Not everyone's cup of tea - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Not everyone's cup of tea

Coffee Party, with local gatherings, provides alternative forum

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Posted: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:11 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

When the patriots protested excessive taxation 234 years ago, they dumped tea into Boston Harbor … but kept their coffee in the cupboard.

Today, some hold the same preference, only in politics as opposed to beverages.

The Northwest Tucson Coffee Party has been meeting since March, less than three weeks after the launch of The Coffee Party USA by Annabel Park.

"It's not a confrontation to the Tea Party," said local Coffee Party founder Marlene Schiller. "It's an alternative. If you're tired of the Tea Party, come to us."

The Coffee Party began when Park became weary of the growing discussion about the Tea Party's representation of America. In response to this frustration, she formed a Facebook fan page proposing an alternative political reform.

Within weeks the page had more than 100,000 fans. As of July 6 it was up to 231,701.

Fans of the movement began their own Coffee Party organizations, meeting in coffee shops across the nation.

Schiller became involved in the Coffee Party when her daughter, a political science professor, came across an advertisement for a Tucson meeting. Schiller attended, and told her friends.

"They all said it sounded like a great idea, but they didn't want to have to go downtown," Schiller said.

Schiller was a member of an Oro Valley current events discussion group, and she led the way for the group to become the current Northwest Tucson Coffee Party.

The Northwest Tucson Coffee Party has about a dozen members who meet every Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Oro Valley Library. They discuss topics such as immigration, education, campaign funds and legislative activities.

"It's not about the candidates," said Schiller, "it's about the issues." The Coffee Party maintains a non-partisan platform.

"We do not require nor adhere to any pre-existing ideology … We see our diversity as a strength, not a weakness, because we believe that faithful deliberation from multiple vantage points is the best way to achieve the common good," according to the Coffee Party USA website.

Nevertheless, most local Coffee Party members identify with the Democratic Party.

"We have had Republicans come," said Schiller, "the problem is that they usually don't come back."

The group has focused a large part of its efforts at recruiting more members.

"One of our main goals is to help form a more informed public," said Wil Eastland, co-founder of the Northwest Tucson Coffee Party.

The Coffee Party also provides a location for those in-between political ideologies.

"There are a lot of Independents and they feel like they don't have anywhere to go, now they do," Schiller said.

In addition to recruiting and lively debate at meetings, action has been targeted on voting.

"It's hard to attract attention because we don't throw rocks through windows," said Schiller.

The group aims to stay on top of issues, "encourage the return of reason and civility," and use "reason to persuade." To that end, Coffee Party members are asked to sign a civility pledge.

"If we disagree with someone, we don't need a gun, we have a ballot box for that," Eastland added.

The group plans to hold open special event meetings with speakers and panels. The first special event on June 23 was candidates' night with Democratic Senate candidate Rodney Glassman.

This month, the Coffee Party plans a panel discussion with members from the Tucson Unified School District to discuss the controversy surrounding the district's ethnic studies program.

"What people don't realize, is that ethnic studies have always been in schools, but it's been European studies and the rest of the ethnicities have just been footnoted," Eastland said.

Tucson Tea Party organizer Trent Humphries meets the new movement with open arms.

"The more people that get involved and become informed, the better," he said. "That's what democracy is all about . . . If they agree with me, great. If they don't, that's great too."

The Tea Party isn't worried about losing its place as the movement to watch.

"I don't ever see them counteracting the Tea Party," Humphries said. "They formed to get press coverage but they haven't done anything yet."

Humphries also expressed concern that the Coffee Party is too centralized with its national founder and platform, whereas the Tea Party has no national base but formed through local leaders with a goal to reduce the size and spending of government.

"When we work on national issues we go through local leaders," said Humphries. "I don't think the Coffee Party has that concept yet … The Coffee Party has one strict founder and rules set down, that's too bad.

"It'd be great if they became more of a local civil advocacy group, but odds are they won't go that way because they didn't start there."

Coffee or tea, either way it appears political debate is brewing.

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