For some people, 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 moderates independents, and actively worked across ideological divides to look for common ground, rather than partisan gain. In short, I was wrong.
After spending a few months helping organize the Nebraska chapter, helping upgrade sections of the national website and working on a few ad hoc subcommittees trying to build some structure in the organization… it became clear to me that the public reputation of the Coffee Party as a liberal answer to the Tea Party was actually quite true.
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. 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.
However, there really isn’t any transparency in the organization, so I have no way to verify whether any of these claims are true or not. 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… I have no idea who these people are. For an organization claiming to be bottom up, both of these things are inexcusable, easy to fix, and were ignored when brought up by volunteers 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 independent actors, not pawns of larger forces. This being the case, they had no problem hawking liberal talking points, from liberal icons and sources like President Obama, Paul Krugman, several Huffington Post articles and even 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.
I took a few weeks off after expressing some of my concerns (along with other people) to see if the leadership would actually do anything about them, and left recently because I saw no efforts towards that. The main selling points for me, were the nonpartisan & non-confrontational tack they took, and how they appeared to look for common ground, rather than further raising the political temperature.
Early communications built an image of a somewhat left leaning organization who’s core was nonpartisan. But over time, as the conversations turned into action, it became clear that this wasn’t the case, and were neither 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), and with 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.
A quick look at CPUSA’s Facebook page, the website, emails they’ve sent out, message boards and especially the internal conversations, among other things… show a fairly standard liberal grassroots organization. To be plain, this organization wishes to be seen as a nonpartisan group only so it can have a glean of high minded nonpartisanship and gain members in the center so they can better justify their liberal positions.
It didn’t help that 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… among a number of other issues that were brought up internally.
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, showing where their priorities were. 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 these issues 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 I had.
This was unacceptable to me, and should be to most. Independents and moderates beware. Unless you want to be token non-liberals that will be used to reach liberal ends, this is not the organization we’ve been waiting for.