Drinking for good: How to raise a glass while rallying around a cause

With events like Green Drinks and Equity Drinks, there's a growing opportunity to gather in a convivial atmosphere in support of a common cause. Get to know some smart happy hours in West Michigan in this week's feature on how raising a glass can benefit our community.
In-depth discussions and alcohol have long gone hand in hand, but it wasn’t until there was an obvious disconnect between local activists in a few common causes that “drinking for good” caught on in Grand Rapids. Now there's more than one way in town to raise a glass while supporting a cause that's close to your heart.
Green Drinks started in 2008. (We) were ruminating about how the sustainability space was really active in GR, but we would just go to all of these meetings and be part of all of these agendas and discussions. We wouldn't really get to know people in a way that’s really authentic,” explains Rachel Hood, executive director of West Michigan Environmental Action Council (WMEAC), a nonprofit organization that works to educate and advocate for the protection of West Michigan’s natural resources and quality of life.
Green Drinks is a worldwide movement, but the monthly events planned by WMEAC bring together attendees who are interested in environmental activism in West Michigan. Hood says that although attendees do not necessarily always stay on topic, some interesting results have come from Green Drinks events. “(There is a) breaking down industry barriers,” she says, “where the landscape architect can interact with the furniture designer and share design practice and inform each other.”
The business community finds benefit from Green Drinks as well. “It’s an interesting cultural melting pot between the environmental advocacy community and the sustainable business community,” Hood says. “The business community needs the advocates to push the policy so that the policy then allows for business development.”
Bringing stakeholders together for drinks has also helped Jeremy Moore, from Spectrum Health, and Rebeca Velazquez-Publis, from Healthnet of West Michigan, in their efforts to advance equity in Grand Rapids. Equity Drinks is a repeated event held at various supportive locations around the city.
Like Green Drinks, Equity Drinks started as a way to develop stronger relationships between those already working on the cause. “There were a couple of opportunities there, and one was to bring people together not only in the racial equity space, but across all equity spaces,” explains Moore. “Sometimes it’s focused on gender equity, or sometimes it's focused on LGBT equity or racial equity. We thought it was a good way, space, time, and place to be able to do something like this.”
Equity Drinks attendees find many benefits from the events. Velazquez-Publis explains, “It creates a safe space to have those conversations among their peers or people who are doing like work or similar work. They are able to practice these conversations, so when they are in the community they know how to have them. It’s sort of an informal learning, and an informal networking.”
Cook Arts Center’s Program Director, Steffanie Rosalez, attended an Equity Drinks event and found that she was most impressed by meeting “people who are working towards equity in different areas, like racial equity, income equity, gender equality. All of those different worlds were converged.” After having a few valuable, in-depth conversations, Rosalez describes Equity Drinks as “one of those things where you feel like ‘I’m with my people. Everyone here sort of gets it. We’re all working together.’ Sometimes that Grand Rapids feels really small can be annoying, but in that scenario it felt small in that we could actually make a difference if we work together.”
Neither Green Drinks nor Equity Drinks benefit financially from these events. It’s all about gathering people together in a comfortable, convival setting to support their cause. Hood hopes that the events gain new members for WMEAC, while Moore and Velazquez-Publis hope to create a safe space to connect anyone interested working toward equity in Grand Rapids. While Green Drinks intentionally remains without format, Equity Drinks offers conversation starters and makes deliberate efforts to introduce people to one another. Both groups explain that there is plenty of room for networking amongst attendees as well. “A lot of people come looking for jobs, and a lot of times they find pathways to work through the networks and the relationships there,” says Hood.
Green Drinks and Equity Drinks are not alone in their mindset. Other organizations are also organizing opportunities for their supporters to have drinks with one another. LINC Community Revitalization Inc. offers First Fridays, using music, visual art, and spoken word poetry to bring their community together on the southeast side, and the newer Third Fridays , which focus more on connecting members of the Latino community. The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce hosts Politics and Pints, which brings together members and elected officials. Handlebar Happy Hour, hosted by the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, brings cycling enthusiasts together, and Harmony Brewing Company recently offered Pub Theology on Monday evenings. So if we're Beer City, USA, maybe those pints are serving a larger purpose when they're raised in support of these kinds of important conversations. Cheers!
 Photography by Adam Bird
Lorena Slager Wenzel is a freelance writer and the owner of The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand. She also co-founded and currently sits on the board for the Creative Youth Center, a non profit creative writing center for at risk kids in Grand Rapids. More of her work can be read at www.with-both-feet.com.
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