People started showing up early. I was standing outside Lestat’s – the famous Adams Avenue coffeehouse in Normal Heights twenty minutes before the noon meeting was to start. A half dozen older folks had joined me in front. I joked – to laughter: “Is this going to be a gray-haired movement?”
One woman replied “And I spent all this money trying to hide my gray.” Even though I had been joking, I did have the thought that the meeting would consist of fifty and sixty-something year olds only. But I was wrong. By the end of the meeting two hours later, my joke was answered with a resounding ‘no’.
It was March 13th – the national coffee party meeting day – hundreds of meetings were going on across the country, most in coffee houses. And it was the very first time anybody in San Diego had met under the new grassroots banner of java.
We later learned that actually, there wereyesterday, March 13th.
The Coffee Party started when Annabel Park, a thirty-something professional and sometimes volunteer with the Obama election campaign, had become so upset, frustrated and fed-up with politics and the Tea Parties that she expressed herself on her facebook. She had called for forming a “coffee party movement.” That was in late January – less than two months ago! Today, there are close to 400 chapters forming and over 120,000 people have signed on as fans to the coffee party website.
As soon as we had heard about it, Mike James, Patty Jones and I had agreed to host the first get together and begin a local Coffee Party. We contacted “the national office” – which is in somebody’s kitchen or garage – coordinated with them and called Lestat’s coffee house and set it up. We were to meet in their “theater” space next door to the busy and roomy establishment.
Mike James had been a long-time OB resident, and back in the eighties, he and his brothers – including Pat James – opened up James Gang on Newport. Mike moved out of OB years ago, but still makes frequent appearances at the beach. (Pat and his wife Susan still run the busy shop on Bacon.)
Patty and I work on this blog website, and we had been involved in organizing the counter rally to the Tea Party gathering held on that tsunami day, Feb 27th, down at San Diego Harbor.
In an earlier post discussing the then-upcoming rally against the Tea Partiers, I had called for a “coffee grounds movement” – totally independent of what else was going on under the java cup concept. Here’s what I said in a post asking “should progressives confront the Tea Party rally?” back on February 17th.
Hey, don’t tell the Tea Party activists, but their use of the tea bag symbol is totally upside down. American patriots stormed those English ships in Boston harbor and threw the tea overboard. They would be aghast if they knew modern-day citizens were using the tea bag as a positive icon. The tea was thrown overboard, and that’s when American colonists turned to coffee.
To counter the Tea Baggers, progressives need to start a “coffee grounds” movement.
“Coffee grounds” , “coffee party” – same thing. Then a good friend sent me a link to the brand new coffee party movement – and snap – we were on. Mike James had also caught wind of the new java trend and contacted us. Once we connected, our efforts zoomed.
Mike set up a local facebook and . The “national office” sent us forms and “how to” packets, as well as mainstream media coverage of the movement. Mike sent out a press release and we all began sending out emails. We figured at most there would be fifty that would show up.
We were in for a surprise – and a pleasant one at that. By the time we were a half hour into the meeting – it was standing-room only. The hall was packed. 75 people ended up signing our sign-in list.
Mike had asked me to moderate the meeting, so I welcomed everyone and talked a little about the history of this new movement – and it was brief as there’s not much history – as I kept reiterating, “this movement has just begun.”
We then went around the room and everyone had a chance to explain why they were there. I heard a lot of frustration with the current state of things – frustration with Obama, with the Republicans, with the partisanship, with the tea parties, the screaming and lack of civility – and even fear. Fear had definitely been one factor in bringing people to Lestats. Fear of the right-wing extremists, fear of the Tea Baggers, fear of the corporations taking over our democracy. But it was mainly the frustration that was the over-riding current in the room.
Even though we had sent out press releases, there hadn’t been much pre-event coverage in local media about our meeting. CityBeat had run a small blurb on their events page, and there had been an article on the OB RAG. And of course Mike and I had sent out emails. But some people spoke of how they had just found out about our meeting. Just yesterday. Just two hours ago. One guy had showed up only after reading somewhere on the web a half hour earlier.
From what people said, I could tell there were a lot of disenchanted Democrats, some Libertarians, leftists of different persuasions, a former John Anderson follower, a former Ross Perot campaign worker, independents – one guy said he was there to balance out the fact that his brother was a Republican consultant – people laughed at that. One draw back with the turnout was that it was mostly white – hardly any people of color showed up.
In general, even though people had frustrations, they were upbeat, friendly, a lot of smiling faces, easy to laugh fellow citizens. People were supportive of each other. One woman was in her eighties and one young guy was 13. More than a third of the room was under 40, and the rest were between 40 and 65.
