I wrote about the Coffee Party (link) some months ago. In many respects the time for this group is here. However, there is a stylistic change that I would suggest.
They are too nice, almost militantly nice. In trying to be civil (a very subjective word) they are allowing themselves to be steamrolled. One needs to be nice, but one sometimes needs to show the teeth in front of the tongue. You don’t have to bite everyone’s head off, but it is valuable that your opponent knows there is an irritated pit bull on the leash behind you. At that point, opponents tend to negotiate differently.
Cases in point:
The ARC. A former chairman of a large cable company, the Governor of Pennsylvania, at least one Senator, and a number of township supervisors wanted to build a Hotel, Conference Center, and Museum (The ARC or America Revolution Center) inside Valley Forge National Park. The neighbors opposed it. They got up on their hind legs. It got nasty. Political Parties split in half and realigned. It got legal. It got all over the press. It took almost 2 years. Those advocating the facility locally were trounced in township elections. We made the case. The end result of this: The National Park Service recently completed a land swap with the Cable Guy where The ARC will be built in the historical district of downtown Philly. (I will go to the wall for Congressman Joe Sestak because of his involvement in fairly brokering this deal.)
Lax and the school board. I have 2 sons who play lacrosse (I think they are pretty good, but, I am the dad…). Lacrosse (or Lax) is a rough sport. You run around with sticks and beat the crap out of one another while putting a ball in a goal. (Snarks aside – it is a very intelligent game during which kids will be much less likely to get a concussion or knee injuries than football. I can go on forever, but I digress.)
Our, now former (they retired him with a huge wallet full of cash), school district athletic director is a football guy. He showed nothing but disdain for the sport. When parents like me asked for a number of reasonable things from him, we were blown off. We asked for things like not scheduling 4 games in 5 days (did I mention this is a rough sport) and access to the football stadium (the kids were playing on the worst possible fields the district could offer). We were blown off. Looking further into the issue, we found this athletic director had entered into contracts with a local parochial school situated outside the school district for the football stadium. A varsity sport was being denied access to its own fields in favor of outsiders. Just the taxation issues should give reasons to double-clutch here. You get the picture.
The parents group wanted to be nice. “Oh, we have to play politics. We have to be civil.” They did nothing to stand up to this guy. For the next year – they fired the coach – the program got fewer resources from a field standpoint, and the kids were still dangerously scheduled. The AD laughed all the way through. He’s gone, but the damage was done. (I have little respect or time for those who would allow their own kids to be put in a bad spot and do nothing.)
My recent experience with the Coffee Party is spotty. The Tea Party recently gathered at Independence Hall for a Race Summit headlined by Andrew Breitbart. I attempted to get people to an alternate rally to stand up to the Tea People about 2 miles away.
When I posted the invite on the Coffee Party’s Facebook Page the outrage was forceful and, should I say, uncivil. I took down my invite with the thoughts of these people alternating between being militantly nice (“Oh we can’t be mean. You can’t stand up to these people. You should not ask US, the terminally nice to do this.” ) and being too absorbed in their own causes to know what is going on (kinda like the scene in Life of Brian where organizers had more venom for rival groups than the Romans).
Currently the Coffee Party has an initiative to contact members of Congress, Coffee Campaign for Fair Elections (link). My questions about this cause are two-fold. First, what is the metric of success? Second, what will this group do if they are blown off by members of Congress?
Unilaterally relinquishing the ability to forcefully speak truth to power is a huge self-inflicted handicap. On the Coffee Party’s web site is an article about “Reversing the Coffee Party’s decline” (link). Various people are posting their thoughts, but I think the problem is the same for the Democratic Party mucky-mucks as it is for the Coffee Party. It is about harnessing the anger and rage we all feel at the public discourse. These are legit emotions; suppressing or neutering them does no good. People who tried going to Coffee Party Meetings may feel that the organization, while nice, lacks the will, spirit, or know-how to fight. Maybe outsiders looking in don’t think it knows how to get what it wants. Therefore it seems like a waste of time.
The Tea Party almost derailed Healthcare reform by harnessing their anger and directing it. The lacrosse parents lost because they would not, or could not, or were intimidated into not standing up. One needs to speak up as did the people in the case of The ARC neighborhood.
You can play songs like “Get Up, Stand Up”, but what does it mean? Yes, you can stand up. A defensive center in basketball stands in the lane ready to take a charge, but if the opponent slides around him – they will get an easy layup. It is only when that center can deliver a hard foul or two, that the offensive player will modify their behavior. Splattering offenders on the floor does that.
No one is going to give your rights just by being nice if you aren’t going to stand and fight. I am sorry; being nice inflicts no pain on a Congressman that simply slides around you for the easy layup.
I prefer something along the lines of Gil Scott Heron, “When Push Comes to Shove (We’ll Find Exactly What You’re Made Of)”.
I think The Coffee Party will gain more traction when it shows some teeth.