Coffee, politics and conversation. A fine way to spend an afternoon.
Last weekend I attended my first Coffee Party meeting and found myself simultaneously emboldened and dejected. It was as promised an opportunity for individuals to come together and discuss in a civilized manor the issues of the day. With great happiness I found this end realized on every level, and for this alone the Coffee Party should be held up as a break though in political discourse and step in the right direction. There where however a number of glaring issues that I see as causing problems down the line. I being one who would like to find possible solutions to these issues have chosen at this time to focus on them rather than the many positives I took from the meeting.
It is my belief that for any group or civilization to work in harmony with each other they must on some level have a common purpose or ideology. It matters little in the early stages of formalizing a group what the lowest common denominator is, but all must be united behind it, and its purpose must be clear. This uniting principle is not cast in stone for eternity, but must be present at the inception to act as the political nucleus around which all must orbit.
Having attended this meeting I was presented with the impression that participants where fighting primarily over the direction of the movement. I could see no clear no consensus on what the coffee party is actually for and what is most basic purpose is. Without this most simple of fundamentals it makes it almost impossible to truly come together under one banner. The strongest positives from the meeting were the projection of 4 core values and I have no objection to any of these. They are good, true concepts that should be promoted:
1) Civility: Diversity of peoples & opinions;
2) Honesty and accountability
3) EERG: effective, efficient, responsive government
4) Encouraging participatory citizenship
But what is the philosophy that binds these ideas? Where is the vanishing point in this political painting? Before you build the roads, you must first build Rome. With no common focus, or central philosophy to unite us much, time and energy will be wasted building roads that lead us nowhere. It is because of this that I feel that much work must be done on internal debate over what the coffee party as a movement actually wants of its self.
We must ask what is the essence that brought us together? In this answer we may find the bonds that allow the movement to grow and not fracture into a thousand separate good ideas. We must ask our selves if the Coffee Party only achieves one thing what we would want that one thing to be. My personal suggestion to encourage as broad and diverse a philosophy as possible; sustainable politics must have an element of the ‘big tent’, small tents are far to easy to dislodge in a system that is designed to keep them out.
Single Issues Campaigning
This is a topic that I am sure many members will disagree with me on, but is at this stage my principle concern from this meeting.
Is the coffee party a movement that is purely about single issues or about something bigger? When each attendee was initially asked why they were there a number answered it was because of health care, education, or campaign finance and while I feel that every one of these issues is very important I do not feel that they should be the principle focus of the Coffee Party. I say this because each of these topics already has its own representation or lobby organization and I have to ask if that is your only reason for being with the Coffee Party why are you not with them?
It is my hope that the Coffee Party expands beyond the limited boundaries of single issue politics; there is enough of that already for both the Left and Right. I am therefore advocating an expansion of horizons and encouraging a narrative to be developed that brings together more than one issue, the Coffee Party shouldn’t want to end up with an office on K Street.
An ultimate ambition
As a goal setter myself I work best with a target in mind. I find that by establishing ‘X’ as being the determining factor in concluding the success or failure of my activity I have a way of organizing my thoughts and actions appropriately. Without this ‘X’ my mind wonders in all sorts of confused and contradictory ways and often nothing will be achieved. It is with this in mind that I suggest some form of objective(s) be established by the Coffee Party.
It would be my desire to see the classic short, medium and long term objectives be established for all to see. By having these goals both existing and new members alike will easily be able to recognize what they are aiming for and be more efficient at formalizing strategy for achieving these objectives – I apologize if this is getting preachy, but it is very strange to spend 2 hours talking passionately about issues but with no clear reason as to why!
Party or Movement?
I myself have mixed the two concepts in this posting without clarification and am reaching the point in my thinking where neither is making any sense at all. The problem I have is that I perceive a ‘Party’ as an individual entity that looks to form its own foundation to reach its own ends. However, a ‘movement’ is a group of like minded individuals that are looking to influence the established forum through force of numbers.
I would like to see some time in meetings used to discuss which of these the Coffee Party is aiming to be. Are we looking to get together and lobby the existing parties to consider our position, or are we looking to put forward our own ideas and solutions. It is very difficult to achieve both at the same time and by choosing neither you run the risk of achieving nothing.
My vote would always go to party forming. I feel that 2 party politics is at the very heart of multiple problems faced in America today and only by increasing the voters’ choice are we ever going to see the political system evolve. A Coffee Party that acts as a movement in reality will end up as a fringe influence to the Democrats and if that is all we are going to do then why bother. You are likely to have far greater success from inside the Democratic Party its self than you ever are from the outside looking in.
If you have made it this far then I thank you for your time and ask you to add your own thoughts to these comments. I raise these points not as a way of bring pure negativity to the Coffee Party but as a way of asking the questions I see as important. For every established idea, belief, organization and community there are hundred more that failed. I simply want the foundation to be strong enough to support the potential of what could be a very important and long lasting voice in American politics.