Just when the Tea Party movement appeared to be spreading across the US, a radically different vision of America has emerged, courtesy of Facebook.
Its title might not be imaginative, but the Coffee Party USA is making waves. In just a month its Facebook page has acquired more than 50,000 fans; and supporters of this left-of-centre alternative were logging their interest at a rate of a thousand an hour today.
On the face of it, the rivals share features beyond their beverage titles: offspring of social networking websites; self-consciously harnessing energy unleashed by populist frustrations with the political establishment; and strong views on the nature and role of government.
There the similarity ends. The Coffee Party crowd believe government is not an enemy of the people but the voice of the people. Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who started up the Facebook page from Silver Spring, Maryland, said: "We want to see people representing us moving towards solutions to problems rather than strategically obstructing any form of progress." In a video on www.coffeepartyusa.org (motto: wake up and stand up) she says she decided to act after "listening to news coverage that made it seem the Tea Party was representative of America. I completely disagree with this."
Though she wants the phenomenon to be seen as a bottom-up movement, it is clearly adopting a pro-Obama stance in contrast to relentless and often virulent opposition extended to the president by the opposition. Park herself has campaigned with Asians for Obama and on behalf of the Democratic senator Jim Webb.
The Coffee Party is yet another example of the democratising potential of the internet. Over the past two years it has allowed the political energy to swing wildly between opposite ends of the spectrum to a degree and at a speed unthinkable in pre-digital times. At first Barack Obama appeared to have a dominant grip over theweb, using social networking to attract enormous financial and organisational support.
Barely had he been sworn into office, however, but the Tea Party activists grabbed the initiative and applied it to their own purposes. Now the Coffee Party is attempting to seize it back.
Like the Tea Party groups, it is using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and to encourage individuals to form local outposts. Already some 45 Coffee Party chapters in at least 30 states have been set up, and meetings are being staged in several cities from Martinsville in Virginia, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Angeles.
The coffee metaphor helps: "It's unfortunate that Tea is no longer soothing," posts one supporter on Twitter. "It now makes me tense."