a week to smoke with his brother or best friend or golfing buddies. By bringing local retailers into the fold, they allow for the cigar smoker’s best friend, their tobacconist, to communicate with people on a one-to-one level that the Web, as wonderful a medium as it is, simply cannot do. The CRA Ambassador system takes this notion one step further. CRA Ambassadors are members of the organization who want to go that extra step, and really evangelize and promote CRA. Members can go onto the Web site and apply to become Ambassadors. This gives CRA dedicated people in each state to fight local and state legislation that would be harmful to our right as adults to choose, as well as provide another avenue to boost membership.
2. An improved Web site
Last year CRA’s site was jumbled, lacking information, and presented an image that, in my opinion, should have been avoided. The form to become a member wasn’t easy to find, and the credit card processing was not initially secure. I could not find the organizational structure or mission, as I mentioned earlier. The news page contained more stories about Europe and Asia than it did the United States. And the imagery used was not the face that I think should be projected. If you ask most people their image of a cigar smoker, they will describe some version of a middle-aged white man in a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex, sitting in the back room of his private country club and puffing on a 9 inch cigar laughing with his similarly attired friends while a comely waitress in a short skirt serves them extra-dry martinis. In the early days of CRA’s site, you’d find photos to that effect. Lots of older white men in their forties and fifties in tuxedos, and images on curvy women. Now, you will find a photo gallery comprised of user-submitted photos depicting the large cross section of the population that cigar smokers comprise: young and old, men and women, all races, and all socioeconomic levels. People too easily dismiss cigars as a rich man’s habit rather than an affordable luxury, and it’s important for non-smokers to see that before condemning cigar smokers without a second thought. The new gallery really helps push that new perception. The rest of the site has also been updated for the better. The mission is clearly spelled out, along with how pervasive anti-smoking regulations have become, and why we need to act now. The buttons to take you to the membership page are prominent and easy to find on every page. The news stories now focus on the U.S., and are even broken down by state so you can easily see what is affecting you on a local level. Contact information is displayed for easy reference. CRA Ambassadors and retail members can easily be looked up to inquire for more information. CRA has also expanded to social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. To fight the multi-headed beast that is anti-smoking legislation, you have to have an effective platform to coordinate your plan of attack, and the CRA Web site now provides that platform.
The march to 100,000…
After seeing all the changes over the past year of the organization, I can whole wholeheartedly endorse Cigar Rights of America. Some might say, “Why didn’t you support them from the beginning? Any new organization is going to have growing pains, and they could have used your support from the word go.” Quite frankly, I think we deserve better. Not just from organizations such as CRA, but from our elected officials and civil leaders. Too often we put our blind trust into people, believing that there are “better men for the job.” If we do not demand more from our leaders and ourselves, we will continue in the political stalemate that currently exists in this country, where better ideas and facts are too often shouted down by the wrong ideas and misinformation that are just presented longer and louder. We need to get our message out there. I believe CRA can help do that. So, please, go join Cigar Rights of America (right now, you even get 2 free cigars for joining), and help them reach their goal of 100,000 members, so that we may protect our personal freedom to smoke.
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