Civics and Beer
It’s wall-to-wall people inside the giant tent outside a bar in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen. A man near the back calls out “quiet!” and everyone turns to the giant screen, where a Clinton-Obama debate is resuming. It feels like a benefit – but is in fact a meeting of the wildly popular national politics-and-drinking club Drinking Liberally.
Politics just seems to go down better with a beer – or a shot of whiskey or a glass of Merlot. While pundits wring their hands over young-voter apathy, the Drinking Liberally movement has taken off. Left-leaning, young and hip, but not overtly partisan, it was founded by New Yorkers Jason Krebs and Matthew O’Neill in 2003, and claims 230 chapters nationwide.
“I don’t know what it is about bringing together people who like to drink and politics, but it works out great,” said Rachel Potucek, who started the Long Beach, C.A. chapter after tiring of dealing with traffic-clogged highways enroute to club meetings in Los Angeles.
Even the drinks can have political themes. A typical offering: “Impeached Bush,” a mixture of peach schnapps, vodka and pineapple juice.
Cincinnati chapter host Adam Bartel uses role-playing to attract members.
“Cincinnati’s a very, very conservative town, so we really just wanted our own little haven,” he said. “We had people almost playing characters, talking about their campaign’s position, and had people ask them questions, just to get people interested and get them aware of what’s going on.”
The Durango, CO chapter meets at a bar that plies the group with special $2 “Progressive Pints,” plus snacks. Two to three dozen people — college students, retirees, lawyers and writers– show up, a typical demographic across chapters, according to host Brandon Donahue.
Guest speakers, special events or primary night parties can pack a room.
Attendance at the Des Moines, Iowa chapter swelled just before the Iowa caucuses, as out-of-town campaign staffers and volunteers came in to unwind.
“Because we’re a national organization, we’re a great place for people who are new to town to meet others,” said Des Moines host Cassie Sampson.
The social aspect is key. Walt Dalsimer, 80 (not everyone is young) hosts the Lafayette, Indiana chapter. “I stress the age factor, because my wife and I retired to this area 14 years ago. We did not have a social group that we had gotten old with, so Drinking Liberally became our social group,” he said.
“It’s about being in a place where you can talk about politics, idealism, pragmatism – even religion – and still walk away as friends,” said Savannah, GA, chapter host McKay Schwalbach.
The group’s success spawned sibling organization with a different way of blowing off steam: Shooting Liberally.
Billed as a club “for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second,” Shooting Liberally is “arming progressives with a new hobby, or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have,” said Drinking Liberally co-founder Krebs. “Don’t worry,” he added reassuringly. “We won’t start drinking liberally until afterward.”