Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Coffee Party Letter to the Editor

Today, I had a Letter to the Editor appear in my local newspaper, the Altamont Enterprise regarding my organization of the Albany County Coffee Party as part of the National Coffee Party Kickoff to take place this Saturday, March 13.

I feel compelled to re-post the the letter in its entirety here for two reasons.  First, because the Enterprise never puts its Letters to the Editor on it's website.

Second, because the final few paragraphs of my 1,776 word letter were cut off, along with any byline to attribute the letter to me.  You can discern it was written by me in a small story deeper in the paper.  I don't hold it against them; the Enterprise is a top-notch, independently owned local paper that gives a huge forum to letter writers every week, so a mistake here and there is forgivable.

Without further adieu, here's what I wrote, along with the headline:

The Coffee Party is about people of all kinds engaging in civil discourse

I was pleased to see full coverage of the Hilltowns' chapter of the Tea Party meeting in your February 25, 2010 issue.  I went there myself out of sheer curiosity with regard to what they truly speak for and because I'd really like to say something about the state of our union myself.  So I can say from personal experience that the story told exactly what happened, right down to what I said at the end.
 The sad thing is that more space couldn't be given to this story.  The space constraints of a newspaper being fully understood, I'll quickly lay out my motives for this feeling.

First, I feel there's a lot more to the Tea Party than all media are reporting; in fact, the crux is very simple and universal.

Second, I'm egotistical.  I would have liked to see my entire speech printed.  Might as well be honest, right?

But space constraints being considered, I'll simply point out what I'd hoped would have been quoted instead in order to fully explain what the Tea Party really is about (or rather, should be about) and to introduce an incredible new movement very similar to the Tea Party at its core, yet fundamentally different in its approach.

I had also said:  "We the people means you the person...So do the organizing, but remember: you are the government and the government is you.  So if you just blame the government for everything, you are asking the government to take responsibility for you."

I was amazed I got it out; I'd asked the event's organizers to speak a little bit since I ran a write-in campaign the previous year and had volunteered on several campaigns before.  But they denied me.  I had to wait to be recognized by the final speaker.

So my statement presented the two major problems of the Tea Party.  The first is that it doesn't appear to be an actual conversation.  This is the vehicle of the political process at the grass roots level as well as in the halls of power: civil discussion between fellow citizens.

At the Tea Party, I got the impression that the regular folks in attendance were being talked at instead of spoken with.  The ideology and agenda were already set in stone, and the goal of the organizers seemed to be to chisel away at the minds of the audience.  This is not the way to bring the change our country truly needs.

Second, the viewpoints being expressed there pretty much boiled down to an us versus them mentality of the government being the enemy of the people.  And this view was grounded in the very damaging emotions of fear, anger, and hatred: Fear that the government was "stealing freedoms," anger over "taxing and spending," and, yes, a hatred of "big government."

Daniel Smith, the event organizer expressed these very words in his letter to the editor in the same issue the story ran.  That is to say, he didn't use the word "hate," itself.  Yet hate is the only thing that ever comes when following through on fear and anger precisely because this is a law of cause and effect that is beyond our control:  Lose control of fear and anger, and you lose more than control of the debate - you lose control of the consequences.

These have already manifested themselves.  While I won't insinuate any direct connection to the Tea Party movement, I find no coincidence in the difference between the way we're talking about planes flying into buildings in 2001 and 2010.  Last time, it was international terrorists who were afraid, angry, and hateful of our entire culture.  This year, it was a man who was angry at his government and afraid that there was nothing to be done about but be angry, and this made him hateful enough to fly his plane into an IRS building after posting a rant online that basically paraphrased many of the same ideals being discussed within the Tea Party movement.

So while Dan Smith and the Tea Party movement might say they want to stand up and start an awakening, I see America taking one step forward...and two steps backward, essentially sleepwalking toward the same nightmare.

Yet the desire to wake up is still there.  Not all of the Tea Party's position are disagreeable.  In fact, the more I speak with some in the movement, the more I find common ground between their mostly conservative views and my mostly progressive ones.

But the biggest thing I find in common is the gut-level feeling that something is very, very wrong in America and it is up to nobody but ourselves to make things right again.  This is why the majority of Americas are still disengaged by both the Democratic-Republican Party (we've determined the two parties truly are one and the same) and by the Tea Party.

As I left the Tea Party, I thought of how I just wanted to sit down with a couple friends, have a cup of coffee and talk amongst each other about what is wrong with this new two party system... it turns out, I wasn't alone.

