Monday, September 17, 2012
Drink for Democracy combines happy hour and civic duty
The organizer wants more people to vote. If they do, they can drink for cheap at select locations.
DALLAS Here's something Dallas’ young Republicans and Democrats can drink to: a discounted happy hour on the patio at DISH in celebration of exercising one's civic duty. That's exactly why Rupal Dalal established Drink for Democracy, a growing city-wide event in its inaugural year.
The premise is simple: Visit a polling place between October 22 and 27, scan the official Drink for Democracy QR code (or snap a photo with the sign, if you don’t own a smart phone), and pick up a wristband at DISH for access to great deals at participating restaurants and bars.
An SMU alumna and vocal citizen, Dalal is deeply invested in Dallas. Both of her parents are small business owners; her father established Art of Old India in 1974, and Dalal, who received her MBA last year, now helps manage the store. While she and husband, Ron Rodenberg, each work full-time jobs, Dalal wants to make a palpable difference in local elections and in the city’s general spirit toward voting.
“When we went to vote in the primaries last May, I was so frustrated,” she says. “It was a Saturday afternoon, and when my husband and I signed in, we were numbers 4 and 5 on the list.”
While Dalal had heard statistics about low voter turnout, the tangible evidence there was troubling. “I just couldn’t quit talking about it all that afternoon,” she says, “And, I realized it really is true. You can’t just complain. You need to try to make a difference.”
Having studied entrepreneurship, Dalal says that she often has ideas for similar projects, but Drink for Democracy is the first that catalyzed in such a way. Rodenberg was immediately on board, and he has built the group’s website from scratch. Friends Dana Centola and Scott Shell soon joined to help with PR and graphic design.
Online, Drink for Democracy will function as a research tool, providing rules and details about voting in Texas; "adamantly non-partisan" information about candidates; links to official campaign sites and social media; information regarding any fines and lawsuits; and party affiliation, with a “hide” function.
“We hope it will encourage people to move away from straight party tickets, to really look at the issues and the candidates," Dalal says. "Some of these local elections are won by a hundred or so votes. If we reach a hundred people and organize information in a way that is accessible to them, that might have a real and lasting effect on our neighborhoods and city."
With the website up and constantly updated, Dalal then began cold calling restaurants, hoping for even a handful of responses. She set out a multi-page business plan with spreadsheets and statistics, and was able to entice DISH and Zini’s Pizzeria to participate. As of right now, events include a happy hour from 4-6 p.m. at DISH on October 27 and ongoing deals at Zini's throughout the early voting period, but Dalal hopes to secure deals with at least two more restaurants so that participants have a choice in a variety of neighborhoods.
With a staunch attention to detail, Dalal worked diligently to ensure that the organization complies with all rules. As Starbucks learned in recent years, it is illegal to incentivize voting (and the coffee chain was forced to change its language so that voters are no longer required to show their "I voted" stickers in order to participate in its free-coffee promotion). Accordingly, Drink for Democracy simply asks that participants visit their signs at polling places in order to enjoy the happy hour discounts. The group’s ever-updating site also lists information for cab companies to make it clear that drinking irresponsibly is not aligned with Drink for Democracy’s values.
“It’s a learning process, and it requires a lot of patience,” Dalal says about sifting through the complex details and enduring long phone calls with city officials. “But, the more you get into it, the more you realize needs change and the more you see that it is worthwhile. Small things might actually be able to make a difference.”
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