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Thousands Looking for an Alternative to Frothing Teabagging Crowd Find Refuge in Newly Formed ‘Coffee Party’

Tapping into widespread thirst for a potential alternative to the Tea Party movement, the Coffee Party is launching real life, off-line, on-the-ground activity across the country.

March 1, 2010 |

It might have been inevitable that the answer to the movement that calls itself the Tea Party would be labeled the Coffee Party, but it wasn’t exactly by design.

“[L]et’s start a coffee party … smoothie party. red bull party. anything but tea,” activist and filmmaker Annabel Park wrote on her Facebook page one day in January, adding, jokingly, “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.”

Little did Park know that the idea would seriously catch on, tapping into widespread thirst for a potential alternative to the Tea Party movement and launching real life, off-line, on-the-ground activity across the country.

This, anyway, is the story as told by the Washington Post last week, in a profile of Park and her fellow “Coffee Party activists,” who are portrayed as the progressive response to the right-wing Tea Partiers. It’s a bit of a false dichotomy and some of the comparisons are dubious (“The Coffee Party believes the middle is consensus. The Tea Party believes the middle is the Constitution”), but it’s more than a little heartening to see a media spotlight on people who are working to push back against the Tea Party right. There are now more than 45 Coffee Party chapters in the country, with “over 300 more requests for local chapters that we haven’t yet fulfilled,” according to its Web site. A series of online videos shows a diverse cross-section of Americans who care about their country, making the case for civic engagement, and recalling the sincerity of so many of those who joined the ranks of Obama’s presidential campaign.

The Coffee Party mission, such as it is, seems to be as much as a call to sanity as it is an attempt to redeem American democracy, while re-capturing some of the heady idealism of the ‘08 campaign. According to its Facebook page, which boasts some 40,000 members since its creation in late January (the Washington Post profile helped): “The aspirations of the Coffee Party Movement are to transform the political culture of our country, to restore participatory democracy, and engage all interested citizens to work together towards real solutions. It is not enough to cast our vote every few years. We have to work at making our government work for us.”

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You’ve probably noticed that the debate swirling around the president’s recovery bill has reached new levels of mortal terror and chaos. Even a casual excursion around the liberal tubes and you’ll find posts that read like the worst parts of the Bible. There’s a palpable vibe in many progressive circles that the president is on the brink of an epic fail.

After all, this is one of those do-or-die moments in American history and the panic level is rightly proportional.

But while urgency is appropriate, we’re losing the initiative.

We all have our own ideas about what the recovery bill is supposed to look like. The Republicans are threatening to filibuster, and we can’t trust Harry Reid to stop them. Rush Limbaugh, the very serious leader of the Republican Party and alleged sex tourist, has ordered his dittoheads to blitz the Democrats with angry phone calls. Concurrently, Democrats, liberals and progressives, for all we’ve learned in the last eight years, are losing the framing battle — “stimulus package” sounds like a weird service offered at a porn store and, in that context, a trillion dollar “stimulus package” sounds, you know, painful. Meanwhile, centrist Democrats like Ben Nelson appear to be ransacking the bill. Other Democrats have bugged out of Washington entirely.

We’re looking at fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Forty years of darkness. The dead rising from the grave! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!

Come to think of it, some of that Ghostbusters stuff might actually come true if a beefy and expensive recovery bill isn’t passed, and right soon.

So how do we get there?

The first step in getting a handle on all of this mayhem is to understand that this is unprecedented in terms of size, scope and strategy — only rivaled by the New Deal. Then again, for all of the obstacles he faced, FDR didn’t have to negotiate his way through cable news, a hostile press, far-right talk radio, the blogotubes and an army of dittoheads taking their orders from an impotent burnout whose stated goal is the failure of the economy. In other words, while there are very smart economic solutions being pitched by Paul Krugman and others, the price tag, politics, optics, media and discourse are all brand new.

This is massive, this is complicated, this is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

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