Going around the room took a while, but not only did it give everyone a moment to speak, it also helped create community, as heads were nodding when people spoke of their frustrations, and it helped to create unity, a real-life sharing of ideas, values and frustrations. We were coming face to face with other San Diegans who felt the same way we did – fed up. It was actually uplifting. When we had finished with this round of personal statements, we gave ourselves a round of applause.
I then read the Ground Rules -‘respect everyone’, ‘we’re a big tent, not a pity party’, and ‘act like your mama raised you right!’, etc, (see below) and asked everyone if they could accept them – and everyone did.
We briefly went over the purposes of the National Coffee Party Day, and the movement’s “plan,” – this Spring we’ll be talking to Congressional reps, maybe a march on Washington in the Summer, and non-partisan voter mobilizations next Fall.
I had everyone raise their hands while the Civility Pledge was read:
As a member or guest of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people of different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.
We all agreed with the pledge. In fact, civility – or the lack thereof, continued to be a big issue in our discussions over the remainder of the two hours. At one point, a sign was made that said: “San Diego – Civility” – made for our photo shoot at the end.
Then, in unison, we all recited the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide fro the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It was kind of awe-inspiring listening to us recite this statement together, our strong voices filling up the hall.
At some point during our meet, Channel 8 News showed up, filming the crowded room and interviewing some participants outside. The report the news team filed, broadcast last night, was fairly accurate and positive.
As moderator, I realized that the acoustics of the room and size of the crowd did not make it very conducive for deep political discussions. We had to break down into more manageable groups – and as we had been advised to do. I thought it prudent to break down into geographical areas – as San Diego is so very large and spread-out.
So, groups were formed. A “coastal” group of nearly 20 – ‘west of 5’ bounded, met by the front door, two different “mid-city” groups formed, one on the small stage, and a larger one positioned itself in the middle of the small hall, and the fourth group “eastern San Diego” – met in a corner, about 7 or 8 people.
Staying with the coastal group, we began discussing what was most critical to us as issues and what were some solutions. There was at least a half dozen folks from OB, another half dozen from La Jolla, and a scattering from PB.
Interestingly enough, the primary focus at first within the ‘coastals’ was “mis-communcation.” People felt upset with the misinformation and managed news of mainstream and corporate media, of how information was used to manipulate people. “What can we all agree on as a solution?” I asked the group. A list of things was drawn up. Everything from meeting with Congressional representatives, writing letters, petition campaigns to marches were suggested.
And for about half an hour, the hall was filled with voices from all different corners. It was loud at times, yet it all remained civil, constructive, and people stayed with the process.
Shane Finneran moderated the largest group of mid-city residents. Patty stayed with the east batch of Coffee Partiers, Mike and I stood with the Coastals, and a couple of people, Ginger and Dan, stepped forward and kept the other mid city group lively.
At the end, I asked each group to figure out a coffee house and time to meet again for their group. In accordance with the rest of the movement, I asked people to meet on March 27th. One group was so excited that they’re meeting next Saturday.
Here’s the breakdown of the next wave of San Diego Coffee Party meetings:
- The first Mid City group will be meeting at Lestat’s again on March 20th, at noon. This was the smaller of the mid-city groupings and I believe it included many from the actual mid city.
- The second Mid City group will be meeting March 27th at noon at a coffee house called Latte Mi Corazon, at 129 25th Street. (This is the former Chicano Perk coffeehouse.)
- The Coastal group will be meeting noon on March 27 at Jungle Java, a coffeehouse in Ocean Beach at 5047 Newport Avenue.
- Finally, the eastern San Diego group is meeting also on March 27th at noon at the Living Room at 5900 El Cajon Boulevard near San Diego State.
As the meeting broke up, about half of the attendees went outside and posed for our group photo – which has been posted on the national website, CNN, and here.
The turn-out had been amazing, the conversations civil – and although, granted – we didn’t have enough time to go into too many issues in depth – enough community was developed that I believe not only will people stay with the Coffee Party, next time they’ll bring their friends. The media coverage was good, and the fact that within two hours, we broke down and formed four different Coffee Party chapters is simply astounding. Beyond our wildest dreams for a first meeting.
Once at home, I received an email from one of the organizers at the Oceanside North County meeting – they had 56 people turn out. At this point, we have not heard from the Ramona folks.
But the nation-wide Coffee Party has been born. Our San Diego gathering was one of the largest turn-outs. This is another amazing thing, as our region is so conservative.
Stay tuned for future developments. Here is one of the documents passed out at the meeting: