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September 15, 2005 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-15

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T AiN ARBOR EssA-r
Drinking Liberally
The progressives go to the pubs
By Jason Z. Pesick, Editor in Chief

Drinking Liberally member Emily Sickler enjoys a cold beverage at Ann
Arbor Brewing Company on E. Washington.

T e conventional wisdom among young Ann
Arbor progressives is that the last few months
have been good for their local movement. To
many Michigan residents, a progressive revival in
Ann Arbor might seem like a revival of the profit
motive at Wal-Mart - utterly redundant. In most of
the state, the city has a reputation of being a liberal
stronghold. Its association with the University only
strengthens that connection in many Michiganders'
minds.
But many young Ann Arborites think the people
who run the city see the University's students as a
threat to their property values, not the source of
their town's vibrancy. As these progressives tell the
story, things may have begun to change this sum-
mer. In a piece in the summer Michigan Daily, the
Washington-based former Ann Arbor blogger and
former Michigan Daily writer Rob Goodspeed
wrote, "Conditions are ripe for a perfect storm that
could revolutionize Ann Arbor politics."
This summer saw the near victory of a student can-
didate for City Council in the Democratic primary.
A group called the New West Side Association also
formed to represent renters' interests in the city. In
addition, in June 2004, a website called arborup-
date.coin launched, and it has quickly become one
of the best sources of information for all things Ann
Arbor. Now, these like-minded townies have their
own quasi-social, drinking club.
Two weeks ago, an Ann Arbor chapter of a nation-
wide confederation called Drinking Liberally had
its first gathering at the Ann Arbor Brewing Com-
pany. (The next get-together is tonight at 8 at ABC.)
Drinking Liberally's website www.drinkingliber-
ally.org calls the group "an inclusive Democratic
drinking club."
According to the website, there are 96 chapters in
39 states and Washington, D.C. About 20 people,
mostly Rackham twentysomethings, showed up at
ABC, and every one of them was still a little miffed
that John Kerry isn't the president.
Drinking Liberally isn't intimately tied to the
New West Side Association or Arbor Update, but
it's similar because it is largely a reaction to con-
servative progress - only on a national level rather
than in Ann Arbor. John Redmond, a graduate
student working toward a doctorate in mechanical
engineering, started the chapter.
Redmond is not the stereotypical left-wing activ-
ist. He's not even a nostalgic former Howard Dean
supporter, like so many of the other former Dean
for America and current Democracy for American
members who came. Redmond grew up in Farm-
ington Hills and went to high school at Detroit
Country Day. He supported the Gore campaign
but became more interested in politics in college,
when the Bush administration took over and began
to take the country to the right.
Redmond said Drinking Liberally can help like-
minded people make connections in a social context
and then translate those connections into the politi-
cal arena. "It takes an activity we'd do anyways and
makes it more productive," he told me a few days
ago.
The conversation that first night wasn't stilted
- partly because Redmond had some of his friends

Drinking Liberally isn't intimately
tied to the New West Side Associa-
tion or Arbor Update, but it's similar
because it is largely a reaction to
conservative progress - only on
a national level rather than in Ann
Arbor.
come in case no one showed up - but it also wasn't
only about politics. Occasionally, someone would
try to shift the conversation into the political realm,
but rarely did anyone take the bait. Even though
Drinking Liberally is a "Democratic drinking club,"
many of the people who showed up seemed to feel
awkward talking about politics.
Instead, the conversation focused on what the
group would talk about at future meetings, where
those meetings should be, how The Michigan Daily
works, the ability of alcohol to provide "social
lubrication" and of course, the Internet. Well, not
just the Internet, but blogs, forums, websites, RSS
feeds, podcasts and some form of video podcast that
sounded interesting.
The conversation was esoteric, but not when
people were talking about politics (Although one
person did mention Howard Wolpe, the Demo-
cratic party's 1994 candidate for governor.). The
conversation was the most difficult to follow when
it turned to technology, which seemed to be every-
one's true passion.
It shouldn't be surprising that the people who
showed up like the Internet. A number of them are
former Deaniacs, and it was the Dean campaign
that brilliantly utilized the Internet to bolster its
success. Even the older attendees, including the 49-
year-old Washtenaw County Clerk and Register of
Deeds Larry Kestenbaum, participate in a number
of online communities.
In fact, the relaxed structure of these Internet
communities is similar to the atmosphere preva-
lent at the meeting and similar to Drinking Liber-
ally's nonhierarchical structure. The organization
is a social club for liberals, not an activist organi-
zation with an agenda. Redmond himself told me
members will not be making calls or knocking on
doors.
This model makes a lot of sense in red states; if
you live in Alabama and you're a liberal, you might
not want to talk politics with the regulars at the
local bar. But in Ann Arbor, finding like-minded
people to have a beer with isn't really a- problem.
Especially if you're looking to kvetch about George
Bush, finding someone who will agree with you is
not difficult.
Finding a young Ann Arbor liberal who has any
interest in local politics, though, is difficult. Given
that the challenge for Ann Arbor's young progres-
sives is to get the city to stop picking on students
and younger residents, Drinking Liberally could fill
a much-needed function in the city: It could help
those younger residents connect so that they can
take on the city's bigwigs together.

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