2/22/2005

Promoting democracy, one pint at a time

From Mother Jones:
On the evening of President Bush's State of the Union Address in late January, a chalkboard sign outside Commonwealth, a bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn, advertised not drink specials but ... deception. It read: "Join us tonight to watch your president lie and distort on TV."
That night at Commonwealth saw the first ever meeting of the Park Slope chapter of Drinking Liberally, one of more than 50 organized gatherings nationwide of mostly young left-leaning types who meet weekly or monthly to drink, talk politics, share views, and get to know each other. "There is some important dialogue and idea development spawned each week," said 22-year-old Emily Farris, who coordinated the first Park Slope event and has attended many others in Manhattan. "There have also been some hook-ups, a few of which may or may not have included myself."
It all started in spring of 2003, when Justin Krebs and Matthew O'Neill, two New Yorkers in their mid-20s with a shared disgust at the Bush administration, the Iraq war, and the spineless media, were drinking at Rudy's, a notorious dive in midtown Manhattan. "We thought, there's got to be something we can do," said Krebs. "Then we realized that what we were doing right then and there: drinking could be the answer to what we wanted to accomplish."
They soon set up a Drinking Liberally happy hour at Rudy's, which has continued every Thursday night since.
One of the regular attendees at Rudy's, Andrew Hoppin, moved to San Francisco in the spring of 2004. He knew hardly anyone in the Bay Area and missed being plugged into a social network of people who shared his politics. So he emailed Justin Krebs with the idea of coordinating and collaborating to make Drinking Liberally a national event. In mid-July a second Drinking Liberally night kicked off in San Francisco with about 15 people in attendance.
Drinking Liberally hit it big last August, during the Republican National Convention in New York, when the bloggers Atrios and Kos got word of the group and introduced it to the blogosphere. Soon, Boise, Philadelphia, Columbus, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Boston and St. Louis set up chapters, and by Election Day, there were 17 nationwide.
Sobering as the election results were for liberals, Drinking Liberally hasn't suffered -- in fact, it's shown tremendous growth. There are now more than 50 chapters and bigger weekly turnouts since November 2 than before. (You can locate them at the DL web site, which also has a blog, forums, and a store selling t-shirts and buttons.) Crowds vary from just a few people when things just start up at a new venue, to events like the "Un-Augural Ball in Manhattan," where a few hundred people attended to commiserate over Bush's swearing in. (Proceeds, which topped $1000, went to Tsunami relief.)
While there is no specific agenda other than for participants to get together and network, the connections that have been forged have inspired action. The Boston chapter organized phone-banking nights for Kerry during the election and is getting involved in a special election for a state legislative seat that recently opened up. Three members of the Indianapolis chapter have become local precinct captains as a result of a discussion during a weekly meeting. During the Republican convention, the Houston chapter lent their support to a group rallying in front of the local Republican office against the incarceration of protestors. (The office happened to be next door to the bar where they were drinking.) The New York chapter has brought in city and state politicians, including New York City Council speaker and 2005 NYC Democratic mayoral hopeful, Gifford Miller, to mingle with the crowd.
Even Terry McAullife, the outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman, recognized the potential of Drinking Liberally when he recently invited Krebs to Washington to take part in a gathering of young people to help figure out ways to mobilize young voters for the future. After hearing a description of what Drinking Liberally was, McAuliffe told Krebs that he was interested in attending one himself.
So, what's next for Drinking Liberally? The Boston chapter has created a monthly book club called Reading Liberally. There's talk of a New York karaoke night to be called Singing Liberally. In Portland, Oregon, during their first meeting, everyone was so generous with the bill, they thought would be nice to help the local economy and left a 50 percent tip -- so perhaps a Spending Liberally is on the way. But for now, Drinking Liberally seems to be the right combination of politics and pleasure. ("Promoting democracy," their slogan reads, "one pint at a time.")
At a time of Democratic soul searching and talk of reviving the grassroots, movements like Drinking Liberally can't be taken for granted. "The religious right has their church socials -- progressives deserve potato salad too," said Elena Levin, coordinator for the Williamsburg chapter. "Activism and community building shouldn't be like pulling teeth. People should enjoy making that happen. That's why Drinking Liberally works."

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