Civil Liberties  
comments_image Comments

Thousands Looking for an Alternative to Frothing Teabagging Crowd Find Refuge in Newly Formed 'Coffee Party'

Tapping into widespread thirst for a potential alternative to the Tea Party movement, the Coffee Party is launching real life, off-line, on-the-ground activity across the country.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

It might have been inevitable that the answer to the movement that calls itself the Tea Party would be labeled the Coffee Party, but it wasn't exactly by design.

"[L]et's start a coffee party … smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea," activist and filmmaker Annabel Park wrote on her Facebook page one day in January, adding, jokingly, "ooh how about cappuccino party? that would really piss 'em off bec it sounds elitist … let's get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion."

Little did Park know that the idea would seriously catch on, tapping into widespread thirst for a potential alternative to the Tea Party movement and launching real life, off-line, on-the-ground activity across the country.

This, anyway, is the story as told by the Washington Post last week, in a profile of Park and her fellow "Coffee Party activists," who are portrayed as the progressive response to the right-wing Tea Partiers. It's a bit of a false dichotomy and some of the comparisons are dubious ("The Coffee Party believes the middle is consensus. The Tea Party believes the middle is the Constitution"), but it's more than a little heartening to see a media spotlight on people who are working to push back against the Tea Party right.

There are now more than 45 Coffee Party chapters in the country, with "over 300 more requests for local chapters that we haven't yet fulfilled," according to its Web site. A series of online videos shows a diverse cross-section of Americans who care about their country, making the case for civic engagement, and recalling the sincerity of so many of those who joined the ranks of Obama’s presidential campaign.

The Coffee Party mission, such as it is, seems to be as much as a call to sanity as it is an attempt to redeem American democracy, while re-capturing some of the heady idealism of the ‘08 campaign. According to its Facebook page, which boasts some 40,000 members since its creation in late January (the Washington Post profile helped): "The aspirations of the Coffee Party Movement are to transform the political culture of our country, to restore participatory democracy, and engage all interested citizens to work together towards real solutions. It is not enough to cast our vote every few years. We have to work at making our government work for us."

Such abstract and ambitious goals leave plenty of room for snarky dismissals, as one Vanity Fair blogger haughtily demonstrated on Monday ("Meet the inevitable Coffee Party, which is different from the Tea Party in scope and objectives, but similar, it appears, in familiarity with standardized English grammar and spelling"), and the Coffee Partiers have already sought to respond to claims that their goals are too vague to mean anything. According to one post on its Web site titled "FAQ: Will We Develop a Platform?"

Our activities will unfold in in stages. First, we will come together as a community to create collaborative environments for practicing democracy, online and offline. We will deliberate -- carefully considering facts -- on issues that concern all of us: healthcare, immigration reform, climate change, fair elections, better regulation of Wall St, civil rights, foreign policy, etc.

We believe that after going through this democratic process, we will reach a consensus on some or all of these issues. We will then propose specific solutions to these issues.

For antiwar activists, or people battling in the trenches of the health care fight, this might seem painfully, overly cautious given the life-and-death issues that define our politics right now. (Even consensus-builder Obama talked about the "fierce urgency of now.") But it's clear the Coffee Party activists are trying hard to define themselves as something other than a Tea Party for liberals.

"There is room for decaf in the Coffee Party, even room for Tea," Park wrote on the Coffee Party Facebook page early on. "I think there are people in the Tea Party that can be won over with a more inclusive message based on shared values rather than shared fears and phobias."

If it sounds a bit like Obama's continuing insistence that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground right now (despite maddening evidence to the contrary), it may be because the leaders of the Coffee Party -- many of whose members campaigned for him -- have taken their cues from the president in their idealistic-sounding approach. In an live Washington Post chat last week, Annabel Park, a former organizer for Jim Webb and, more recently, with Asians for Obama, channeled candidate Obama when explaining her philosophy: "We are all Americans. We should not divide ourselves over differences of opinion. We need to be one community. Our democracy is what unites us as a people."

According to Park, one of the "key differences" between the Tea Partiers and the Coffee Partiers is "our emphasis on the democratic process, on respectful and civil engagement with one another and with our elected officials."

In other words, no veiled death threats against the president, no incitements to violence based on the notion that "the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants."

"In the current climate, too many Americans are afraid to participate, and find the process itself too alienating, because it is dominated by people with extreme opinions and extreme tactics," Park told a Washington Post reader.

In the same chat, Park distanced the Coffee Party from MoveOn.org and other left-identified groups, describing them as "top-down."

“We are democracy advocates more than anything else,” she said.

At a time when such Frankenstein concepts as "corporate personhood" pose very real dangers to American democracy, it is in itself a worthy goal. But if the group is to fulfill its motto -- “Wake up and stand up” -- hopefully its members will stand up to the same leaders they fought to elect.

 
See more stories tagged with: