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Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's
Says Robert Gaudet, 40, a software designer in Shreveport, La., who administers TeaPartyPatriots.org: "We don't see cooperation with the government. We see ourselves monitoring the government. . . . As for shouting and obstructionism, absolutely not. The media is trying to define a movement and not being able to put their finger on it. There's common-sense solutions we're asking for: fiscal responsibility, free markets, limited government and lower taxes."
Says Dave Henderson, 48, an automotive service adviser in Denison, Tex., who found the Coffee Party on Facebook: "The political mood right now is 'blame Obama for everything.' The Tea Party is overexposed but organized, and they have a poster child in Sarah Palin and Fox News. I'm extremely anti-establishment, and the thing that appealed to me about the Coffee Party is it is very grass-roots, there's no official organization, and individuals can participate as individuals without having to see eye-to-eye on everything."
The Coffee Party is not so much a party or movement as a slow-drip ripple through online nano-politics. Within the past 10 days, its Facebook fans rose from 3,500 to more than 9,200, which is far more than the 5,900 fans of the central page of Organizing for America, the DNC-funded group supporting President Obama's agenda. What does that mean, though, when nearly 100,000 Facebook users have joined the Tea Party Patriots Facebook page and 1.5 million have joined a joke page titled "Can this pickle get more fans than Nickleback?"
"I don't really understand what they're about other than 'we don't like the Tea Party' and 'we're for a better process,' " says Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at 720 Strategies, a D.C. grass-roots advocacy firm. "The Tea Party has something more going for it in its name. It has a historical echo, and means these guys are self-conscious rebels objecting to a government who taxes them without representation."
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"So what are we doing here? What's the objective?"
Alan Alborn, a retired executive and former Army officer who voted for both George W. Bush and Obama, crosses his arms over his maroon sweater and leans back in a Manassas cafe last Friday. With him are Park, her boyfriend and fellow filmmaker Eric Byler, and Elena Schlossberg, who co-writes a blog focused on Prince William County politics. The quartet, first united by their involvement in the county's fiery immigration debates in 2007, discusses Coffee Party talking points, staying positive and coming up with a marketable phrase. Maybe "What does America really think?"
"And we need a big idea that's separate and stands alone," says Alborn, 61, who appreciates the basic tenets of the Tea Party but can't subscribe to what he views as its stonewall strategy and jumble of church and state. "We need to find people who will pledge to be one-term candidates, so that we get citizen politicians."
Later that night in Woodley Park, Tea Party member William Temple -- pastor, artist and historical reenactor from Brunswick, Ga. -- receives praise in the Marriott lobby for his starring role in "Tea Party: The Documentary Film," after it screened at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Temple sounds like he and Alborn have drunk the same beverage.
"There is a synergism between people who realize we've got massive corruption," says Temple, 59. "We want citizen legislators, people who know about sacrifice. Get the career politicians out of here."
The next evening, Fox News pundit Glenn Beck paces during his keynote speech at the conference. "It is still morning in America," Beck tells the crowd. "It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding, hungover, vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America. . . . What is it that has caused the problem? And if you say 'Obama,' it's too simple of an answer because it's not Barack Obama." He writes "progressivism" on a chalkboard. "This is the disease."
On Sunday afternoon, Stacey Hopkins, a 46-year-old mother of five who lives in Hapeville, Ga., speaks on a conference call with a half-dozen organizers of the Atlanta Coffee Party.