Drinking Liberally in Fayetteville

Ever make a comment at work about politics to a co-worker who you are positive will agree with you, only to find out that they couldn’t disagree more?

Yeah, that’s awkward.

These kinds of things happen all the time, and it goes both ways, but at least one group in town has found a way to avoid those types of situations, at least for a few hours a month.

Every other Tuesday, a group of like-minded individuals around Fayetteville get together at various watering holes around town, grab a frosty beverage, and talk politics. The group is called Drinking Liberally, and they are the Fayetteville branch of a national organization by the same name formed to provide a place for liberally-minded people to get together with other liberally-minded people in the most comfortable of settings (a bar) and talk about, well, whatever they want.

This week, the Fayetteville chapter of Drinking Liberally along with the UA Young Democrats will host a get-together at On the Rocks on West Avenue to celebrate the inauguration of Barrack Obama Tuesday, January 20th from 7:00-10:00 pm.

We got in touch with one of the organizers of the Fayetteville chapter of Drinking Liberally for some more info.

Fayetteville Flyer: So, what is Drinking Liberally?
DL: To borrow from the official line, Drinking Liberally is an informal, inclusive, progressive, social group for like-minded, left-leaning individuals. Justin Krebs and Matthew O’Neill founded the first chapter in May 2003 at Rudy’s Bar and Grill in New York. The organization went national in the summer 0f 2004. When Don Elkins and I founded the Fayetteville group in July 2006, the group had grown to more than 150 chapters. Today there are more than 300 chapters throughout all 50 states, including chapters in Washington, DC, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. At the moment, Fayetteville has the only chapter in Arkansas, though I’ve heard someone is looking to bring Drinking Liberally back to Little Rock.

The Fayetteville group gets together every other Tuesday at On The Rocks at seven o’clock. There are no membership requirements, no dues, nobody taking minutes or soliciting volunteers or contributions. We sit, we drink, and we talk. And not always about politics, though admittedly politics are the group’s focus. There’s no structure whatsoever. I had a friend tell me once she wanted to come, but she didn’t want to give a speech. There are no speeches. You’re not required to do anything. If you’d rather sit and listen than participate in the conversation, that’s perfectly fine.

A quick word on the name: We do not drink liberally, but the name lends itself to certain assumptions, and I often find myself explaining to people that this isn’t about finding an excuse to drink. We’re adults. I for one am an adult who likes good beer and better whiskey and can enjoy it all responsibly. So I do not need an excuse to drink. In fact, not everyone who attends even has a drink. One of our regulars never orders anything harder than Diet Coke. The group doesn’t promote a political agenda, either. Chapters are prohibited from endorsing parties, candidates, and issues. This is about providing a regular place and time for people to get together to share their thoughts, ideas, frustrations–whatever.

FF: About how many people make up the Fayetteville chapter? How many people on average are at each get-together?
DL: There are currently about 70 people on the chapter mailing list and about another 180 in the Facebook group, but only a fraction attend with any regularity, and most of those 250 people have never attended at all. There were only three of us last night, but attendance during colder months is lower, particularly in December and January. We probably average anywhere from six to twelve people. A lot of it depends on whether we have a guest speaker or some other special event planned. We’ve hosted events at the Clinton House that attracted twenty, twenty-five people, and we’ve co-hosted events with the UA Young Democrats that have had as many as a hundred. As for loyal, there-without-fail members, there are about six of us, with about a dozen frequent members and a fairly regular flow of new faces that come once or twice out of curiosity, or because a friend invited them.

FF: What are some hot topics for discussion lately?
DL: Since the election, we’ve talked a lot about the transition, where the last eight years have left us, how long the Obama honeymoon will last–things like that. We don’t always talk politics. We’ve talked a lot about football lately, especially now that we’re in the NFL playoffs.

FF: You guys are hosting an event next week celebrating the Inauguration of Barack Obama. Can you fill us in on the details?
DL: We’re co-hosting an event with the UA Young Democrats at On The Rocks. Things officially kick off at seven. There might be live music, we don’t know yet. We put this together at the last minute. If you’re on Facebook, you can check there for updates. You can also email fayetteville (at) drinkingliberally (dot) org with questions.

FF: In addition to providing a place for like-minded people to get together to discuss politics, how else can community organizations like Drinking Liberally make an impact in our local area?
DL: They can make a difference in any number of ways, whether they do nothing more than draw needed attention to a particular problem, or they work to collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. The Fayetteville Independent Business Alliance is working to encourage people to shop locally.

In an effort to keep things simple and informal, I haven’t tried to engage the local chapter in any community project. I think we do a good job of providing a nice, no-pressure, entry-level way of connecting with others, and we leave the option of using those connections to you. I’ve used the group as a networking opportunity, and I’ve received a few opportunities as a result.

FF: Tell us a little bit about Living Liberally. How can local business owners get involved, ie the Liberal Card, etc.?
DL: Living Liberally serves as the parent organization to seven groups: Drinking Liberally, Laughing Liberally, Screening Liberally, Reading Liberally, Eating Liberally, and (most recently) Crafting Liberally and Shooting Liberally. Living Liberally’s goal is to promote progressive politics through these social networks. (You can learn more at livingliberally.org.)

Living Liberally first offered The Liberal Card last year. Cardholders receive discounts and special offers through participating partners. No local businesses currently participate, but if any would like to do so, they can contact me at fayetteville (at) drinkingliberally (dot) org, and I can put them in touch with the right people.

Our next regularly-scheduled meeting will be Tuesday, January 27th. We’ll be giving 21st Amendment a try, so feel free to drop by.