Coffee or Tea? A Party Grows in New York

A new grassroots effort offers people a new perspective on politics.

By Juan De Jesus
|  Wednesday, May 26, 2010  |  Updated 3:53 PM EDT
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Coffee or Tea? A Party Grows in New York

Coffee Party Flickr site

Coffee Party members from New York's 11th and 12th congressional district meet in Brooklyn.

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A surge of grass roots movements has recently sprouted on the political landscape, and  one of the groups making the most noise is the Tea Party Movement, which exploded onto the scene two years ago to protest the 2008 government Bailout and the 2009 stimulus package. 

But now another group is also sowing the seeds of their own grass roots movement:

The Coffee Party USA, which developed as an alternative to the more conservative Tea Party, is beginning to see its membership grow with the highest concentration being in New York according to John Lancelot, lead organizer of the New York City Coffee party.

Lancelot reiterated the key values of the Coffee party, "The first step is creating a public space for open and civil dialog. The second step is collective deliberation, considering facts and values to arrive at a decision. The third step is working toward implementing the decision."

The movement spawned from a multitude of defiant Facebook statuses by Annabel Park, who eventually stated "lets start a coffee party."  Documentary filmmakers Park and Eric Byler began the group officially on February 14, 2010, and from that seed of love the movement has begun to sprout groups around the country.

In the past three months over 30 “coffee” parties have been held in the New York/New Jersey area. But the Coffee party is not like it’s leafy, more aggressive brother. The group usually meets in small bars and coffee shops in order to have political discourse without the fear of having to agree with other attendees.

Park and Byler have also created an online community through their party’s web site that allows people to organize and start a group if their community does not have a local chapter.

One fledgling chapter has begun to meet at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. The group headed by 19-year-old Matthew Collura is still in its infancy but he remembers his first encounter with the movement.

“I was one of those people that randomly added them on Facebook. I didn’t really look at it till the next day,” says the college student.

It was on his second look that Collura saw that it was more than another random group invite.  “I’m into politics, so when I saw that I skipped class to make the next meeting," he said.

The college freshman has attended six meetings since and has begun organizing students at his college to get more involved with their government.

However, the psychology major says the appeal of the party is more than just its platform. He says that the groups though small offer something that the larger political meetings don’t. 

“It offers you a place where you can say whatever is on your mind as long as it’s respectful.”

While the meetings are usually small, the people that attend represent a variety of ages and political views.

“It has a more liberal slant, but only because conservatives haven’t joined!” exclaimed John Lancelot, the lead organizer for New York City.

According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, most Tea Party members tend to be Republican and hold stricter conservative views than their mainstream Republican counterparts. 

Both Lancelot and Collura state the conservative opinion is just as welcomed in their meetings and wish to encourage their participation in the Coffee Party events.

“When you have a human connection it’s easier to have discourse,” said Lancelot who once worked for Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

Lancelot says the major difference between the Tea Party and its left leaning counterpart is the way in which they approach their problems with government.

“The media portrays the Tea Party as aggressive. We on the other hand want to sit and talk with our leaders not scream at them,” says the organizer. 

The small nature of the party has been the key to its success. This compact nature allows individual chapters to tackle issues that are community specific. Lancelot does go on to say, “The party also has national issues that people can be active about.”

One such issue that is of concern to the Coffee Party is the recent United States Supreme Court decision that allows companies to spend large sums of money in support of candidates for elected office.

“The Tea Party wants small government, small government. But what about small big business,” said Lancelot stating the party is beginning to take a more activist role in this and other issues with the government.

Still, the Coffee Party remains a true grassroots effort with lobbying that is nonexistent and groups that come and go as their lives change. But to people like Matthew Collura and John Lancelot it represents a place where they can make a difference by informing other people and discussing opposing views. 

“Democracy only works when ordinary people are engaged," said Lancelot. "They have to be engaged with correct facts and information, that’s the only way we can make any type of change.”

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