Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's

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By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010

Furious at the tempest over the Tea Party -- the scattershot citizen uprising against big government and wild spending -- Annabel Park did what any American does when she feels her voice has been drowned out: She squeezed her anger into a Facebook status update.

let's start a coffee party . . . smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea. geez. 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.

Friends replied, and more friends replied. So last month, in her Silver Spring apartment, Park started a fan page called "Join the Coffee Party Movement." Within weeks, her inbox and page wall were swamped by thousands of comments from strangers in diverse locales, such as the oil fields of west Texas and the suburbs of Chicago.

I have been searching for a place of refuge like this for a long while. . . . It is not Us against the Govt. It is democracy vs corporatocracy . . . I just can't believe that the Tea Party speaks for all patriotic Americans. . . . Just sent suggestions to 50 friends . . . I think it's time we start a chapter right here in Tucson . . .

The snowballing response made her the de facto coordinator of Coffee Party USA, with goals far loftier than its oopsy-daisy origin: promote civility and inclusiveness in political discourse, engage the government not as an enemy but as the collective will of the people, push leaders to enact the progressive change for which 52.9 percent of the country voted in 2008.

The ideas aren't exactly fresh -- Tea Party chapters view themselves as civil, inclusive and fueled by collective will -- but the Coffee Party is percolating in at least 30 states. Small chapters are meeting up, venting frustrations, organizing themselves, hoping to transcend one-click activism. Kind of like the Tea Party did this last year, spawning 1,200 chapters, a national conference and a march on Washington.

"It's like trying to perform surgery in the dark," says Park, 41, a documentary filmmaker. She's exhausted, overcommitted, passing whole days on Facebook, not collecting a paycheck, hopping between conference calls, sending e-mails at 4 a.m., smoothing out conflicts over strategy. She has been swept up in this project, and so have others. Within two weeks of forming, the Los Angeles chapter produced a five-minute video in which citizens yearn for sensible progress and lament obstructionist truth-twisting.

Progress is patriotic, they tell the camera. Wake up. Espresso yourself. Something is brewing, America.

* * *

Need something to wash down that heaping helping of American angst? Tea or coffee? (Must we choose?)

Deep down, underneath the Tea Party's Revolutionary War garb and the Coffee Party's faded HOPE stickers, they seem to want the same thing. To save America. Which raises the question: "From what?"

The easy answer is "each other," when really their complaints are similar and eternal: The political system is broken, elected officials ignore the people, and the media warp truths and pit sides. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that two-thirds of Americans are "dissatisfied" or "angry" with the federal government," the highest level in 14 years, and many have sought solace in social networking. The Coffee Party, whether it grows or fizzles, is the latest effort to turn virtual disenchantment into real-world results. Its members are incited by Tea Party tactics, which they believe obstruct reform and discourage thoughtful deliberation, and the Tea Party -- well, the Tea Party has not heard of the Coffee Party.


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