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

"You're dealing with a nation that's jaded, paranoid, distrustful, broke, angry -- it's like they just woke up from an eight-year meth binge," Hopkins says. "We've become so polarized. Once we say our political affiliations, everyone goes to their corner and then comes out swinging. . . . A lot of people have the same goals and desires."

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When Park was 9, her family emigrated from Seoul to Houston. She studied philosophy at Boston University and political theory at Oxford, was a nanny in New York until she got a job in strategic planning at the New York Times, moved to L.A. to pursue filmmaking and, in 2006, came to D.C. to work on Jim Webb's Senate campaign, which led to a documentary project on the immigration debates in Prince William. She views the Coffee Party as an extension of that desire for conversation instead of closed-mindedness, as an evolution in wiki-government, where technology enables fuller citizen participation.

"We have to relearn how to talk to each other, to deliberate," says Park, driving west on I-66 to the Coffee Party meeting in Manassas. "It's also about regaining confidence that we can come together, that we can come to the middle and agree on things."

The Coffee Party believes the middle is consensus. The Tea Party believes the middle is the Constitution.

"People are scared on both sides about the financial stability of the country," adds Temple, the Tea Party activist, on the phone from Brunswick. "There are people who get angry. I remind people, 'Hey, settle down. The sky's not gonna fall.' . . . We need to reassure them that there's hope. We're not about to launch a French Revolution here. We can vote and we can talk and we can do it civilly."

The parties continue to post videos and recruit fans of all ideological stripes. On Sunday, a handful of San Antonio Coffee Partiers joined a small MoveOn.org rally to counter a Tea Party event. Coffee meet-ups are planned for this weekend in the District and Herndon, and there's talk of a conference or march in the summer. On Saturday, there will be 50 Tea Party rallies around the country to mark the first anniversary of the movement, and hundreds more are planned for tax day on April 15.

So: Tea or coffee? While the movements are at different points in their life cycles, both view themselves as silent majorities who have found their voice, as sleeping giants who are now awake, caffeinated on activism, ready to persuade or react to the other side, if there are sides at all.


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