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Coffee Party promotes civil discourse, diversity of voice
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Looking to our nation's roots is a popular and useful exercise in any season, but especially so today. The historian in me loves it, because our United States seem so dis-united now. There are signs of vitality based firmly in the neighborhood meeting tradition that started our Revolution in the 18th century.

Most people, we are told, are angry, shouting that the country is going socialist, or worse. A happier side to this is the gathering of folks to discuss common concerns in a spirit of neighborliness and dialogue, of listening to each other rather than shouting, respectful rather than domineering.

The Coffee Party USA has begun to form nationwide in the last few months. In Savannah, Independents, Republicans and Democrats are talking in reasonable tones with one another, promoting "a sense of responsibility and empowerment."

As Claudia Collier says, "The essential knowledge that WE are the government, and we CAN make it work, is the key to America's future."

She and Vicki Weeks have organized the local chapter of The Coffee Party, to get people involved in the basic workings of democracy. The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution begins each meeting, reminding the gathering of the purposes for which our government was established, including to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, [and] promote the general welfare."

The participants state, as their own reasons for attending, to have "a place where people who wish to discuss issues in a non-confrontational manner, people from all different political views can come together to talk about what they are passionate about," Jan Elders says, "without fear that they will be shouted down or disrespected. We also want to be active in our local area as problem solvers and leaders."

From the reading of the Preamble, groups form to discuss particular focus issues, and report on their major conclusions and suggestions for further action to the whole gathering. This results in suggestions for follow-up action, which the group as a whole decides to pursue.

Kate Marsten says she expects to find at these meetings "civil dialogue with willingness to be educated and the opportunity to put words/voice to causes I and the Coffee Party support."

Marty Rahn adds "I am here to be a voice of the ‘have-nots.' Trickle-down economy doesn't work. I want to know what the concerns of the people are on different bills."

Coffee Party USA aims to reinvigorate the public sphere, drawing from diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives, with the goal of restoring the historical role of the People in America's political arena. We do not require nor adhere to any preexisting ideology.

We see our diversity as a strength, not a weakness, because we believe that faithful deliberation from multiple vantage points is the best way to achieve the common good.

In the coming months and years, we hope to transform our disappointment in our current political system into a force that will return our nation to a course of popular governance, of the People, by the People, for the People.

Despite our diversity-ethnically, geographically, politically, and in age and experience-we have found that we share a tremendous common ground. It is from that place, our shared American heritage, that we believe responsible solutions to the largest problems facing our communities will be forged.

We are 100 percent grassroots. No lobbyists here. No pundits. And no hyper-partisan strategists calling the shots in this movement. We are a spontaneous and collective expression of our desire to forge a culture of civic engagement that is solution-oriented, not blame-oriented.

We demand a government that responds to the needs of the majority of its citizens as expressed by our votes and by our voices; not corporate interests as expressed by misleading advertisements and campaign contributions.

We want a society in which democracy is treated as sacrosanct and ordinary citizens participate out of a sense of civic duty, civic pride, and a desire to contribute to society. The Coffee Party is a call to action. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers gave us an enduring gift - Democracy - and we must use it to meet the challenges that we face as a nation.

COFFEE PARTY MISSION STATEMENT: The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of 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, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.

Margaret B. Betz, Ph.D.