Carolyn Dechaine is the co-host (with Jim Girard) of the Santa Fe chapter of Drinking Liberally, which meets the second and fourth Thursday of each month at Il Vicino (321 W. San Francisco St.,
SFR: How did you get involved with Drinking Liberally?
I started going to meetings in the summer of 2005. The Santa Fe chapter hadnï¿½t been going on long at that point, and I was one of the more vocal members. So when the leaders moved away they asked Jim [Girard] and I if weï¿½d take over. Itï¿½s been about a year.***image1***
What exactly happens at a Drinking Liberally meeting?
Drinking Liberally is on a political discussion salon format. Itï¿½s really casual; itï¿½s a social thing. The purpose is to create engagements. Weï¿½ve been very Santa Fe laid back in our structuring of it. People come and get into whatever they want to get into. For awhile we tried to have a little more structure and to let people take the floor for five or 10 minutes if they wanted to. We still do that if people ask for that, but the looser format seems to work better for everyone.
Which issues are more popular, the local ones or the national ones?
That shifts over time. Iï¿½m interested, personally, in local politics, which is where Iï¿½m most involved. But we have some regular members who are bloggers and are really looking to come talk to people face to face about national issues. Certainly since the presidential campaign has been underway national issues have been dominant.
Why didnï¿½t you guys endorse one of the candidates?
Drinking Liberally is a national organization, with 232 chapters around the country, and weï¿½re all under this umbrella of Drinking Liberally. Even though each chapter varies, the purpose is to create a place where people can come talk to like-minded people. So itï¿½s like a piece of a personï¿½s overall political life. Itï¿½s the piece thatï¿½s about discourse and so a lot of us may work on a candidateï¿½s campaign, and come and talk passionately about that candidate or whatever issues an activist works on, but itï¿½s just about fleshing out ideas. Drinking Liberally becomes a place to work on specific ideas, in a way that it wouldnï¿½t be if it had a specific agenda, action or goal.
So is it a place mostly for activists?
Oh no. You donï¿½t have to be an activist or a big-time politico to come. We certainly have some people who know every issue inside and out. But we work to make it a place where people who have an inkling that theyï¿½d like to be more politically aware can come.
It sounds like itï¿½s also a place where people who donï¿½t know a lot about local and national politics can come to be educated.
Absolutely. Though I donï¿½t know how educated you would end up becoming, because youï¿½d have a plurality of random peopleï¿½s opinions. Itï¿½s not like a seminar or a debate; itï¿½s a friendly atmosphere, but the people are so knowledgeable that itï¿½s impossible not to learn something.
What do you think drives people to come back?
Some people come because they want to have a place to practice their articulation of their political point of view. Others come because they have some philosophical question thatï¿½s needling at them underneath, some political issue. Some come because theyï¿½ve been reading the blogs all day and they just need some flesh-and-blood contact with other people who are on the same page. There are so many reasons.
Have you ever had anyone who labels himself a conservative show up to join the debate?
[Laughs] I think it would be very interesting. All viewpoints are welcome. But no, we havenï¿½t had that happen yet. That would be fascinating though. We do get people from a lot of different parties, though. Greens, Independents, people who donï¿½t label themselves with any particular party. Certainly even between Democrats there is a wide range of views. I actually think thatï¿½s one of the ideas behind the organization as a social discussion format. One of the pitfalls for Democrats has been that there is so much diversity within the party. Sometimes different sections of the party have particular issues that donï¿½t align well with the rest of the party. I think itï¿½s a healthy thing for liberals to have a format where people who are passionate about different aspects of being a liberal can get together and find out about each otherï¿½s point of view; to have a place to hash out conflicts within the safety of knowing that everyone there is at least on the same liberal page.
How do you think the group will change if a Democrat is elected president?
Well, first there will be a lot of celebrating. Thereï¿½s a lot of work to be done. Getting a Democrat into office is vital, but it is only the first step. I really see that development as really adding energy and invigorating the group. I think it will inspire people to get more involved and really be a stepping-off point for people who havenï¿½t felt empowered in the past.