Is the "Coffee Party" the Next Big Thing?

Coffee Party

Looking for change, but not quite ready for a revolution? Disappointed in President Obama and Congress, but not ready to turn your back on Washington? Prefer a double, non-foam latte over a cup of Earl Grey? The Coffee Party might be for you.

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Months after the Tea Party erupted onto the national scene at health care town halls, an alternative, more pro-government group of citizens is emerging to say they're angry, too -- they just want less yelling and more talking.

Just as the Tea Party organized to remind the Republican Party what its conservative base stands for, the Coffee Party movement is organizing to represent citizens who believe in government solutions for national problems but aren't necessarily enthralled with Democratic leadership. After gaining steam online over the past few months, the Coffee Party is launching its first national event this Saturday: National Coffee Party Day.

What is the Coffee Party, and How Did it Start?

The Coffee Party is a loosely organized movement that has yet to adopt a platform -- but it has a message that its members feel is resonating across the country.

It started with a Facebook note from Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker from the Washington area, who felt like venting about the Tea Party. She was inundated with feedback from people who agreed that the Tea Party did not represent the America they knew. The sentiment snowballed into a Web site that attracted 170,000 visitors in its first week and Facebook page that as of Friday morning, had more than 110,000 fans -- just beating out the number fans of the Tea Party Patriots page.

Park explains the movement in an introductory video on the Web site: "We object to obstructionism and extreme political tactics that are, I think, are fear based, not reality based and in many ways just deliberate misinformation," she says. "So we're organizing. We want people to understand that we're voters... We need everyone engaged in the political process. That is the only way our government can function, as an expression of our collective will."

The Coffee Party is about open discussion and deliberation for the purpose of solving common problems. The group welcomes everyone and embraces diversity -- ethnic, geographical and even political diversity. There's one caveat Park gives in her opening statement: "If you don't believe the government has any role, than yeah, you should join the Tea Party."

What's Going on Saturday?

This Saturday, local Coffee Party organizers will hold more than 350 meetings, in nearly every state, for the Coffee Party National Kick Off. National organizers are encouraging local leaders to convene groups of no more than eight people at a local coffee shop to discuss the issues that matter to them.

"We just wanted to find a way to make it fun and bring back that feeling of civic pride that pretty much all Americans had in 2008," Eric Byler, one of the leaders of the national Coffee Party, told Hotsheet. "What I saw was people who were really, really proud to get a chance to vote for John McCain -- after eight years, to vote for a war hero -- and people proud to vote for the first 21st-century, multi-ethnic, citizen of the world candidate. I felt so good about our democracy in 2008... we're just trying to bring people back in."

The groups on Saturday will be encouraged to come to a consensus about what issues matter to them the most. Each group will take a picture at the coffee shop with a sign that reads "coffee and..." with the issue of their choice. National Coffee Party organizers will collect the pictures on their Flikr account to create an "issues mosaic."

Shouldn't Voters Seeking Government Solutions be Happy with Washington Right Now?

The issues likely to come up at Saturday's meetings could very well arise at a Tea Party meeting.

"We want jobs with decent pay for all Americans," the Coffee Party declares on its Facebook page. "We want affordable health care and education. We want our government to cut wasteful spending and practice fiscal discipline. We want regulation of Wall Street to protect consumers and promotion of financial literacy."

The coffee partiers share a lot of the same grievances as tea partiers -- even though they are much more likely to have voted for President Obama.

But the recession hit everyone, explains Frances Lappe, a best-selling author and follower of the Coffee Party movement. Liberals and conservatives alike are hurt by a government that caters more to special interests than its citizens, she said, especially in a time of economic hardship.

Lappe is releasing a second edition of her book "Getting a Grip," which explores the process of creating a "living democracy." The aftermath of the 2008 election compelled Lappe to update her book, which was written during the Bush era.

"I, too, was in some way lulled into the idea that a change at the very top could bring about the kind of systemic, cultural change I believe is very necessary," Lappe told Hotsheet. "Clearly, changing the president is not going to do it. In a way, the disappointment that many have felt is the greatest gift Obama has given us -- to disabuse us of the notion there is a quick fix."

Nothing will change, Lappe says, until power is no longer concentrated in the hands of the few and the wealthy.

Is There Common Ground Between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party?

And that is a goal for which both coffee partiers and tea partiers can strive for, the Coffee Party says -- putting power back in the hands of the people, whether that means wresting it from government or private special interests.

"You work for us, not for corporations," the Coffee Party says in its Message to Congress. "We hired you and we get to fire you. We pay you and give you great health insurance. Now get to work serving the interests of the American people, or get out."

The message appeals for citizens to "discard the labels that obfuscate reality like Democrat, Republican, conservative and liberal... Democracy is not a zero sum game."

Lappe contends that the Coffee Party may even be able to convince tea partiers that government can have a positive role in society. Government size shouldn't count for much, she says, but rather, people should worry about to whom the government is accountable and how it functions.

"Without an accountable government we end up with the big government clean-ups like the Superfund," Lappe said, referring to the federal law designed to clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites. "A government that is accountable is a reasonable size... If you want [government] small, is that before or after we solve the Toyota recall? In a complex society we need a government that is looking out for our interests in a transparent way."

What Happens After National Coffee Party Day?

The Coffee Party is eager to start the debate, but its future remains unclear. After small groups of local coffee partiers meet Saturday to choose the issues that matter to them, the national group expects to come to a consensus on at least some of the issues and propose specific solutions.

Another, hopefully larger, meet up session is scheduled for March 27, according to Byler. During the upcoming congressional recess, the movement plans to hold "Coffee with Congress" sessions where they will invite their representatives to sit down for a cup of coffee with them. The movement has even started "campus coffee" branches at universities across the country and hopes to have a day in April where every college campus will have a "coffee date."

For its second Coffee Party day on March 27, the group is asking people to take its Coffee Party sphere survey, which asks 60 questions about a person's beliefs on a range of issues. The survey creates a visual representation of one's beliefs and political priorities, which the Coffee Party is using to as a consensus-building tool.

"So far only a few thousand people have taken it, but it seems there's a lot more agreement than you would expect watching the steel cage death match that is political television," Byler said. "It's sort of liberating to say, this is how I feel, and I'm not going to be afraid to speak out because there are people organizing around some negative emotions."

Watch today's episode of "Washington Unplugged" to hear about the Coffee Party, health care reform and the Congressional Hockey Challenge:


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