Coffee Party vs Tea Party

Coffee TeaA joke on Facebook has burgeoned into a movement.  Or, well, something.

Furious at the tempest over the Tea Party — the scattershot citizen uprising against big government and wild spending — Annabel Park did what any American does when she feels her voice has been drowned out: She squeezed her anger into a Facebook status update.


The snowballing response made her the de facto coordinator of Coffee Party USA, with goals far loftier than its oopsy-daisy origin: promote civility and inclusiveness in political discourse, engage the government not as an enemy but as the collective will of the people, push leaders to enact the progressive change for which 52.9 percent of the country voted in 2008.

The ideas aren’t exactly fresh — Tea Party chapters view themselves as civil, inclusive and fueled by collective will — but the Coffee Party is percolating in at least 30 states. Small chapters are meeting up, venting frustrations, organizing themselves, hoping to transcend one-click activism. Kind of like the Tea Party did this last year, spawning 1,200 chapters, a national conference and a march on Washington.

The Tea Party movement is much likelier to sustain momentum for a while; anger is a more powerful motivator than a desire for civility.  As for me, I prefer coffee to tea, both as a beverage and as a political posture.  But, ultimately, neither are likely to accomplish much in the long term.

Deep down, underneath the Tea Party’s Revolutionary War garb and the Coffee Party’s faded HOPE stickers, they seem to want the same thing. To save America. Which raises the question: “From what?”

The easy answer is “each other,” when really their complaints are similar and eternal: The political system is broken, elected officials ignore the people, and the media warp truths and pit sides. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that two-thirds of Americans are “dissatisfied” or “angry” with the federal government,” the highest level in 14 years, and many have sought solace in social networking. The Coffee Party, whether it grows or fizzles, is the latest effort to turn virtual disenchantment into real-world results. Its members are incited by Tea Party tactics, which they believe obstruct reform and discourage thoughtful deliberation, and the Tea Party — well, the Tea Party has not heard of the Coffee Party.

Being dissatisfied with the status quo is a distinct majority position. But the coalition will naturally fracture when it gets down to policy.  It’s much easier to be united against something than for it.

We see that, ironically enough, in the health care debate (which seems to be spawning both the Tea and Coffee Party responses).  Americans left, right, and center agree that the status quo needs changing.  But even within those sectors, there’s substantial divide over what needs changing, much less how to change it — or how to pay for it.

FILED UNDER: Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JKB says:

    Well, it does appear that the coffee party movement has achieved one of its goals. The MSM, and no doubt CNN and MSNBC, will treat them far more civilly than they have or will the Tea Party movement. The Washington Post has run a large article on a few people having coffee but only reluctantly reported on a huge march in DC those other people had.

    Civility – Does this mean the coffee party people will denounce the politicians, media and progressives who use tea bagger when referring to citizen activists?

    Still the coffee party might be a tough sell, with their desire to get together to have a meaningful dialogue on how to get politicians to do what they said they would do when they needed the people to do that voting thing so the politicians could do whatever their large contributors wanted them to do, which doesn’t look anything like what the voters thought would be done had the politicians done what they said they would do.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Americans left, right, and center agree that the status quo needs changing.

    Do they? I seem to recall a recent comment thread right here in which the status quo was held out as being pretty good.

    I think there are different views on whether the system needs changing, if so, the nature of the changes that are needed, and how (or even whether) the changes should be paid for. It all depends on which part of the elephant you see.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    I’ll stop treating the government as the enemy as soon as they stop treating me like an enemy. Business feels under attack every day from legislators passing new and unneeded rules to the bureaucrats blindly enforcing them. Civility is still needed but ignoring the reality is stupid.

  4. floyd says:

    Well it is certain that the Coffee Party will want government funding and a “fairness doctrine” for equal time!
    Why not? Isn’t it the government’s purpose to force conformity and harness the will of the people through taxation and control of speech and property?
    No wait… That’s inclusiveness of diversity, not forced conformity at gun point. Right?

  5. I prefer Coffee House Commissars to Latte Liberals.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    Civility – Does this mean the coffee party people will denounce the politicians, media and progressives who use tea bagger when referring to citizen activists?

    Hmm…maybe those politicians, media, and progressives could be persuaded to stop doing that when others stop referring to the president as a “socialist” or his party as the “Democrat” Party…ya never know…

  7. john personna says:

    Well JKB, there is some interesting history:

    Come to the Tax Day Tea Party Rally and Mail a Teabag to the Whitehouse to Protest Wasteful Government Spending – Grass Roots Movement!

    Now, having lived a sheltered life, I would not have seen the dirty implication in that tea bag protest either. But, there it is.

    I think we can frown on people who use “tea bagger” in the dirty sense, but somewhat confusingly it is still true in the literal sense.

  8. DL says:

    Did Marx drink coffee or something?

    How long before they start taxes the richest coffe beans.

    Juan Valdez, will be the next Czar Obama hires no doubt.

    SEIU organizes coffee pickers.

    Doesn’t hot coffee cause global warming or something?

    Liberals -such children.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Liberals -such children.

    That’s quite rich considering some of the looniness that we’ve seen at some of these Tea Party protests…pots and kettles, my dear, pots and kettles…

  10. ggr says:

    Both republicans and democrats are for big government (whether its military or social spending, it still comes out of tax dollars). Both also are more interested in being re-elected than the good of the country. There really isn’t an option out there for people who want small government, or who want the government to look beyond the next election.

    So why is it surprised that the majority is unhappy with the government, both now and for the last couple of decades.

  11. An Interested Party says: