At over 350 small coffee shops across the country today, Americans are witnessing the birth of a new movement. It's not Democrat or Republican, it's not progressive or conservative, it's not young or old. It's not about issues so much as a new way of seeing politics. It's not even the Coffee Party (full disclosure: I am a lifelong tea drinker); as someone said this morning, "We're the Coffee, Tea and We Party."
I attended the first organizing event of the nascent Coffee Party at an ungodly hour of a rainy morning in the welcoming Busboys & Poets coffeeshop in downtown Washington, DC. I had persuaded my friend Mary Panke to go with me, believing in her ability to think positive thoughts and to see creative solutions in every issue. I attended mostly out of curiousity and the cynical fear that the Coffee Party was attempting to copy the Tea Party's tactics.
The approximately 50 people in attendance ranged from students, young people in their 20s, a female military officer in her upper 50s who was an ardent pacifist, and many middle-aged people like myself who weren't sure what they were walking into but were open to a new paradigm. Led by activist and entrepreneur Andy Shallal and CodePink founder Medea Benjamin, the meeting's rules were clear: No bashing of the Tea Party and a willingness to talk and listen. The presence of a CNN crew lent a festive air as did the free (organic, free trade) coffee.
We made a list of our pressing political issues -- jobs, the economy, health care, peace and justice, immigration -- which likely is similar to one that would be created at a similar meeting of the Tea Party. We introduced ourselves mostly with the personal -- few talked about what they did in their professional lives. The common thread was a frustration with the political process and the lack of civility in discourse. "We may disagree, but we must not be disagreeable," one young man quoted his grandfather.
Breaking into small groups, we spoke about how the political endgame so often creates inertia among our nation's leaders. We bemoaned the fact that the media frequently pits liberals against conservatives as though -- at our heart -- we have no beliefs in common. But don't we all care about jobs and our families and the well-being of our nation? Where we diverge is how to get there. One participant said, "It's not about left or right but about forward. It's not about more government or less government but about good government."
I recalled the first time I voted in an election. I'll never forget the excitement -- even though I was out of the country and voted absentee. It was a seminal moment for me, the time I realized I played a part in the direction of my country. It was my Patriot Moment. Today was my second Patriot Moment. If ever there were a grassroots movement, this is it. But it can't be portrayed as elitist or against anything because today I was part of something that had no boundaries. We may not have created an agenda for the future or a manifesto or a slogan. But we did create a sense of hope and purpose and conciliation.
In the coming months, the Coffee Party may even begin talking to the Tea Party; perhaps we can jointly attend a Caffeine Party. Our greatest accomplishment would be to step across the many lines in the sand and begin to find the areas where there is common ground. Then maybe members of Congress would step across the aisle and begin to do the same. Let's wake up and smell whatever is brewing -- it's good for all of us.