Seeking a Mellower Political Tone, Dallas Coffee Partiers Talk Amongst Themselves

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Hands up, waiting for their turn to talk and asking the woman across the table to speak up a little louder, please, about 20 people gathered at The Generator in Garland on Saturday afternoon to mull over political questions at one of about a dozen local Coffee Party USA kick-off events.

Billed as a response to the slogan-shouting and sign-waving of Tea Party events, the Coffee Party movement grew out of a Facebook page started by Annabel Park -- a Houston-raised filmmaker now based in Washington -- to rally support for working with government for change, rather than against it. The events Unfair Park caught in Garland, Dallas and Arlington each drew 20-30 people, and were, according to the national organization, among more than 350 meetings around the country.

The kick-off day helped stuff membership rolls with names and e-mail addresses, with local conversations intended to narrow down the group's policy goals. Big surprise, the ones we heard most were health care, education and jobs, but each of those conversations had a way of coming back to the same point:

"It's getting to the point where you can't talk to people about things," said Garland's Liz Walley, explaining to the table why she'd come. "Maybe this is a way to talk about things that matter without getting World War III."

A "civility pledge" and a strictly enforced anything-goes approach to the meetings helped make it obvious -- in part, for the benefit of media like us -- that you really can talk politics without a Tea Party breaking out. All of which made it that much more fun when a guy at the table in Garland doffed his Debra Medina hat and introduced himself as a Tea Party mole.
This being America, and it being his daughter's coffee shop, Robert Linenweber had as much right to be there as anyone, but people around the table quietly bristled at the tone of his policy suggestions, like teaching the Federalist Papers in school.

Stepping away from the meeting, Linenweber told Unfair Park his problem with both the Tea and Coffee Party approaches is that they're calls to action without much follow-through.  "They're gripe sessions," he said. "Their answer is to have the government do it. My group's answer is to get rid of the government. So both sides get together and they talk too much."

The consensus around the table, and at other meetings Saturday, was full of the optimism of a new movement, with plans to meet again for local Coffee Party events on March 27, and to use their collective weight to lobby local representatives.

Casey Lloyd, a former Obama campaigner who now works in Judge Jim Foster's office, organized a meeting at the Inwood Village Cantina Laredo, which drew 30 people. "A lot of these paradigm shifts happen when people who don't usually join in, join in," Lloyd told her meeting.

Lloyd, like most folks who led the local Saturday meetings, was there a few weeks ago for a meeting in Richardson led by Raini Layne, Dallas's first Coffee Party organizer. "I like that it's not partisan -- it's poly-partisan," Lloyd said.

In practice of course, the Coffee Party meetings were more Democratic rally monkey than random political cross-section -- but the biggest talking point of all was on the virtues of talking. 

At Inwood Village, Tracy Clinton told a story about a Tea Party event he went to, where he had a worthwhile conversation with a few of the demonstrators. "They didn't have the Obama 'Joker' signs, they didn't have the crazy in their eye, and I wish the people running the Tea Party were more like the people I talked to," he said.

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