by Sean J. Miller
Several weeks ago, filmmaker Annabel Park posted a note on her Facebook profile expressing "frustration ... listening to news coverage that made it seem like the Tea Party was representative of America."
That grew into the liberal Coffee Party movement, a play off the conservative Tea Party movement. The Coffee Party consists of people who believe that government can play an active role in resolving the country's major issues.
Park, a resident of Silver Spring, Md., founded the Coffee Party Movement with a mission to be non-partisan and promote civil discourse on important issues.
"If you don't believe that the government has any role [in healthcare], then yeah, you should join the Tea Party," said Park in a Coffee Party introduction video. "But there are many of us who that believe we have to have the government addressing these things, representing our interests."
Since February, the Coffee Party has gathered some 120,000 fans on Facebook. And it's set to bring its virtual community together in public for the first time this Saturday. The group has close to 350 kickoff parties scheduled around the country, with thousands of supporters expected to attend, according to Chris Rigopulos, a Boston-based organizer for the group.
"The movement will migrate from a pure online endeavor to in-person meet-ups all over the country," said Rigopulos, who got involved out of frustration with the harsh partisan atmosphere in the country. "These are not designed to be mass demonstrations of any kind. They are designed to begin the process of discussing critical issues."
He added: "People did not sign onto the Coffee Party as a referendum on healthcare reform."
Rigopulos said the group, which is working to incorporate as a non-profit, will decide what direction to take after Saturday's meetings. He said that no elected officials have reached out to the group and that it would be "premature" to say if it planned to get involved in any races this cycle.
"It's not agenda driven," Rigopulos, a business consultant, said. "It's about frustration at the political culture. And the fact that the politicians that we observe seem to be really ineffective at getting anything done."
The group's goal, Rigopulos said, is to promote "more collaborative decision making."
He said the thinking goes, if a diverse group of people can get together over, say, coffee and discuss in a civil manner controversial political issues, then so should the country's elected officials. Essentially, the Coffee Party is calling for a trickle up of civility in politics.
Michael Slaby, a Democratic consultant experienced in online organizing, said the Internet can't replace the old fashioned machinations of politics. "It's a myth that you can have a well-organizing political entity and just be an online thing," he said. "At some point, you need to be able to translate your online organization to offline results."
Meanwhile, an official with the Democratic National Convention (DNC) said there has been no attempt to court the so-called Coffee Partiers. Instead the DNC is pushing ahead with marshalling volunteers through its Organizing for America arm, the official said.