Sunday, March 28, 2010

I attend a Coffee Party

You’ve heard about the Tea Party here in the United States. Maybe you’ve even heard about the Coffee Party. Yesterday, I dropped by a small gathering of would-be activists to learn for myself about this second group.

The Coffee Party as I understand it is a reaction to rancor and vitriol spilled by the Tea Party. As opposed to focusing on hate for the status quo, the idea is to think constructively about the nation’s problems and make some suggestions. The difference as I understand it is as much about the approach as it is about the issues. The organizers of the Coffee Party are quite careful not to identify themselves as "progressives" or "liberals." The idea is to build bridges rather than to throw stones.

I had heard about the Coffee Party from an e-mail sent by the loosely organized group. The note said I could punch my zip code into the web site and learn if there were any meetings nearby. Because I don’t live in a metropolitan area, usually such meetings are too far away. In this case, however, I learned that the meeting was planned at the local university. Very convenient. I decided to drop by.

The meeting attracted 10 people – six undergrad college students and four people who were in their late 40s or older. Overall, there were three males – two older guys & one student. The age gap was a little awkward. I was aware of the differences in our experiences. One woman referred to marching against war for the last 30 years or so. These students have different experiences, different history. Ronald Reagan is a historical figure for these students, not a president they protested. The Contras? Who? Ollie North? The Vietnam War perhaps gets lumped in with the Korean War, just another meaningless war in Asia.

If anything, I would have preferred to hear more from these younger students, but they may have felt shy in front of older people who were obviously so passionate about political issues. What are the issues that are motivating the young people? Some of them discussed same-sex marriage, for example, remarking how they did not see the rationale for preventing it. In future meetings, it might be good to structure the discussion so that all members of the group are allocated time to enunciate their political concerns.

The agenda of the group was fuzzy – but the facilitator had some instructions from headquarters to help guide the meeting. Our primary agenda for the meeting was to discuss our personal priorities and then decide on a priority for our little group. While we deemed many issues important – stopping the war, protecting the environment, improving the education system – the issue that lay at the core was the reform of the campaign financing system.

How to fix it? That’s a hard question, because there are serious legal issues involved. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court invalidated a major part of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. None of us were lawyers. But we agreed on a gut level feeling that the political process has been corrupted by the power of money trumping the power of individuals.

Perhaps we could even agree with Tea Party activists on this point. I don’t know.

What’s next? We’re going to meet soon with our legendarily right-wing congressional representative to communicate our concerns. Beyond that, I don’t know. It may seem like the fruits of this organizing effort are small, but personally I believe that every action has an effect. The motives behind our meeting were good and positive, so I expect that the results will be similarly positive and good.

Oh, and one of the students even bought me coffee. Very nice!