Original photo of Manhattan Tea Party rally by ajagendorf25/Alex via flickr (CC Lic.). Illustration by Brian Jacobson.

Lately, political discourse has been a tempest in a teapot. Now, in an effort to have a more civil discussion, citizens are putting on a pot of coffee.

The Coffee Party Movement began quietly in January when Annabel Park expressed her dismay over the Tea Party movement on her Facebook profile:

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 [sic] it sounds elitist . . . let’s get together and drink cappuccino and have real political dialogue with substance and compassion.

Following that post a message chain began, with friends telling friends, who in turn told more friends. Soon, Park’s thoughts grew into a nationwide movement. Now the electronic party will move to coffee houses across the country on March 13.

According to the movement’s website, the Coffee Party Movement “gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize 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 that we face as Americans.”

A Coffee Party is scheduled for Milwaukee at the Alterra Café on Humboldt Avenue at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.

The Coffee Party–like the Tea Party–wants to find solutions, not cast blame. Both parties have similar complaints: that the political system is broken, elected officials ignore the people, and the media warp truths and pit sides. That viewpoint is supported by a Washington Post-ABC News poll which shows that two-thirds of Americans are “dissatisfied” or “angry” with the federal government.

Park appeared on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Showand explained the movement is a way to change America’s political culture. “Our culture has become so polarized that we can’t even sit down and have a conversation together,” she said. “So the first thing we want to do is figure out how we can have a civil dialogue.”  She said that, because we’re not seeing a culture of cooperation coming from Washington on either side of the aisle, we as citizens have to find opportunities to effectively participate in politics, regardless of party affiliation.

Park has degrees in philosophy and political theory and she is an independent film maker with liberal leanings. But she says her focus now is to bring all the voices to the table – right or left; conservative, liberal or progressive; religious or secular – and let them talk to each other about their ideas and vision for America.

Coffee Party organizers say the movement is not a Democratic, left-leaning response to the Tea Parties, which at times have become the singular voice of  conservatives in America.

“The Coffee Party is committed to small “d” democratic processes and building consensus among its members,” writes blogger Indie Coffee Party Dude. “Just because we may disagree on certain political or philosophical issues doesn’t mean we cannot arrive at a consensus in decision-making as fellow Americans. Consensus, agreement and compromise happens all the time in life between people who hold differing viewpoints and who may have competing interests.”

The party’s website also says it wants a society where democracy is sacrosanct and citizens participate out of a sense of civic duty, pride and a desire to contribute to society. “Our Founding Fathers and Mothers gave us an enduring gift – Democracy – and we must use it to meet the challenges that we face as nation.”

What is unique about the Coffee Party is its bottom-up growth, utilizing 21st century technology. Since Park’s initial comments on Facebook, she started a fan page which has grown to more than 109,200 followers. With the exception of some phone and personal contact between the leading actors in the group, this movement grew and organized over 100 independent Coffee Party meetings entirely online.

So now is the time to put our differences aside and sit down for a hot cup of joe. And if you prefer tea, you’re invited too.

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