(originally published at a now-closed moderate blog, where I wrote for a time before launching the precursor to this site)
For some centrists and moderates, the development of the new ‘Coffee Party USA’ organization seemed like a godsend in response to the more extreme elements in the Tea Party movement. At first, I thought that this could be the grassroots movement I’d been waiting for – one that actually included centrist independents and moderates along with non-extreme liberals in a big tent, and actively worked across ideological divides to look for common ground, rather than partisan gain.In short, I was wrong.
In short, after spending hundreds of hours on the group, I was wrong.
I helped start, and ultimately ran, the Nebraska (and local Omaha) chapter of the Coffee Party, and given my skill set also helped upgrade sections of the national website. I was later recruited to work on a few ad hoc subcommittees that were trying to build some structure in the organization, but it became clear after a while that the public reputation of the Coffee Party as a liberal answer to the Tea Party was actually quite true, and that the leadership wasn’t following through with early promises of being a big tent or transparent.
Some rumors about the organization showed no evidence of being true however.
The rumors about this being funded by some wealthy liberal entity showed no sign of being true from the inside, or the outside if you’re someone who knows what money looks like in an organization. That being said, there really isn’t any transparency in the organization, so maybe they have a cache of money they’re not using, but at every turn the leadership asked how we could accomplish our goals using free to nearly free options, and a number of things were turned down as options that cost merely a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars.
So as much as the Coffee Party is misrepresenting itself as an organization that’s just as welcome to centrists and moderates as it is to liberals, the conspiracy theories about shadowy funders just doesn’t hold water. As a fairly disgruntled former hard core member, I have every reason to say it is so, but never saw any evidence of it.
I did overhear some upper level people talking about low five digits having been raised, on a conference call, but have no idea where, or if, any of it is being spent, and while there has been talk of there being a board… no inkling of who they might be ever made it to the volunteer leaders. For an organization claiming to be bottom up, both of these things are inexcusable, easy to fix, and were ignored when brought up by repeatedly by volunteer grasstop state and local leaders internally.
Problems like this – fundamental organizational issues, easy to fix and ignored by the leadership – are endemic internally at Coffee Party USA. If I had to pick one reason, other than the ideological bent, that I left, this would be it.
I also saw no evidence of Coffee Party USA having any direct coordination with Democratic party groups. They did seem intent on being sure to remain officially disconnected from the Democratic Party, not pawns of larger forces, although given how little we saw of who their leadership was, that’s impossible to fully verify. They also had no problem hawking liberal talking points, from liberal icons and sources like President Obama, Paul Krugman, several Huffington Post articles and even flaming left wing blogs like Daily Kos.
I saw no evidence of Coffee Party USA being “astroturfed” either. Much to the contrary, they’re easily the most disorganized group of any size I’ve ever been a part of that had been around for more than a few months.
The leadership of the organization claimed that they did not have time to do the work necessary to put the foundation of the organization on solid ground, but they, of course, had plenty of time to put together panel discussions, make promotional videos, pontificate and go on TV shows, among other things. On top of this, they would not allow volunteer leaders to take on roles that would have allowed them to follow through with their early promises of being bottom-up and transparent.
I took a few weeks off after expressing some of my concerns (along with other people – they’ve been shedding some of their most hard core volunteer leaders for a couple months now) to see if the leadership would actually do anything about them, and ultimately left recently because I saw no efforts towards that what so ever.
The main selling points for me, in the beginning, was the same as so many others. People flocked to the nonpartisan & non-confrontational tack they took, and how they appeared to look for common ground, rather than further raising the political temperature. This appealed to not just centrists, but an interesting mix of people spanning the spectrum, but those outside of the left-leaning spectrum ultimately drifted away as that
Early communications built an image of a somewhat left leaning, but big tent, organization who’s core was nonpartisan and that was welcoming to centrists and even right-leaning moderates. But over time, as the conversations turned into action, it became clear that this wasn’t the case, and the Coffee Party leadership was not interested in sticking to being nonpartisan, non-confrontational nor committed to working across traditional partisan divides.
While I was there, there was no active effort to bring people in from the center or right, while the liberal messaging, unwillingness to make it plain that we weren’t, in fact, a liberal response to the Tea Party (this was brought up several times internally, but rebuffed because they didn’t want to discourage liberal activist members – while it was perfectly fine to alienate centrist and moderate members).
Between this and the media predictably painting the Coffee Party as such allowed the organization to be defined as what it, in fact, is: a liberal grassroots-ish organization. Not left wing. Not big tent. Just a liberal, movement style organization styling itself as grassroots, where the power is actually held at the top.
A quick look at CPUSA’s Facebook page, the website, emails they’ve sent out, message boards and especially the internal conversations illustrate this. You’ll see a fairly standard liberal grassroots organization, that just tries to be nicer than other organizations in that ideological neighborhood. Some good nonpartisan messaging is mixed in there, and there are certainly areas where centrists could find common ground with the Coffee Party, but ultimately they are an ideologically liberal organization.
To be crystal clear about what I’m saying here; my experience inside the organization showed an organization that wishes to be seen as a nonpartisan group that is welcome to centrists and moderates only so it can have a glean of a high minded nonpartisanship and gain members in the center so they can better justify their liberal positions.
This was made even worse when the leadership flip-flopped on early promises to only support the use of non-confrontational tactics by local chapters. They also flip-flopped on a promise to make decisions on what issues the organization would take stances on through open votes among the general membership, as well as a number of other issues that were brought up internally that were completely ignored.
Again, the leadership claimed to not have enough time to do the foundational work that an organization needs to do to be effective. If they have the time to be on panel discussions, make videos, develop new campaign after new campaign, podcasts, blogs, etc etc etc… they have plenty of time to focus on developing the organization.
They just choose not to, while also not allowing volunteers coming up from the grassroots to take any meaningful leadership positions. These actions illustrated where their priorities were, far more than the empty promises they never delivered on.
The most preposterous side of this whole mess was that they actually used the organization as a vehicle for self-promotion, promoting the two founders’ documentary through official organization channels. This is clearly unethical.
When people spoke up about some of these issues, the leadership ignored those threads, and usually the conversations would die off after a day or two, with no response or action taken. The issues kept coming up every week or so, and I began to see that they were in no way interested in actually addressing them when I received two calls from Billy Wimsatt, one of the top level people, that offered a position higher up in the organization… but only if I would stop bringing up issues we had.
This was unacceptable to me, as it should be to most.
Centrist independents and moderates beware: unless you want to be token non-liberals that will be used by the coffee party to reach it’s liberal ends, this is not the organization we’ve been waiting for.