Liberal libations
New Durango group promotes democracy one pint at a time

SideStory: Drinking liberally

An attendee of last month’s “Drinking Liberally” gathering takes a break from conversation to partake in a sip from his pint. The monthly gathering to discuss free-wheeling democratic ideas meets monthly in Durango at Joels but has chapters all over the country./Photo by David Halterman

by Katie Clancy

It’s a no brainer that a couple of PBRs will heat-up any political debate. Dating all the way back to the ancient Greek symposia, humans have regularly gathered in dim democratic havens (i.e. bars) to discuss the rise and demise of the politically powerful.

But only one group has gone to the extent of giving these casual conversations an official name. They call it Drinking Liberally. Their slogan: Promoting democracy one pint at a time. Now, with more 212 chapters in 44 states, the political mixer is growing into a national phenomenon.

It all started just before the 2004 election, when it seemed that liberals needed a drink the most. A small think tank of socially conscious Democrats – like Emmy-award winning journalist Mathew O’Neil and Justin Kreb (visionary of the PBS youth voting series “Speak up New York!”) – gathered in a dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, to throw around ideas about what they thought “Democrats needed to be saying.”

“It felt as though the politicians, press and public were giving conservative cons a free pass,” Krebs wrote on “You don’t need to be a policy expert, and it isn’t a book club – just come and learn from peers, trade jokes, vent frustration and hang out in an environment where it’s not taboo to talk politics.”

Now, three years later, Durango has caught onto the trend (although it is not yet listed as one of the 12 Colorado chapters.)

Once a month, just around the time the bars on Main start shaking those happy hour martinis and the train’s last dwindling fumes dissolve into the dusk, progressive politics has a place to ignite – Joel’s bar.

“We’re talking about revolution in here,” Brandon Donahue, Durango’s chapter head organizer, said during the August mixer. “Americans in general don’t talk or think things through. If we can come together and inspire dialogue about important issues, we are on the right track toward positive change.”


An eclectic handful of democrats, Durango City Council members, business owners, professors and students gathered last month to join the informal political banter. Curious and thirsty, they stuck nametags on their shirts and shook hands next to the fishbowl of official “Drinking Liberally” pins (you can order all the paraphernalia off of the website.)

So far, it’s been the Democratic Party in Durango that has been the mixer’s main advertiser. Its mass e-mails inform the county’s registered Democrats about the monthly gathering. According to recent records, there are 7,810 active Democrats in La Plata County.

But what about the rest of the 8,439 registered Republicans and 7, 544 unaffiliated voters? How do those hippies and cow folk catch wind of the activity? Sponsors like the Open Shutter Gallery and Alternative Horizons help spread the word about the mixer and a different nonprofit organization serves as the official sponsor each month, publicizing the event as well as information about their own organizations.

“It’s really about networking and building bridges,” said Stacy Kellogg, Alernative Horizons’ representative, as she passed flyers and pens around the bar last month. “This is a chance to stimulate different viewpoints. It is the seed that will sprout into a tree and branch out into the rest of the state and country.” As long as you can afford a beer and are willing to forget your typical lets-swap-sweet-backcountry-trails conversation, consider yourself invited.

They may be heavy drinkers, and even (gasp!) self-proclaimed liberals – but don’t assume they’re Democrats.

“This is a nonpartisan group!” shouted a lanky man from the corner of the bar after a woman inquired about the Democrat meeting.

Colorado traditionally votes conservative, but Durango has a more diverse voting pool. Donahue stressed the group’s inclusive environment. “This is a place where both ends of the political spectrum can come together to discuss common issues,” he said.

According to David Wegner, the most pertinent political issues revolve around health care costs, Durango’s skyrocketing cost of living, and the environment.

“The 2008 election will be the most important election in the nation’s history,” Wegner said. “It’s vital we get the vote out. Just think: In a year from now, we will be rolling in the election full bore.”

Throughout the meeting, conversations centered on U.S. Congressman John Salazar’s refusal to support the Desert Rock power plant proposal, a movie recommendation for an environmental documentary entitled “Manufactured Landscapes,” and the Democratic candidates for next year’s election.

“As long as they don’t rig the election again, the Democrats have some really strong candidates,” Susan Dahl said. “Can’t say the same for the Republicans.”



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