Early last week, Allison Lane hid in a stranger’s house while fleeing D.C. police who were using a “kettling” maneuver to trap protesters they had pushed to Swann Street NW. By the time Lane, a recently unemployed bartender, left at 6 a.m. the next morning, she had a bunch of new Twitter followers and a conviction to do as much as she could to support the social justice movement surging across the country in response to police officers using lethal force on black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
About 72 hours after she live-tweeted the events of that tense night that became national news, Lane pulled together a board of five colleagues to form Bartenders Against Racism. By the following weekend’s protests, the new organization had collected about 50 volunteers aiding in “supply-tending” sites to distribute food, water, medical supplies, and phone chargers. Lane says the organization has a board of 10 core people now and is working on establishing its 501(c)(3) status as a tax-exempt nonprofit. On Saturday, June 13, the organization is promoting protests that start at the the MLK Memorial, Malcolm X Park, and the Takoma Metro station.
“I just really thought it was important to use the platform that I’ve now received from something that’s honestly a pile of shit and make it into something that’s honestly beautiful,” Lane says, explaining she wants to “use it as fertilizer.”
I’m at a house in DC after being pepper sprayed and knocked down by the police. There are about 100 of us in a house surrounded by cops. All the neighbors on this street opened their doors and are tending to protesters. The cops corralled us on this street and sprayed us down.— Allison Lane (@allieblablah) June 2, 2020
Lane, 34, says she was laid off from her bartending job at the Eaton Hotel last week. She was also bartending at the Anthem, the concert venue on the Southwest Waterfront, and helped open high-end Spanish-Japanese restaurant Cranes right before the COVID-19 pandemic reached D.C. She was mulling a return to school to study marketing, but she feels like leading Bartenders Against Racism might actually mark a new career path. She has also been a podcaster for the past nine years, hosting a weekly “advice and wisdom” show called Wild and Wonderful that’s recorded at the Line hotel in Adams Morgan. She bills herself as a “D-list D.C. celebrity.”
“I was planning on going back this week, but then I started a nonprofit, so we’ll see what happens,” she says.
Supply-tending is the first step to establishing an organization that will push the hospitality industry to adopt change in how black employees are treated.
“Our next initiative is to really focus on how we can address racism in the hospitality industry, starting in D.C.,” Lane says. “We’ve all experienced it in some form, not just by guests, but definitely by employers who are not giving us opportunities for development and training.”
Lane, who holds a degree in psychology, says she also wants the organization to advocate for undocumented hospitality workers who have been ineligible for unemployment benefits and to address the health issues that a largely uninsured workforce faces.
She thinks bartenders are well-suited to support protests because they’re skilled de-escalators who have to approach their jobs with empathy to be successful. She also says bartenders build community with networks of regulars to whom they’re now looking for donations and volunteer hours.
“I think we’re excellent agents for change,” Lane says.