538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal
by Shai Sachs, Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 08:56:26 PM EDT
What does it take to be a liberal? Do you need to read the New York Times every morning? Drink shade-grown, fair-trade, organic coffee at your local worker-owned coffee shop every afternoon? Follow a strictly vegan diet? Raise your children in a sex-positive, gender-neutral, non-authoritarian environment? If you've ever been a liberal, voted for a liberal, or hung around other liberals, chances are you've rubbed shoulders with one of these lifestyle choices, or their close cousins. Chances are, you've probably heard snide remarks about these kinds of things - whether from your conservative friends or self-deprecating liberals. In fact, it wasn't that long ago when being a liberal was a lonely hobby in many parts of the country.
That was why, in 2003, Justin Krebs and Matt O'Neill founded the first chapter of Drinking Liberally, a politically-themed drinking club that met once a week at Rudy's, a little neighborhood joint in Hell's Kitchen. Their humble goal was to encourage their pals, their neighbors, and anyone else who happened to stop by, to feel comfortable discussing politics in a social situation, and to get involved in politics. Seven years later, Drinking Liberally has grown far beyond its humble intentions. There are hundreds of Drinking Liberally groups across the country (and a few across the globe). There are Reading Liberally book clubs, Screening Liberally film clubs, and Eating Liberally cooking clubs.
Of course, there are many ways to live out your liberal values besides joining a Drinking Liberally or Reading Liberally group. In fact, there are at least 538 Ways to Live, Work, and Play Like a Liberal, according to Krebs. This book isn't just a laundry-list of tasks to complete on the road to becoming some sort of ideal liberal, though. Instead, it's a creative look at liberalism, a manual for community-oriented fun, and a great way to turn an abstract political ideology into a vibrant and enriching way of life.
538 Ways breaks down its daunting list of liberal lifestyle choices in a handful of chapters, encompassing Everyday Life, Work, Play, Learning, Spending, and Acting. The breadth of suggestions is a striking testimony to the breadth of the liberal worldview. You can live liberally by inviting a neighbor over for dinner, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, investing in a socially-responsible mutual fund, or raising your children in a religion which emphasizes gender equality, to name just a few approaches.
What's particularly great about the book is its emphasis that you don't have to do it all to be a liberal. Indeed, the book suggests all sorts of mutually-contradictory steps you can take - like driving a hybrid car and using public transportation - that would make that impossible. Too often, liberals are bombarded with pressure to check off every imaginable alternative-lifestyle-choice under the sun. Forget that!
Krebs highlights the messy, chaotic, dizzyingly entertaining world-view that is liberalism. One bit I found particularly amusing was his re-telling of the founding of Reading Liberally, the book club program that started as an appendage to Drinking Liberally. At first, the Drinking Liberally crew thought they could have a "book of the month" that every Reading Liberally book club would read once a month. The chapter hosts (including, if memory serves properly, yours truly) rebelled against this tyrannical, top-down approach, instead insisting on the freedom to choose their own books each month. Those same chapter hosts soon learned that turnabout as fair play; in several cities the book club members rebelled against the top-down insistence that everyone in the club read the same book every month. That's liberalism in a nutshell - creative, independent, and utterly unpredictable.
The book also has a lot of great suggestions for anyone who likes to read books, listen to music, or watch movies. It's peppered with lists of the great liberal classics, ranging from Chuck D to The Shock Doctrine. Even the most seasoned and dyed-in-the-wool liberal will find a few things hear she hasn't heard of before.
Best of all, the book includes some helpful tips that might make you a bit healthier, wealthier, or friendlier. It's not that difficult to bring an extra thermos of coffee in to the office, but who among us has stopped to think about it? In an age when jumbo-sized McBanks have the run of the marketplace, patronizing a small local bank or credit union might just help keep you financially solvent. And staying away from red meat - even just one day a week - could help you lead a long a nd health life.
Having been a liberal for as long as I can remember, I enjoyed 538 Ways tremendously. It was a great reminder of why I'm a liberal in the first place - because liberalism is simply a more enjoyable, more connected, more exciting wordldview and way of life than its narrow and stingy conservative cousin. Pick up this book, and then pass it along to your partner, or your co-worker, or your neighbor - and then start a Reading Liberally book club (or, if you live near Boston, join us this Wednesday) to discuss it!
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Skyhorse Publishing. Justin Krebs and I went to college together, and I am the host of Drinking Liberally Boston.
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