The Coffee Party, Ready to "Take Up Democracy" This Weekend

As the Tea Party saga continues another political movement, one covered much less by the media and with zero corporate sponsorship, is holding its first national convention this upcoming weekend.

The Coffee Party, named after another hot beverage important to the American Revolution, is the outgrowth of a self-described “rant” posted on Facebook by founder Annabel Park in January of this year. The rant was a reaction to both the Tea Party's claim to represent "real America" and the media's increasing acceptance of that claim. Soon after, the Coffee Party went viral, eventually growing to nearly 300,000 fans on Facebook where some of Park's posts have tallied 4 million views per day while also amassing an email list 65,000 strong and 275,000 views on their YouTube channel. Now, for the first time, the largely digital-only movement will have a chance to meet face-to-face in Louisville, Kentucky starting tomorrow September 24.

One purpose of the convention, Coffee Party co-founder Eric Byler said, is a chance for them to catch up for the fact that there was never any planning -- the movement simply took off .

"The initial thing was unplanned and unfunded -- it just happened all over the country because there was that much impetus for ordinary people to organize in the way that hyper-partisan leaders were organizing highly agitated people," he said.  "It was alarming to look in the mirror and see a different face, seeing all this media coverage of the Tea Party presented to us as if it was the face of America."

For many he said, this reflection resulted in "tissue rejection."

Another goal for the convention is to establish trust among Coffee Party rank and file.

"We want to create a culture of trust," Park said. "And this reinforces the other issues we care about: if we want good things to happen in the country, we need to work on our values of trust and understanding and make a choice to do it in a democratic and peaceful manner."

According to the Coffee Party website, the movement's ultimate goal is to establish an "informed and involved electorate that takes seriously the responsibilities of citizenship, not only for the purpose of winning elections, but to effectively govern our nation on behalf of The People, and no other interest." They believe that patriotism is not derived from "shared resentment, anger or fear" but on defining "shared values and ideals." Finally, while officially non-partisan, The Coffee Party will not shy from taking political positions but will do so based on "principles and facts" not on "party affiliation or ideology."

Before the Coffee Party, Park and Byler worked together on 9500 Liberty, a documentary about the struggle over immigration policy that bitterly divided the community in Prince William County, Virginia back in 2007. Many of the story's elements presaged what has since taken place across the country. There, the loudest anti-immigrant fringe took command of the issue, scared away moderates and pushed through the controversial Probable Cause Mandate that required police to stop and question anyone they suspected was undocumented -- a mandate very similar to Arizona's S.B. 1070. Not until the anti-immigrant activists personally went after the local chief of police who dissented from enforicing the mandate did the tide begin to turn, and as Byler said: "Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, grocery store owners and soccer moms all stood up against extremism, and repealed the law."

In Prince William County Park and Byler had set up a YouTube channel for its residents to see what their fellow citizens were saying and doing about the controversy. "We used the internet to supply information in a climate dominated by rhetoric and misinformation,” Byler said. Doing this gave people who were previously uninterested or scared the confidence to speak up, and in the end, mobilized the silent majority.

Now, with the convention, Byler and Park want to take what they learned in the small community to the country at large. The use of the internet is essential they say, for the Coffee Party and the health of our democracy.

"Having lived through the culture war in Virginia, it put us in position on how to address the culture war on the national level -- the exact same tactics are being used," Byler said. "A big point for the Coffee Party, is to ask people if they really care if they want a good outcome then we need the real voice of the people -- we need more people to participate."

Another track the Coffee Party has taken is that of entering in dialogue with political adversaries. This is one of the main points where outside observers are likely dismiss the movement's potential. Why, in the toxic environment political environment such as it exists today, would someone want to stand athwart and yell “let's compromise!”?

This sentiment is not foreign even within the Coffee Party, in fact many are hesitant about the efficacy of engaging civilly with political enemies. So when Park announced that Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express would be joining a round table on trans-partisanship at the convention, nearly half of the responses were negative.

"Some are very doomsday about it and say that by inviting them we are giving them credibility. With that logic we should never have any diplomacy, with Iran or in Palestine or Northern Ireland, and then the only solution becomes conflict, which leads to violence and war. We can't endorse that logic," she said.

For Park the decision to include Kremer at the convention embodies the goals and ideals of the movement.

"You can't go into a discussion saying we are permanently in conflict. There's nothing wrong with having differences of opinion. The whole ideal of America is based on thriving diversity and people keep forgetting that difference doesn't mean conflict -- difference is a good thing," she said.

"Are we ready to take up arms? No. Democracy? Yes. There's no other way."

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