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The Left's Answer to Tea Parties? A Cup of Joe

Sean J. Miller

A burgeoning netroots movement has emerged from what its
founder characterized as "ranting on my Facebook page."

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

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.

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