Coffee Party Founder Annabel Park Q&A w/ Progressive Blog
At the first Coffee Party meeting held Feb. 27 in Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to interview Annabel Park, the nonideological Coffee Party founder who is a fierce advocate for democracy and has an unshakeable faith in Americans’ ability to unite for the common good. The purpose of the interview was to explore the implications of the Coffee Party for progressives.
After speaking with Ms. Park, I see her effort as neither progressive nor centrist. She is fundamentally a small-"d" democrat who wants to change our political culture. However, I believe her Coffee Party initiative holds many lessons and opportunities for shifting existing progressive organizing efforts from top-down control to decentralized decision-making and empowerment. It also offers progressives an opportunity to begin building new, democratic local infrastructures in their communities.
Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the interview (full transcript available at Democratize the Progressive Movement blog):
Democratize Blog: Many local Tea Party chapters also have very sophisticated democratic structures. How does the Coffee Party differ in that respect? Is it centered around different values about the role of government?
Annabel Park: I’m glad to hear that the Tea Party has a democratic structure. I think the current problem for the Tea Party is that some of the rhetoric that I see coming from the Tea Party – and they might have at the organizational level a set of democratic principles – but I think their output in terms of their rhetoric is alienating to a lot of people in America.
It might not be that all members subscribe to those tactics and that kind of rhetoric, but that’s what we’re seeing at the national level. We definitely want to get away from that kind of contempt that we sense from them towards federal government and people who disagree with them. I think our desire to sit down and talk and have dialogue first is very different from the Tea Party. In the end, we might agree with them about a lot of things, but our journey to getting there is going to be different.
Democratize Blog: Your website has a lot of progressive rhetoric about government responding to voters instead of corporate interests, and some people have seen this as the liberal answer to the Tea Party. But are you hesitant to call the movement progressive?
Annabel Park: The thing is that the problem with that whole discourse is the assumption that the government is an entity that is not dynamic, that doesn’t change over time. What I think needs to happen is that we have to have our government restored so that it represents the people more accurately. Right now, our political process has broken down, so that the representative democracy part isn’t working that well. So we have to figure out how to fix this so it really becomes an expression of our collective will.
The problems that we have right now are special interests having too much power over our government. It’s something that needs to be changed. It’s not a permanent fact about our government, it’s like an illness that it’s suffering from that has to be treated.
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