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In Downtown Crossing, A New Brewery Mixes Politics With Pleasure

The mural at Democracy Brewing in Downtown Crossing
Adam Reilly/WGBH News

The first clue that Democracy Brewing is a bit different comes as soon as you step inside. To the right, there's a huge mural featuring the Massachusetts motto, "Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem" — which translates, roughly, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty."

Also telling: the photos hanging on the wall of a function room at the back, depicting (among others) suffragettes; members of the Fighting 54th, the famed Civil War-era African-American infantry regiment; and the Boston police who went on strike in 1919.

"The pictures we put up are all really inspired by heroes from Boston’s past," said James Raza, Democracy Brewing's co-founder and CEO.

Raza hopes this new brewery, located on Temple Street in Downtown Crossing, will become an incubator for political activism — a role he says pubs, also known as public houses, played dating back to the first shots of the Revolutionary War.

"They waited and waited, and the British never showed up," Raza said of the revolutionaries involved in the so-called "Shot Heard 'Round the World, "so half of them went home. Half of them went to the public house, hung out, talked about what they were going to do to defend their homes .... and then, sure enough, the British showed up. There might have had a little liquid courage in them, to take on the English at the time."

"The idea of the public house has always been at the heart of organizing in New England, and I think it's fallen away some," Raza added "And I think it's time to bring it back."

There's another way in which Democracy Brewing wants to give beer culture a political twist. It’s a worker cooperative, owned and run by its employees — each of whom can buy one equal share after they’ve been there a year.

"Even though I’m the founder, if you’re a busboy who’s been here year, we actually get paid the same amount when it comes to profit," Raza said, referring to an arrangement that assumes an equal number of hours worked.

For the brewery’s employees, it means increased earning potential — and, according to baker and pastry chef Ernest Bown, an unusually egalitarian ethos.

"I think when you have a team-play atmosphere, where people have that ability, they tend to bring a lot more ideas to the table," Brown said. "Here, everybody gets that ... nobody’s idea is invalidated."

If Democracy Brewing's food and beer aren’t good enough to keep customers coming in, none of this will necessarily matter. And at lunchtime on a recent weekday, business was a tad slow.

But when brewer and co-founder Jason Taggart gave me a discrete sample of the Suffragette Pale Ale — it was the workday, after all — I was tempted to take a seat and have some more.

That, of course, is exactly how James Raza wants people to feel, as they have a pint — and then, he hopes, set about trying to change the world.

"You can have endless meetings with folks, but if you want to get stuff done, you actually sit down, one on one have a beer, talk it through, build a relationship, get to know each other," Raza said. "That’s the best way to really get things done at the end of the day, and that’s been true my whole life."

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