Dishing out civics along with dessert

Calls asking ‘what can we do?’ spur launch of Democracy Dinners

A group hoping to boost voter registration is encouraging people to hold dinners with friends, neighbors and family members in the belief it will be more effective than strangers with clipboards going door-to-door or standing on streetcorners. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A group hoping to boost voter registration is encouraging people to hold dinners with friends, neighbors and family members in the belief it will be more effective than strangers with clipboards going door-to-door or standing on streetcorners. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 5, 2022 at 5:09pm

Jim Clark, founder of the Global Partnership for Civic Engagement and a longtime Democratic Party insider, said that early this year, on the cusp of the midterm elections, people reached out to him around a common theme.  

“I was having so many people contact me about their anxiety about democracy and saying, ‘Jim, what do we do?’” he recalled. 

It prompted him to start Democracy Dinners, a nonpartisan effort to recruit volunteers to urge their friends and family members to register to vote. He launched the program officially this week and said it aims to make voter registration drives, and get-out-the-vote efforts, more personalized. Instead of a stranger with a clipboard, Clark’s vision relies on people calling, texting and emailing their neighbors, friends and relatives. 

Many of Democracy Dinners’ founding advisers hail from Democratic politics and include Celinda Lake, a pollster for the 2020 Biden campaign; Karen Finney, a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign; and Jorge Neri, an alum of the Obama administration. Another adviser is Joan Blades, a founder of the liberal group MoveOn.org and more recently LivingRoomConversations.org, to foster dialogue across partisan lines.

Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Mosbacher senior fellow in global democracy at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, is also among the advisers.

Clark said the Democracy Dinners effort is nonpartisan and is open to anyone who is “pro-democracy.”  It is probably not for “people who don’t see a problem with interfering with the peaceful transition of power,” an allusion to the lingering belief, despite the evidence, among many supporters of ex-President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was rife with fraud. 

“We are not making a litmus test for people,” Clark said in a recent interview. 

People can sign a democracy pledge, sign up to host dinners or donate money on the Democracy Dinners website. People can also register to vote with its partner Vote.org. 

Clark said he was modeling the dinners after house party fundraisers, with the candidate in this case democracy itself. 

“The basic idea is let’s make it very easy for people to volunteer to host dinner at home or in their backyard or at a restaurant,” he said. “Using basically a walkathon model where, like in a walkathon, you kind of have a team captain and they can recruit their own friends and family to be on the team.”

When people sign up to volunteer, they receive suggestions and guidelines for inviting, managing and facilitating the dinners. They will be offered an appointment for an “onboarding session.” Hosts can pay for the dinners, or they can be potlucks, but the group isn’t footing the bill. 

Clark said that because the effort is “nonpartisan and charitable,” Democracy Dinners isn’t focusing on specific battleground states or swing congressional districts and will facilitate events wherever people are interested.