It was Tuesday night and lefty drug-reform warrior Roger Goodman's lecture on creating a regulated drug market in Seattle was blowing me away. (Goodman, an advocate for legalizing drugs, is director of the King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project.)
"In a conservative estimate, 50 percent of cases in our courts are drug related," Goodman said, "and 70 percent of our general funds go to criminal justice—75 percent in King County. Imagine what we could accomplish if we could reallocate those funds?"
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The beer was flowing and the crowd size got out of hand, so Goodman had to wrap up. I was disappointed to see the lecture end, and told the event organizer, Nicholas Beaudrot, so.
Beaudrot is the soft-spoken young man, who, since January 2005, heads up Drinking Liberally, a weekly event where liberals gather to drink and socialize and occasionally get an earful from smart people like Goodman.
As Goodman enraptured his audience, I had to admit that I was impressed with how seriously Drinking Liberally took their motto—"promoting democracy one pint at a time." There were pints, pitchers, burgers, and boisterous conversation crowding the table. After a time, Goodman just couldn't compete.
Talk at DL focuses on the wet dreams of liberal cranks. It's an arena for Democrats to share their ambitions with a receptive audience. Drink beer. Hone their arguments. Drink beer. Receive criticism from their peers. Drink beer.
My involvement in local politics petered out after I migrated from Idaho to Washington, so there was no better introduction to Seattle politics than this drinkfest with a pack of enthusiastic political geeks.
Each Tuesday at 8:00 p.m., a crowd of roughly 20 gathers at Montlake Ale House northeast of Capitol Hill, a cozy pub with wooden tables that can easily be stacked to make a "large, makeshift Norwegian banquet table" as the crowd filters in. Drinking Liberally has 127 chapters nationwide, and was founded in 2003 by two fed up New Yorkers, Justin Krebs and Matthew O'Neill. During the Republican National Convention in 2004, Drinking Liberally was introduced to the blogging community by Atrios and Daily Kos, and chapters began popping up all over the country. Seattle's chapter began toasting roughly 18 months ago.
"The point is to get people talking about politics in a social setting," Beaudrot explains. "Most of these guys are bloggers, and it's really great to have them rip themselves from their screens, if only once a week. It's as much a social event as it is an 'issues' event."
Seattle DL has a core group of about 15. Those I met at DL who didn't have blogs had campaign titles. I have neither.
Friendly regulars like Darryl Holman (a laid-back, middle-aged man who runs www.hominidviews.com) says Drinking Liberally holds great promise to attract crowds and fire them up about local politics. Everyone is eager to invite their friends. But lack of drive to get the word out has kept this event practically closed to the public for 18 months.
Drinking Liberally, like blogging, suffers from an insularity problem. Good blogs become reputable by linking and referencing each other or by word of mouth, while thousands of others passively wait for exposure. Similarly, Drinking Liberally has a cache of provocative liberals ready to stimulate those lucky enough to stumble in. The six or seven drifters like myself who weren't regulars were mostly friends of bloggers.
Women were also scarce. "Bring your lady friends!" men implored me. Out of the 25 or so liberal revelers, there were only two other women present, and one was under 10.
Without some new blood, DL could be dismissed as a good-old-boys club stuffed with bloggers and politicos who rehash what they've read and posted throughout the week.
Which is true, but not necessarily a bad thing. A handful of smart men with blogs and campaign connections equals incredible power over local politicians—which is why King County Executive Ron Sims, Representative Ed Murray, and Congressman Jim McDermott have all made time for a meet-and-greet with the group. But with a little advertising, DL could easily become a preferred conduit for liberal Seattleites to size up politicians.
Indeed, on my first night with DL, Darcy Burner, a 2006 Democratic hopeful for the 8th Congressional District, stopped by to cheerfully announce, "I need buzz." Several men grinned and wryly saluted her with their beers.
"Blogs get buzz in the media," Beaudrot said. "As a group, they carry weight. That's one of the reasons we can get local politicians here to talk and debate."
Bloggers have become the grassroots leaders of the internet world; mainstream media outlets often comb top blogs for stories. (Local blogger David Goldstein, a regular at DL, originally broke the national story about FEMA director Michael Brown's former relations with Arabian horses. His blog gets around 2,000 hits a day, almost all from within the state of Washington.)
Drinking Liberally is now challenged with turning the inherently insular world of blogs into the practical political-organizing world. They've taken the first step: barrooms and beer. Now they need to attract a wider audience.
"We need to make politics visible and available to people who don't have desk jobs, and who don't surf our blogs all day long," one blogger told me.
And attracting a weekly crowd of 20 to chat politics is certainly nothing to blush at. I approached Burner, who was talking to Goldstein, and introductions were made. I didn't get a chance to grill her on her tactics for spanking Republican incumbent Congressman Dave Reichert because my name wasn't even out of my mouth before she was recruiting me for her campaign.
"You should job shadow me!" Burner decided. "See what a day in my life is like! I'd put you to work."
She produced a business card and began scribbling on it. "Contact me anytime," she continued. "This has my e-mail address, website, work phone, and cell phone numbers. I could use the extra labor!"
This struck me as the kind of thing that should happen more often at DL. Burner had me pledging to both work and vote for her in five minutes flat. If Burner had more marks like me getting revved up by the beer and idealism, she could have left the place with her phone banking covered for a month. And, it seems like it's the kind of thing that can happen more often. Representative Jay Inslee showed up at DL the following week.
Every Tudesday at 8pm. 2307 24th Ave E. Just south of the Montlake Bridge (206) 726-5968