Coffee Party offers tea alternative


Founded on Facebook by Maryland resident Annabel Park, the Coffee Party has also tapped into the rising tide of anger aimed at Washington. It now boasts over 100,000 fans on its Facebook page and has branched out to a website of its own.

State chapters are springing up across the country - including one in North Carolina.

Many aligning themselves with the Coffee Party say Washington politicians ignore the wishes of the voters who sent them there and are furious over the current atmosphere where corporate interests seem to take precedence. Many also feel their voices have been drowned out by the vitriol coming from the far right. The Tea Party has loudly taken aim at government spending and efforts to reform health care - calling it a big government takeover.

"It is as if a virus of hate has infected our country. Instead of debating different opinions it seems our arguments are reduced to name calling and mudslinging," wrote one poster to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Now, Coffee Party activists hope to reshape the dialogue. Organizers are rankled by attempts to paint them as tools of either the Democratic Party or the Obama White House. Instead, they say they're independent and are more interested in progress than right or left-wing labels.

"No lobbyists here. No pundits. And no hyper-partisan strategists calling the shots in this movement. We are a spontaneous and collective expression of our desire to forge a culture of civic engagement that is solution-oriented, not blame-oriented," says the "about us" section of the Coffee Party website.

While tapping into the same anger at Washington that the Tea Party has ridden to success, the Coffee Party says it doesn't see the government as the enemy. Instead, supporters say the government should reflect the collective will of the people and it wants to promote civility and inclusiveness in politics.

"I personally hope that this will initiate public discourse about real solutions to political issues," said Raleigh Coffee Party organizer Shannon Starkweather Burke in an e-mail to "I hope that people will leave apathy behind and begin to pay more attention to what are leaders do or do not do on our behalves."

Burke said it's time for people to stop sitting on the sidelines and get more involved with the direction the country is headed.

"We are tired of the disconnect between representatives and their constituents, and between the media and the public. We believe that corporations have played far too large a role in both (the media and the government) for far too long, and that it is time for people to take back their government. We need to start holding our officials accountable for their actions (or inaction) and ensure that we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people," she said.

While it's easy for thousands to join a Facebook group with one or two clicks of a computer mouse, the next challenge for the Coffee Party will be to convert to a real-world movement and push its energy out of cyberspace. The Tea Party has inserted itself into the national debate with hundreds of rallies around the country topped with a national conference and a march on Washington.

The Coffee Party is taking the first step in that direction this weekend with a "National Coffee Party Day" March 13. Hundreds of meetings are scheduled at coffee shops across the country. An event in Raleigh is scheduled for Saturday at Cup a Joe on Hillsborough Street. Click here for more information.

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