Late last month, somebody posted their thoughts about the Tea Party on Facebook and how something should be formed to counter it.  Something that truly speaks to our common ground as Americans to find consensus on the issues that really affect us based on the factual conditions on the ground.  "Let's form a Coffee Party!" she posted.  And somebody responded, "Yes!  Let's do it."

And then somebody else said that.  Then a few more people.  Then they actually got together and did it while even more people chimed in.  And in a few short weeks, over 100,000 people joined the new website and organized a National Coffee Party Kickoff Day for Saturday, March 13th, 2010.

I was one of them.  I saw that the City of Albany didn't have a chapter organized yet.  So I called up Uncommon Grounds on Western Avenue and asked if 2:00 pm would be okay to host.  The manager said he'd be a fool not to (we'll be drinking his coffee and we're all free-market capitalists after all).  There's another one that popped up Downtown at Noon as well.

In fact, there's over 300 Coffee Parties that have organized across America.  And they're being put together by regular people to bring regular people together.

This is not a big anti-or-pro-anything movement being pushed by a political party or media organization.  This is not a platform for conservative or liberal politicians of ambition or philosophers of doom.  And this is not a place for dug-in-heels, head-in-the-sand ideological activists to get people worked up to scream "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

The Coffee Party is only pro-democratic-republicanism (with a small "d" and little "r") because and pro-people we are a democratic republic of the people.  And since in this form of rule the government and the people are one in the same, we have to start being active employers if we want our representatives to be good employees.  That is, if we want to change our government, then what we really have to change is ourselves.

The Coffee Party is about all people getting to work and engaging in the civil discourse that this form of government requires of us, regardless of party affiliation or ideological preference.

It's simple math really: The words "Democrat" or "Republican" and "liberal" or "conservative" are merely labels that have been pushed on us by the media and politicians to divide us, subtracting from the common good.  We don't want the government to go to one party or the other or move to the right or left; we just want them to start adding to the solutions column.

But they haven't been doing that, so the Coffee Party is multiplying.  In this way, the Coffee Party has more of a "Gotta Prob'm? Let's Git'r Done!" attitude when compared to the Tea Party.

I think this explains why the Tea Party seems to have run its course and why the Coffee Party has grown so quickly; it's why the Tea Party has become yet another vehicle which divides us and why the Coffee Party seeks to find common ground with all Americans, including Tea Partiers, and then translate what we find out about each other - in simple conversation over a cuppa joe at our favorite coffee shops - into direct action.

You know...there's been a lot of talk about "change" these past few years.  In 2006 we had to "change" parties in Congress.  Then we had to "change" parties in the White House and in the State Senate in 2008.  Now this year, the Tea Party seems to be saying we need to "change" back.

I'm not buying it.  I'm tired of the pendulum swinging back and forth.  America must replace this grandfather clock and get with the times and go digital.  Heck, the world entered the digital age long ago.  It's time to get back to get with the program...and wake up and smell the coffee.

That's why I like what Gandhi said about change the best:  "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

In other words, democracy isn't about just sitting back and watching politicians not work together toward the common good.  And it's not about the people boiling over from the frying pan and into the fire, either.

America is about we the people ordaining and establishing a framework of government to serve as a manifestation of our collective will.  That can only work if we lead by example, set the tone ourselves, and participate in the process we created (Soundpolitic Blogger's Note: Here is where the printed version of the letter ends.) and have defended since the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

That convention would have never been successful if there hadn't been a willingness to compromise, a dedication to cooperate, and a pledge to remain civil.  That's what the Coffee Party is about: we seek to empower each other as founding fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters of liberty ourselves.

And that's all we'll be doing this Saturday at 2:00 pm at Uncommon Grounds at the Albany Coffee Party as the movement gets started nationwide:  Just talking about our problems to look for solutions and decided what to do next about them so we can git'r done, once and for all, all for one, e pluribus unum.  Well, that and we'll be drinking coffee!  For more information, head to or if you really, really liked the way I put it, read more at my blog at

Colin Abele
Berne, NY
Thus ends my letter on page six.  And so begins my work on turning the page this coming Saturday.  Stay tuned for a report on how things went in the next edition of Soundpolitic Sundays.

1 comment:

Soundpolitic said...

I've cross-posted this blog on the front-page of The Albany Project and to the diaries on DailyKos so you can read it different colors!