Coffee Party movement: Alternative to tea

Annabel Park
Annabel Park (The Washington Post)

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Annabel Park
Coffee Party USA Founder
Friday, February 26, 2010; 2:00 PM

Annabel Park, founder of Coffee Party USA, a grassroots online Facebook/Coffee Party) network which advocates cooperation among elected representatives and promotes civil public discourse, was online Friday, Feb. 26, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss an alternative to the Tea Party movement.

Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's (Post, Feb. 26)

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Annabel Park: Hello! I'm thrilled to be here with you and am eager to answer you questions. Starting now.

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washingtonpost.com: Coffee Party activists say their civic brew's a tastier choice than Tea Party's (Post, Feb. 26)

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Minneapolis, Minn.: How will the Coffee Party gain a voice and audience in Washington D.C.? Will the Coffee Party be trying to work with the Republicans and Democrats in changing the current system or advocating for creating a new party system?

Annabel Park: We gain a voice by organizing local chapters, and we need our volunteers to learn to effectively and respectfully communicate amongst themselves and with their elected representatives. We are a democracy and every vote DOES count, and we have to engage everyone in the political process -- that's the only way we're going to have a government that represents the will of the people.

In Washington, it will matter that, as voters, we will determine the outcome of elections.

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Wall Township, N.J.: I think this is a wonderful idea, and a long time in coming. Our politicians need to know that we also have a voice. Annabel, will you be helping in going beyond the Internet in your organizing? In other words will you consider public gatherings?

Thanks

Annabel Park: Yes, the Internet is a tool for organizing a grassroots movement focused on building communities where people feel safe to engage in civic discourse. We will do 2 things.

1) We will organize public gatherings. One of the events that we are planning is a national coffee house day on March 13th, in which we will encourage our existing and soon-to-form chapters to facilitate informative and civil dialogue about issues that affect all of us, collectively. We will ask them to report back to us on what consensus they reach, and take action from there.

2) We will figure out how to use technology to create collaborative environments for Americans to engage in problem solving, and discuss specific policy approaches.

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Vienna, Va.: I think there is an intersection between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party. I think that both groups understand that corporate America has too much influence in our government.

The insurance companies and others making massive money off health care are the ones pushing back on changes to that system. The utilities and oil companies don't want caps on carbon because the status quo works just find for them.

If we could come together and beat back the "Lobbyist Beast" our representatives would have to represent us and not corporate interests. How could we join forces and roll the corporate lobbies back?

Annabel Park: I do think there is room for us to work with people who are currently in the Tea Party, especially in the area you mention. To do this, we have to go through a process. We have to sit down with people who identify with the Tea Party movement with the goal of reaching understanding.

It is true that both groups feel that the government is failing us in many ways. I think if we examine the language that some in the Tea Party have been using, there are some things that are alienating to many of us in the Coffee Party: the extreme rhetoric, and the hostility toward the federal government. We would have to ask them tone this down, so that we can focus on actively listening to one another and problem-solving.

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New York, N.Y.: Where, outside of the Internet, does the Coffee Party exist? Do you have an office, a publication, bumper stickers, etc.?

Annabel Park: It is growing faster than we were prepared for it to grow. Please look at our website: www.coffeepartyUSA.org

If you click the "Engage" tap, you can see the chapters that existed as of last night. There are more now.

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washingtonpost.com: Coffee Party USA

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Herndon, Va.: How do you account for the phenomenal explosion of interest in just one month, as attested by the more than 15,000 fans on Facebook?

Annabel Park: The Facebook fan page captured the spirit of the time. Many of us had the same thought: the tactics being employed by the Tea Party movement are not likely to produce solutions to the problems that we face as a nation, and we urgently need an alternative.

It's very hard to get people to rally around a new idea. But here I am reminding them of something that they already know: that we are all Americans. We should not divide ourselves over differences of opinion. We need to be one community. Our democracy is what unites us as a people. We must protect it, and to protect it we must engage in the political process, respecting the reality that we are diverse nation with diverse points of view.

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Oak Hill, Va.: Hi Annabel: In some respects I thought the article made too much of the "similarities" between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party....could you give your perspective on the key differences? Thanks.

Annabel Park: A key difference is in our emphasis on the democratic process, on respectful and civil engagement with one another and with our elected officials.

In the current climate, too many Americans are afraid to participate, and find the process itself too alienating, because it is dominated by people with extreme opinions and extreme tactics.

It's hard to speak up when others in the room are screaming.

So in the end, we may want some of the same things, but we our hoping our journey getting there will be very different.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Is the Coffee Party turning out to align to a specific party --Republican, Democrat, or another party -- or is it striving for non-partisanship?

Annabel Park: We are purely grassroots movement, independent of any party, corporation, or lobbying organization. That is our strength and we plan to use it to facilitate a collaborative process that would encourage people to come together as a community, checking party affiliation at the door.

Many of the people who have found refuge in the Coffee Party community are among the 53% of America who supported candidate Obama's vision for our nation's future. They are disconcerted by the vision that is being expressed through some of the Tea Party activities and some of their leaders' statements. But we do have a number of Republicans and many, many independents who reject what they see as the politics of division and obstructionism.

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Plain City, Ohio: How will the Coffee Party differ from other progressive organizations like MoveOn.org?

Annabel Park: We are different from MoveOn.org and other established organizations because we do not have a top down structure. We began a month ago during a very specific time in which the call to action was not based on any cause, candidate, or policy. It was based on a desire to change our political culture.

We are focused more on the process than on the outcome. Protecting the democratic process is our end goal, setting an example for fellow Americans and for our representatives in government. This is what participatory democracy can be, and ought to be.

