The genesis of the idea for the Coffee Party Movement and its purpose is best explained by the video above. It all started with documentary filmmaker Annabel Park venting her frustrations on her Facebook page about media coverage that made it seem that the Tea Parties were representative of the “real America.” She vehemently disagreed and her comments on Facebook got a lot of feedback from people who similarly felt pent-up and frustrated.
Their name the “Coffee Party” directly references the Tea Party movement and presents itself as an alternative. Park argues elected officials who represent us should work towards positive solutions to the problems the country faces instead of adopting obstructionist political tactics that play on peoples’ fears and which are driven by deliberate misinformation.
The Coffee Party is currently organizing nationwide. It is stressing the message that its members are voters who intend to hold elected officials accountable to holding up progress. Its members will participate and be engaged in the political process.
In addition, the Coffee Party values diversity, is, itself, diverse and completely comfortable with the changing ethnic demographics of the US. Park argues that politicians are exploiting the anxieties people feel regarding these changing demographics for political gain and that it is wrong.
Cooperation is needed to solve problems and that no practical solutions can be reached when there is no cooperation in Congress. Dialogue is impossible when one side—a reference to the Republicans and the Tea Party movement in the healthcare town hall meetings over the summer of 2009—is engaged in tactics designed to shut down discussion.
Park says the Congress works for us – the American people – not corporations and not just a sliver of the total demographic. Congress should stop the endless fighting and get down to work on problem-solving and representing our interests as their constituents. The Coffee Party Movement is an open invitation to participate to anyone who believes that government should be part of problem-solving and representing our interests.
The Movement is Growing
I was able to speak with an organizer of the Coffee Party. He argued that many Americans are tired of the Tea Partiers portrayal in the media as the representation of the "Real America." Many Americans oppose the Tea Party and their tactics and rhetoric and need a vehicle to represent their side on the debates and issues of a country in crisis.
In addition, the Coffee Partiers want to give voice to real economic populism that is designed to address the concerns of middle and working class Americans. The Coffee Party organizers don't want the Right to have a monopoly of the populist side of the debate on economics and economic issues.
Their main struggle at this point is to come to a consensus on core principles and areas of focus. Their Facebook note on developing a platform for the movement reflects a desire to demonstrate, through practice and example, their commitment to (a) inclusivity and respect for a diversity of opinion and (b) a commitment to small "d" democracy and consensus-building.
We will try to show by example what a participatory democracy can and ought to look like. We need to show that we can come together as a community, despite our differences, and engage in a constructive dialogue that leads to solutions.
The movement is currently centered around social media networks. They have a website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.
Since they started the social media sites in early February, there are now over 40 chapters nationwide and growing everyday. Their Facebook group had over 20,000 fans as of the time I am writing this (late February) and growing rapidly.
Potential and Challenge for the Future
The Coffee Party Movement has the potential to really take off and spread like wildfire much the same way the Tea Parties started through social media and grassroots networks. I am very pleased that a citizen-centered, grassroots uprising other than a right-wing one is in the works which seeks to address the gridlock and polarization in Congress and the dysfunctional politics in general in Washington DC.
The very fact that within a month of launching that they have established nearly 40 chapters nationwide and have passed the 20,000 member mark in the Facebook page bodes well for their future.
The real test for the Coffee Party will come when they have reached critical mass, have established an organizational structure and then are in a position to DO something. Either support or oppose some political measure, or apply pressure on a politician by giving or withholding support. Once the Coffee Party Movement has passed the stage of conversations and meetings and are in a position to execute their ideas into practice will determine what type of organization and movement they will be.
Another big test would be how they are portrayed in the mass media and if the media portrayals create momentum that will allow the Coffee Party to control the narrative in the public consciousness regarding the issues it wishes to address. The American mass media is notorious for leaning towards sensationalism and soundbites instead of substantive, in-depth treatment of serious issues. And let us not forget the influence of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in allowing the Right to set the stage, climate and control the debate and to derail the momentum of any fledgling movement that they oppose.
Their organizers told me that they are non-partisan and fully intend to reach out and appeal to Republicans and conservatives as well as independents. Reading their Facebook wall comments and general thrust of their communications, they appear to have a primarily left-leaning membership and leadership (so far) with a focus on supporting the aims of the more progressive policies of the Obama administration.
The question in my mind is this a grassroots movement that independents can participate in?
The Coffee Party would do well to heed the findings and statistics in this study:
- Independents Take Center Stage in Obama Era, Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2009
People who self-identify as independents now outnumber those who self-identify as either Republican or Democrat. They have found both major parties inadequate, and are cynical about the two major national parties for solutions or leadership. Independents like me are independent precisely because we reject that the frame and scope of political debate and discourse in the U.S. should be limited to the Republicans and Democrats. Like the Coffee Party, we want solutions and problem-solving, not gridlock and endless partisan bickering.
If the Coffee Party Movement will succeed in truly transcending narrow partisanship it would have to watch out about becoming subsumed into or being perceived by the public as an appendage of the Democratic Party. Being a primarily liberal or Democratic organization and one which seeks to apply pressure to politicians to adopt more progressive positions is fine. The danger for the Coffee Party in appealing to non-Democrats lies in being seen as just another vehicle to elect Democratic politicians into office.
I gather that the Coffee Party Movement intends to be independent of the major parties. It bodes well for them to keep that vision in mind as they grow and develop their organization.