Since the Civil Rights era, Americans have generally agreed that it’s wrong for establishments to wantonly discriminate against their clientele, be it on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Businesses are supposed to serve the public, not draw arbitrary lines between different groups of people. Even in cases where such discrimination is legal, it is frowned upon and rightfully punished by consumers choosing not to patronize the offending bigots. All that changed in 2020, though, when discrimination was not only encouraged, but mandatory.
In a deeply misguided attempt to combat the COVID-19 virus, Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser, along with her counterparts in most other major cities, required business owners to deny access to any customers not proven to be vaccinated against the disease. At any other time in history, with any other virus, this would have been unthinkable. Imagine the reaction to a restaurant that refused to serve customers with HIV or herpes. The backlash against such a policy would have been instantaneous, and absolutely justified on the grounds that your medical status is a deeply personal thing that is nobody else’s business. Yet, such was the state of panic, egged on by an incessant fear-mongering media, that people not only accepted this invasion of privacy in the case of COVID, but actually welcomed it. At least, most people did.
Enter Eric Flannery, an affable, apolitical veteran who wanted nothing more than to serve good food and drink to his local community via his bar and restaurant, The Big Board, located on H Street in northeast DC. Eric was no ideologue or rabble-rouser. He harbored no conspiracy theories about COVID, and he took the virus as seriously as anyone else. At first he went along with every rule the city government threw at him, but when he was told that he would have to check vaccination records before admitting his loyal customers to his bar, he decided to take a stand.
As stands go, this wasn’t exactly the Boston Tea Party, the Gunpowder Plot, or the Killdozer. It didn’t involve any property damage or threats against public officials. All Eric did was write a tweet, declaring simply that “Everyone is welcome.” He would not close his doors to anyone based on their medical status.
That phrase, “Everyone is Welcome” is the title of Free the People’s latest documentary, telling the story of Eric’s decision to resist the mayor’s mandate, and his struggle against the full might of the city government that ensued.
For his policy of inclusion, Eric was rewarded by losing everything he had built. His restaurant was shut down, all his business permits revoked, and numerous fines levied against him. Still, in spite of everything, he remained steadfast in his refusal to discriminate, and dedicated to keeping his staff employed even at the cost of his life savings. It was only when Robert Alt of The Buckeye Institute agreed to represent Eric in a lawsuit against the city of Washington that Eric began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Everyone is Welcome had its world premiere at the Anthem Film Festival this summer, followed by an in-person screening in Washington, DC, but unless you happened to attend one of those events, there’s so far been no way to see the full story, until now. It’s important to Free the People that as many people as possible hear about what Eric has been through, and the lengths to which his government went to punish what should be the obvious and humane position of any public-facing business. Everyone should be welcome, always and everywhere. That’s why we’re releasing the full movie for free, on YouTube and Twitter.
Be sure to watch Everyone is Welcome and remember to let us know what you think in the comments.
We’re so proud to be the ones to tell this story, and to highlight the actions of brave men like Eric. In 2020, he stood alone, but the next time the government tries to strip us of our basic freedoms, we’re hoping that he will serve as an inspiration for others to follow his lead. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Now we have the opportunity to learn from the good man who did something.