We are democracy advocates more than anything else.

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Arlington, Va.: I disagree that the main problem is lack of consensus between the extremes of the left and right. I think the problem with the political process (and the reason for Americans' dissatisfaction) is the degree to which Congress passes bills to please large corporations, regardless of which politicians have been voted for. How does the Coffee Party deal with this fundamental problem?

Annabel Park: We do feel like we need to make fundamental changes in our government's relationship to Wall Street and the corporations. We feel that the interests of ordinary Americans are not being represented well enough because we have a democracy with a loophole. The constituents that are most organized end up dominating the process, and corporations have the resources to pay thousands of lobbyists to spend their time influencing our government. This is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic.

The only way to close the loophole is for voters rise to their civic duty. They have money, but we have the votes. No one gets elected without votes.

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Fairfax, Va.: Is the Coffee Party concerned only about health care reform, or is it going to be a voice for rational and centrist government? If It is limited to health care it will die. If it speaks to independents and centrists from both parties it can have a significant voice.

Annabel Park: No, the Coffee Party is not only concerned about health care reform (although the poll on our website does seem to indicate a great deal of interest in addressing our health care crisis).

I think we need a process that responds to the changing needs of real people. Currently, there is desperate need for many people in the Coffee Party to access to health care. It is literally a matter of live and death for some people in our movement. We hope that we can address health care and move on to many challenges that face us as a people.

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Vienna, Va.: If you look at the recent Pew study on the Millennial Generation, that group is more progressive than the preceding generations. How are the Coffee Party Groups specifically reaching out to that cohort? They are really important.

Annabel Park: Great point, Vienna! The Millennial Generation, frankly, has a lot to teach the rest of us when comes to appreciation of diversity and a sense of collective identity that transcends the usual lines that divide us. We want to appeal to them to not only be involved, but to take on leadership. We are starting chapters on college campuses where students can come together to practice democracy as a community.

We believe that, when the Millennial Generation steps up for our country's future, it will lead to profound changes in our politics.

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Boston, Mass.: What is one key point that you would like to stress to your early followers and participants in the Coffee Party?

Annabel Park: We want to shift the paradigm from thinking of politics as a zero-sum game with two opposing sides. If one side loses, the other side wins. This is not a democracy. This is a misunderstanding of the tenets of democracy.

Democracy is based on the notion of the common good. People should come together to go through a deliberation process to produce collective decisions that benefit the common good.

As citizens, we need to find ways to, first, create a stronger sense of community and common good among Americans. And this is precisely why we believe that the rhetorical frameworks currently dominating our political process is not good for the country.

We want to offer an alternative, and lead by example.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: How are you going to be able to keep control of your message? Are you afraid a few members who may have a more radical position could hijack your cause? How are you going to keep a consistent message for the media?

Annabel Park: This will be a challenge. Because we believe that we are tapping into an existing desire for community and constructive civic participation, and a hunger for solution-oriented discourse, we feel optimistic that those who join us will do so because they share these ideals, and buy into our approach.

I'm hoping that people who participate in our events will see the positive impact of this approach, and choose to abide by it.

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Fallbrook, Calif.: According to most polling, the public option is supported by 70 percent of Americans. Should we make this our first priority? Should we stand up to the insurance industry? Seems to me that now is the moment.

Thanks.

Annabel Park: The preference of the majority of Americans is not the only factor that our elected leaders take into account. That is the crux of the matter. I think there is confusion among people in Congress and in our government, because they don't have a good process for them to figure out what their constituents really think or want.

Despite the multitude of polling data and political analysis, there is a vacuum of reliable knowledge about how the silent majority really feels. This makes it possible for special interests, and deliberate misinformation to corrupt the process.

Countering this problem is a big part of our project. We believe it is time to turn down the volume blasting from cable news, tune out the pundits, and meet face to face and talk to each other.

A coffee house is a good environment for people to share their stories. We plan to use new technology, in particular the Internet, to allow a maximum number of people to participate in creating a more accurate narrative about America.

Check out www.YouTube.com/coffeepartyusa

We will be encouraging more and more people to add their voices to this channel and other on-line forums.

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washingtonpost.com: Coffee Party USA/YouTube

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I get frustrated, because it doesn't seem to be the merits of an policy position that invite consideration, but instead, how loudy it is promoted, how much money is behind it or how many times it is repeated, even through misinformation. How does one combat the noise with civility? It seems like an impossible task.

Annabel Park: I agree this is very frustrating. We combat this noise with information and education. And it's important that we find a way to present information in ways that will find a receptive audience. I think that the emergence of the pundit class has warped the process of exchanging information. It also has the effect of causing ordinary Americans to believe that there are "smarter" people more qualified to participate then we are.

We need to encourage Americans to be confident in their ability to understand the issues and the challenges that we face. This is the best way to prevent special interests from gaming the system and exploiting the loophole in our democracy.

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Alexandria, Va.: Do you have a couple of hundred million dollars?

If not, what is your plan to get our elected representatives to listen to you/us?

Annabel Park: We have more than $500 in donations from our website. Is that enough?

Obviously, the answer is that we are the voters. We believe that we represent the majority of Americans. And in a democracy, that means they don't have a job without us.

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Annabel Park: Thank you very much for your interest everyone. If I did not get to your question, please come to our website or to our Facebook page and post it there. It is really helpful for me to know what questions you all have. And I will do my best to answer them in the coming days and weeks.

Hope to sit down and have coffee with you all soon.

www.coffeepartyUSA.org

www.facebook.com/coffeeparty

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