Sunday, March 14, 2010

Building a Bridge: From TEA to Coffee

Building a Bridge: From TEA to Coffee
By: Joshua J. Lyons | March 14, 2010

The movements that have grown in the past year have provided important outlets for average citizens. They have also been moving targets for those on the periphery to paint or define. The greatest strength of the TEA Party is also sometimes its greatest weakness; it is decentralized and without uniform leadership. The greatest strength of the newly formed Coffee Party is that it is an alternative outlet to the TEA Party.

For those in the TEA Party who think that stopping or removing our current president will solve our problems – NEWS FLASH: These problems have been building for well over 100 years! For those in the Coffee Party who think that the TEA Party is a Republican front group consisting of racist crackers who do not want poor people to have healthcare – NEWS FLASH: We’re primarily your neighbors who do not like the direction our nation is headed.

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of each group's participants are not knuckle-dragging, racists or granola-eating Marxists. However, we must acknowledge that both warm beverage parties' include people who:

- are only complainers
- are partisan to the core
- are uninformed of history
- have blinding prejudices
- believe their cable news channel tells the truth
- do not think beyond what the talking heads tell them

Just because each group includes those that fit these descriptions (sometimes in organizing positions), we should not paint the entire TEA or Coffee movement with a single stroke of a broad brush. I state this because most participants are normal citizens fed up with seemingly unsolvable problems. It is because of this actuality that I believe bridges can be built between the TEA and Coffee partiers. I also believe that we have more in common than not. I have been able to have meaningful conversations with those who do not hold my same views. These conversations have not always resulted in the changing of positions. But they have positively affected each other’s understanding of the other person’s views and why they hold these views. At a minimum, an appreciation of the other person’s perspectives was born.

Moving forward, the single most important question that must be answered is around our general government’s charter document: Is the US Constitution a constant document (with a specific process defining how to amend it) or is it to be interpreted through the then current cultural lens? I submit to the former.

The second most important topic that must be addressed is Democracy vs. Republic. I believe our form of government was established as a Constitutional Republic (including a democratic element for choosing representatives). A good definition of my position is illustrated in this video.

A third most important topic we must resolve is one of authority. I believe that the state governments created the federal government and granted it limited authority (i.e. defined in the Constitution and clarified within the Bill of Rights). The founders designed a federal system of governance (i.e. federalism), one in which two governments have jurisdiction over the inhabitants. Furthermore, authority granted to the federal government is defined within the Constitution while the balance is retained by the states and the people. This allows for the states to serve 50 sovereign laboratories of experimentation. A good definition of my position is illustrated in this video.

Many will accurately point out that much of this has already been ‘resolved’ by case law and precedent, to which I submit this two part rhetorical question: A) Was that the founders’ intent and B) how’s that working out for us?

Readers may not share my views, but I have great optimism that if we continue this discussion with civility (i.e. choosing not to fall into the trap of calling the other side names); we can have a positive impact on the national dialogue.

Joshua is the co-host of The Forgotten Men radio show Saturdays at 12 noon, Eastern, on AM930 WFMD – and the co-founder of We Surround Them Frederick.


  1. Your sadly mistaken if you really think the coffee part is partisan. You couldn't be more wrong! From the beginning our main cause (as you would have discovered if you actually visited CoffeePartyUSA. Com and read the mission statement) is goverment reform to get rid of the broken and corrupted two-party system so that people like Ralph Nader would have a chance and not get police escorted out of the Debate! We are sickened by the corprate influance over our goverment, so we want change from Lobbying, campaign funding from special interest groups and earmarks. You and alot of other media sources think that we are just anti-Tea Party! You again are sadly mistaken. We have civil discoarse with them and we do have somethings in common. Misinformation is Americas biggest enemy right now! Please, don't add to the deception and obstruct much needed American justice!

  2. @Lenny - Did you even read the commentary? I stated the coffee party was not partisan...

  3. Joshua,

    I appreciate the time and thought you put into this message. One of the coffee party members posted the link on the national page, so you may be getting a few responses from "our" side.

    I agree that the issues you list are important, though I don't agree necessarily on the priority. I'm speaking for myself of course, not trying to lay out what CPM's platform is, but the issues you bring up are ideological and will not be resolved in a short time. I think we have more urgent priorities, and there would be little point in debating the founder's intent while the country dissolves around us. We should not lose track of those issues, but right now we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

    I've attended several CPM functions now, and I want to share some observations I have taken from these. This observation is also backed up by discussions I have had with other organizers around the country.

    There is a hunger, real and palpable, for honest, civil discourse in the people that are involved in CPM. I've had discussions with self-identified TP members on the national site, and I've come to know that there are serious, intelligent people on "your" side of the aisle. I've enjoyed those discussions and even learned a thing or two. As you point out, neither of us really changed our personal views much about the issue being discussed, but we both left with a greater respect and understanding for the other's viewpoint.

    Thinkers, people who want to discuss and resolve, don't make good news copy, but angry crowds with badly-spelled protest signs do. This is the public perception that TP has in the minds of many. I now know that this isn't everyone in TP, but it is the people that your group has allowed to monopolize the microphone. That public perception has turned off many to TP, some to civic participation altogether. I see many comments on the CPM national board from people that agree with causes that TP was originally started for, but they are turned off by the tactics.

    One other emotion I have observed is outright disgust at the notion that anyone who does not agree with TP is somehow less American, and less entitled to the rights Americans are guaranteed. Again, I know (now) that this is not everyone in TP, but there is a loud voice coming from the TP movement that anyone who does not follow the same political viewpoints, who wants (what we feel) are reasonable 2nd amendment laws, who wants increased access to healthcare, who wants accountability when our blood and treasure is committed in foreign conflicts, who want corporations not to be allowed to put the entire country in jeopardy by their careless actions, among so many other issues, that we are not entitled to have our voices heard. And by the way. the left generated a majority in the electorate in the last election, and we voted in the President we wanted. We would like that action to be respected, as an expression of our collective will, and not be denigrated as stupid or naive, or have its legitimacy questioned by tired and ridiculous claims by the truthers, birthers and others of that ilk. I'm not sure if these groups co-opted your movement or if your movement co-opted them, but I would have more respect for TP if they would reject, publicly and loudly, these fanatacists who only serve to divide.

    OK, there's a couple of items on my laundry list. Our perception of each other is something we have to work on before we can start building the bridge. Your blog article was very honest about some of the perceptions you have of us, and I am listening if you want to offer more. I know these criticisms are not easy for either of us to hear, but I think it is important that we be honest with each other and listen with understanding. Thanks for giving me and others the opportunity to weigh in.

  4. Hi James,

    Thank you for your comments. I'd like to connect with you over facebook and continue the conversation ( I've already connected with Lenny.

    I agree with you that the country is crumbling around us. However, while ideological I believe the priorities I listed are the groundwork that must be laid before tackling the issues. If we do not have a stable battleground, we cannot determine the rules of engagement. Issues are very important, but discussions about the framework can occur at the same time (it may even affect how the issues get tackled).

    Lastly, I'm planning to catch the next coffee party in Frederick, MD later this month. I understand it's a good group of people and I'm looking forward to hearing their perspectives. Who knows, maybe we could have one of them speak at an upcoming TEA Party. :-)

    In liberty,


  5. This article is quoted/covered in Katherine Heerbrant's piece in today Gazette (Frederick).

    Link can be found here: