Sunday, March 14, 2010

Soundpolitic Sundays: Lucky Irish Coffee Edition

Saturday, March 13th, 2010, isn't quite St. Patrick's Day. This matters not to the people of the City of Albany. They hold not two parades each year.

As luck would have it, the parade coincided with the Coffee Party's National Kickoff this year. I don't doubt them for not seeing this one coming. In fact, nobody saw this movement coming. From a single Facebook comment in to nearly 150,000 members in just a month, the Coffee Party was kicking off in over 300 meetings yesterday thanks to dedicated grassroots organizers...

...such as myself. I organized the Albany County Coffee Party that met at Uncommon Grounds nearby the SUNY Albany campus. Navigating the parade traffic from the Noon meeting of the Downtown Coffee Party meeting earlier, I found that luck was on my side...on our side as the Coffee Party kicked off in our state's historic capital.

Below the fold, this edition of Soundpolitic Sundays gives the whole scoop for those of you who wish to go beyond the media coverage of National Coffee House Day and get to story straight from the horses mouth...
To bring you up to speed, dear reader, I would first direct you to my last few blogs, all with regard to my organization of the Coffee Party in Albany. These include a blog about a prime-time radio interview the day before the movement kicked off nationally as well as last week's edition of Soundpolitic Sundays. These should bring you up to speed with anything that flies over your head in this week's report.

The day began early for a Saturday. I woke up about eight, sat zazen for the standard twenty minutes, then raced over my local library in Berne to check e-mails. The past week has been a flurry of racing about to public terminals due to my lack of a home internet connection (due to my lack of gainful employment for the past 14 months).

Each time I logged on, however, those problems melted away. I found more and more people interested in the new movement to change the tone in America's politics at the personal level, and found each new blog from myself and folks like Jake Goad on DailyKos making greater impact with each passing day.

By 10:30, I was ready to go. My generous mother made one last donation to the movement by filling my bumper-stickered Subaru's tank; the night before, she proved her sainthood by picking up some sign-making materials. Without the generosity of friends and family in this harsh recession, many of us young folks would be much worse off.

I parked without paying on State Street at 11:45, in the shadow of the New York State Capitol, and hopped down the block to catch up with the Downtown Albany Coffee Party meeting at the North Pearl Street Starbucks. There I met the organizer, Valerie St. Joseph. I was the first to arrive, and we exchanged smiles and stories. She and I are both artistic types and interested in making sure that this new national movement has a local impact here in Albany county and it's seat.

Soon enough, folks started to pop in. There were no signs to direct the Coffee Partiers that began to appear, but they were drawn to us by our, I dunno, aura of civility emanating from our conversation. By noon, about a dozen people of all walks of life had appeared and signed in. Valerie's group was a bit more informal, at her own behest. While the Coffee Party is incredibly organized on a national level, especially considering it's shoestring budget bolstered by amazing technological donations, she said she put together the meeting "out of sheer laziness."

Despite what she says, her hard work paid off. I was only able to stick around for a few minutes, but was able to snap a digital photo or two of the participants.

Downtown Albany Coffee Party Kickoff

Downtown Albany Coffee Party Sign

By quarter after twelve, we began going around and introducing ourselves. Already, this diverse group was coming to a consensus. One of the members pointed out that he believed very strongly that the true middle of America was being ignored by the media, which tends to focus on the animosity between right-and-left-wing fringes so as to craft an entertaining storyline focused on conflict.

When the circle got to me, I gave my name and handle on TAP and Kos. There was another Kossack there as well, and though she was easily twice my age and four shades darker, we were definitely one and the same this day. I made sure to note that this was another step forward in Albany's history, building on the Albany Plan of Union, the first ever plan to unite the colonies to break from British oppression, as well as the Tin Horns & Calico movement that occurred in my beloved Helderberg Mountains to finally break free of fuedal Patroons, the first ever grassroots "third" party movement in America.

I gave them my signature statements ("We the people means you the person" and "Keep up the good work!") and then excused myself so I could get to own gathering in time. Valerie was good enough to bum me a dollar and change so I could actually get some coffee in my system, demonstrating the true spirit of helping each other out in times of need.

As I walked out the door and looked up the street, the Irish were gathering all over. Green shirts and hats were already everywhere and merchants selling shamrocks and Guiness logos set up on the corners. But the colors that caught my eye were the inspiring primaries of red, white, and blue...

...a parking enforcement officer! I ran up the slope of Capitol Hill and got to my Obamamobile in the knick of time. I wished the officer good luck with the revelry that day and headed uptown to Uncommon Grounds, not knowing exactly what would happen next.

As I arrived, it was just turing to 1 pm. As an aside, don't forget to spring your clocks an hour ahead this evening! Dead broke, I got a free cup of water as I started to get my laptop going in safe mode. Unfortunately, there was no WiFi. So I tapped out the first half of this blog, finishing by 1:30...

...and at this point I began to notice a roundtable in the center of the cafe's floor begin to murmer about the Coffee Party. I stepped up to introduce myself to the five or so early birds before stepping out for a smoke.

By the time I came back in, our numbers had easily tripled.

By the end of the event, about forty citizens from all over the Capital Region were in attendance.

The meeting got off to a slightly late start at 2:07 as I was interviewing with a reporter from the New York State Legislative Gazette. Keep your eye out for the story.

I then got the meeting started since the attendees had moved the tables together themselves and created a perimeter around them. I introduced the meeting by going over a few things provided by the good folks at Coffee Party USA. Keep in mind that anybody can organize one of these things and it doesn't matter if four or forty people show up. With one exception, I started things off by directly following the Coffee Party USA's Local Facilitator's Guide. I'll quote these instead of what I said verbatim as they are exactly what will be made available to you should you decide to start your own chapter:

The Coffee Party Movement's Mission Statement

The Coffe Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see coooperation in governemnt to create positive solutions. We recognize that the government is not the enemy of the people, but a vehicle for our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions that benefit all Americans, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

Ground Rules for Common Ground

1. Respect everyone. Even if we disagree, listen to understand. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Check party affiliations at the door.

2. Big tent. We need all kinds of people coming together to create solutions.

3. This isn't a debate. Don't waste time arguing or proving you're right. The answer is usually "Both/And." We are here as a community

Soundpolitic Blogger's note: I added that in improv comedy, the way to keep the sketch going is to not "block" your fellow performer by saying "no," but to instead say, "Yes. And..." in order to keep the sketch going wherever it may go. Isn't poltics funny?

4. This isn't a pity party. Don't spend too much time complaining. Focus on common ground solutions and what each of us can do.

5. Step up/Step back. Step up if you're shy, step back if you usually talk.

6. Take initiative! Speak up, volunteer for things, jump in with both feet.

7. Respect people's space. No inappropriate financial/personal solitications.

Soundpolitic Blogger's note: While I made no such thing, the Coffee Partiers passed around a plate to tip the employees of Uncommon Grounds for their hard work in dealing with a surprise group of 40 political activists! Way to go, guys!

8. Act like your mama raised you right! If someone is being blatantly disruptive or disrespectful, the facilitator should inform that peson respectfully: "if you continue to be disruptive, I'll need to ask you to leave."

9. Support the facilitator. It's good for one person to be empowered to guide the group. Support that person! Don't undermine them! If you don't like their style, cool! Vote with your feet and start your own coffee shop!

10. We are here as a community to advance the common good.

Six Purposes of March 13 National Coffee Party Day

* Come together to build community as people who care about our country.

* Make our voices heard in the media through our photos, video, and signs.

* Model community to replicate every coffee shop in America.

* Change our national narrative to cooperating on solutions.

* Plan Coffee Day 2 (March 27) and "Coffee With Congress" (March 29-April 11)

Soundpolitic Blogger's Note: While we took all the first five steps quite well, with such a large group it was difficult to get a second gathering set in stone. However, multiple Coffee Partiers left expressing their intentions to form their own groups in Schenectady, Saratoga, and Rensseleaer Counties! So...great success!

Five Phases of the Coffee Party Movement's Plan

1. Listening and organizing in as many coffee shops as possible (Spring 2010) on national tone, process and solutions (Spring 2010) via gatherings, possibly a march on Washington (Summer 2010) via non-partisan voter mobilization (Fall 2010) our next steps together (Winter 2010)

2. Making our voices heard

3. Show our power

Soundpolitic Blogger's Note: I suggested that a march on Albany might well be added to our agenda given our Legislature's infamous dysfunction. On this, there was resounding consensus!

4. Hold elected officials accountable

5. Debrief our first year and envision

I followed these up with a couple of lists that I'd discovered myself in a book called Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place. The final chapter of the book contains some "pithy statements" by Zen Master Kazuaki Tanahashi:

Four Commonplace Truths of Politics

1. No situation is impossible to change.

2. A communal vision, outstanding strategy, and sustained effort can bring forth positive changes.

3. Everyone can help make a difference.

4. No one is free from responsibility.

Ten Laws of Political Breakthrough

1. Breakthrough may or may not occur. The result is unpredicatble and how it happens is mysterious. All we can do is work towards breakthrough.

2. Some breakthroughs are life-affirming and others destructive.

3. The chance for breakthrough increases when the objective and the process are clearly stated.

4. The chance for breakthrough increases when the blocks are clearly identified.

5. The smaller the objective is, the greater the chance for breakthrough.

6. An effective, intense, and continuous effort builds a foundation for breakthrough.

7. The more forces combine, the greater the chance for breakthrough.

8. The greater the objective is, the easier it is to bring together force for breakthrough.

9. The chance for breakthrough increases when more attention is directed to the process than the goal.

10. Nonattachment is a crucial element for breakthrough

Emphasis added to passages most relative to the Coffee Party Movement's mission. All four truths and all ten laws are equally important. -SP

After this (and a round of applause!) I passed around my tape recorder as a kind of Native American talking stick so that everybody could introduce themselves, share a little bit about themselves, and get started coming to a consensus on the biggest of issues. After this, we all agreed to make some signs, all while I juggled the role of photographer and media interviewee.

I'll let the Capital News 9 coverage and the photos I took speak louder than words since I'm already way over budget:

Albany County Coffee Partiers Introductions

Albany County Coffee Partiers Forming Consensus

Albany County Coffee Party Signmaking

Albany County Coffee Party First Signs

Albany County Coffee Party Our Country Our Conversation

Albany County Coffee Party Common Ground for Common Good

Albany County Coffee Party Signs

By 4 pm, that was it. The Coffee Party Movement had officially kicked off in Albany as it had across America. I'll tell you what: it was great to be a part of it. I hope you take the initiative to capture that feeling as well. Because while the luck of the Irish is something good to have, indeed, this was an example of true Americans coming together...

...and making their own luck.

This concludes the three-or-four part series on the transition from the Tea Party to the Coffee Party on Soundpolitic Sundays. Tune in next week for something completely different and, as always, thanks for reading and keep up the good work!

1 comment:

Soundpolitic said...

Cross-post time. It took no time at all to get this to the front page of The Albany Project.

But I need some tech support to get this the diaries on DailyKos thanks to automatic tagging.

I felt like I was driving a Toyota Prius with a "sticky" floormat!