Coffee Party, With a Taste for Civic Participation, Is Added to the Political Menu
By KATE ZERNIKE
Published: March 1, 2010
Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative: the Coffee Party.
Growing through a Facebook page, the party pledges to “support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.”
It had nearly 40,000 members as of Monday afternoon, but the numbers were growing quickly — about 11,000 people had signed on as fans since the morning.
“I’m in shock, just the level of energy here,” said the founder, Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who lives outside Washington. “In the beginning, I was actively saying, ‘Get in touch with us, start a chapter.’ Now I can’t keep up. We have 300 requests to start a chapter that I have not been able to respond to.”
The slogan is “Wake Up and Stand Up.” The mission statement declares that the federal government is “not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges we face as Americans.”
Local chapters are planning meetings in cities from Washington to San Antonio to Los Angeles (where there have been four in the last month.) The party (coffeepartyusa.org) is planning nationwide coffee houses for March 13, where people can gather to decide which issues they want to take on and even which candidates they want to support.
This summer, Ms. Park said, the party will hold a convention in the Midwest, with a slogan along the lines of “Meet Me in the Middle.” The party has inspired the requisite jokes: why not a latte party, a chai party, a Red Bull party? But Ms. Park said that while the Coffee Party — and certainly the name — was formed in reaction to the Tea Party, the two agree on some things, like a desire for fiscal responsibility and a frustration with Congress.
“We’re not the opposite of the Tea Party,” Ms. Park, 41, said. “We’re a different model of civic participation, but in the end we may want some of the same things.”
The Tea Party argues for stripping the federal government of many of its roles, and that if government has to be involved, it should be mostly state governments.
“The way I see it,” Ms. Park said, “our government is diseased, but you don’t abandon it because it’s ill. It’s the only body we have to address collective problems. You can’t bound government according to state borders when companies don’t do that, air doesn’t. It just doesn’t fit with the world.”
Still, she said, “we’ve got to send a message to people in Washington that you have to learn how to work together, you have to learn how to talk about these issues without acting like you’re in an ultimate fighting session.”
Ms. Park and chapter organizers said they would invite Tea Party members to join their Coffee counterparts in discussions. “We need to roll up our sleeves, put our heads together and work it out,” she said. “That’s, to me, an American way of doing this.”