The political climate can be difficult for many to navigate, now more than ever. There’s a plethora of information and misinformation muddled with high-tension discussions on social media and beyond. For many, we might just be wondering what it is we can do on a local level to engage with our neighbors and make an impact, or at the very least feel empowered to make educated decisions.
That’s where Adult Civics Happy Hour (ACHH) comes in.
When asked what ignited it all, Realtor and podcast host of Move To Tacoma, Marguerite Martin, says, “I had a goal for Move To Tacoma after Trump was elected to educate and empower local voters. Everyone was so low and there were going to be a bunch of City Council seats and the mayor up for election in 2017. I told Erik Hanberg, (Metro Parks Commissioner) and Nate Bowling (Washington State Teacher of the Year) that I wished I could take Nate’s government class because I’d forgotten everything I’d learned in high school. I didn’t even know how many City Council seats there were. So, we talked about a Things You Should Have Learned in High School Civics class over beers, and that eventually became the first ACHH.”
While each ACHH is unique in terms of the chosen topic for the month, they all have a similar set up. Nate Bowling serves as moderator of a panel of professionals who come from several fields, and the panel tackles relevant issues affecting communities both locally and globally. Topics have included everything from immigration, to rent prices, to policing. What makes the gatherings so approachable is the lure of a happy hour ambiance.
Martin says, “We want to get people educated and civically engaged who care for their neighbors and global issues on a local level.” They even provide a “jargon-free zone” and a shame bell is rung when a member of the panel uses verbiage that can feel intimidating or unapproachable. Furthermore, the gathering is unique in its approach to social media. Each discussion is also livestreamed online, and both in-house audience members and those watching from home are encouraged to use the hashtag ACHH253 on Twitter to keep a dialogue open and ask questions.
While Martin, Hanberg and Bowling are major players, the team is comprised of several others who contribute to logistics and execution.
Martin explains, “Our roles kind of shift. We choose topics and panelists collaboratively. Nate moderates. Matt Martinez is a part of the group. Lindsey Stevens and Hope Teague Bowling run the questions in person and from Twitter during the event (as well as manage the shame bell that gets rung if anyone gets too jargon-y). Doug Mackey does all the A/V and Adam Wygle of Bootstrapper Studios is in charge of the Facebook livestream.”
The reception of these events has been phenomenal. Though they are typically free to attend, RSVP is required and all sell out within hours of being announced online. Which is a good indication just how valuable of a resource these discussions are when addressing issues highlighted. ACHH has not only enlightened community members, but served as a starting point for other projects and collaborations, including Channel 253 and podcasts Citizen Tacoma and Nerd Farmer with Nate Bowling.
In closing, Erik Hanberg adds, “The most important thing, I think, coming from Adult Civic Happy Hour is seeing people who are motivated to get involved in new ways, to meet other people interested in making a change, and to learn about local government and the most important issues affecting our area. And it’s fun!”