Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hot Coffee, Corporate Propaganda & the effort to take away your rights

Photo courtesy of here.

Most of us remember that a woman sued McDonalds after spilling a scalding cup of coffee on herself, but most don’t know the truth - she got 3rd degree burns on 16% of her body including her genitals and there was a corporate PR effort to distort her story for “Tort Deform”.

I first read the truth about this story many years ago in Ralph Nader’s book “The Good Fight”. (I highly recommend the book which will get you fired up as you turn every page.) In it he describes how severe the injuries were to 79 year old Stella Liebeck. She spent 8 days in the hospital and had to get skin grafts. She sued to cover her medical costs.

Her lawsuit became a national story that was mocked and made fun of. The corporate media never told her side of the story, but a new documentary that just premiered at Sundance called Hot Coffee sets the record straight and exposes a multi-million dollar campaign to distort the story in an effort to push what consumer advocate Ralph Nader calls “Tort Deform” and corporate propagandist’s call “Tort Reform”.

McDonald’s policy was that there coffee was to be held at 187 degrees. And this wasn’t the first time they had been sued; they had been sued hundreds of times in similar suits.

In this interview the filmmaker Susan Saladoff describes what “Tort Deform” (I refuse to use term created by mind molding corporate propagandist) is and the effort to take away people’s constitutional rights to sue corporations or people that have harmed them.

SUSAN SALADOFF: There has been a huge public relations campaign over the last 25 years to convince the public that we have too many frivolous lawsuits, that we have out-of-control juries, that we need to change our civil justice system, which is our third branch of government, where an average person can go head-to-head with the rich and powerful, with corporations. And people have a completely distorted view of our civil justice system because of this public relations campaign. And I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted people to understand that they were giving up their constitutional rights every day to access the courts, and they didn’t even know they were doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain tort. What do you mean by tort?

SUSAN SALADOFF: So a tort is a civil wrong. We have a criminal justice system and a civil justice system. We all know what the criminal justice system is. But when people are injured by a defective product or if they’ve had, you know, been the victim of a medical negligence, they have the right to go into a court system and bring a case against the person or the entity, the corporation, that harmed them. Those kinds of injuries are called torts. They’re civil harms.

The film focuses on four cases of corporate malfeasance.

In this interview they discuss the Chamber of Commerce’s effort to unseat judges that oppose “Tort Deform”.

In this interview they discuss how hard caps on malpractice awards shifts the burden onto taxpayers and away from the corporations that put profits over people and cause great harm to human beings without repercussions. (So much for the right wing “personal responsibility” crowd, they are the very people that support “Tort Deform”.)

We must spread the truth about this story far and wide. People need to know that our rights are being taken away by corporations that have become masters of deceit and whose influence on our political system continues to grow at alarming rates.

Hot Coffee is an important tool that we must use to fight back against these evil efforts to deceive the public and take away our rights. We must wake people up and lead the fight for justice and to shift the power from the corporations to the people. WARNING: President Obama has now jumped on the “Tort Deform” bandwagon!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Campaign Finance Reform is the key to getting Health Care Reform

Democracy Now! had two somewhat related stories that will interest Coffee Party members. One is about the effort to get the undue influence of money out of our political system and the other is about Vermont’s effort to get a single payer Canadian style health care system.

Today marks the anniversary of the Citizens Untied ruling by the Supreme Court that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Common Cause has been working on campaign finance reform for a long time. Today they have called on the Department of Justice to investigate potential conflicts of interest by Judge Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia because they failed to recuse themselves in the case.

In this interview with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin he discusses Vermont’s effort to move towards a single payer health insurance system like Medicare. A majority of doctors and nurses support a single payer system because it is universal, more efficient and cheaper.

Many single payer advocates believe that the US will eventually move to a single payer system because it is the best to cut costs and cover every American cradle to grave. And they believe that it will take a state implementing first and demonstrating how well it works because the health industry floods our politicians with massive amounts of money to prevent single payer from being supported by either party.

Here Shumlin describes why Vermont is the state that is best positioned to move to a single payer system.

Listen, here’s why we can do this in Vermont, why we have a better shot than perhaps anywhere else in America. Today is the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited cash to influence our elections. What is different about Vermont is that our legislators are not in the pockets of special interests; they’re in the pockets of their constituents. Now, there’s a very simple reason for that. I was president of the Senate. My last campaign cost $2,500. My counterpart in New York’s campaign, the president of the Senate just across the lake, probably cost multiple millions of dollars. My point is, we have a citizen legislature in the state. We are not beholden to the special interests. We fight for our constituents in their best interest. And frankly, our insurance companies are smart enough to know that. So, I think that—you know, we all know that what’s destroying democracy is the extraordinary influence of corporate money. The folks that are making money off the system then elect the politicians that make the decisions about their economic future. So we have a real opportunity here, and I think our insurance companies are smart enough to see that we’re going to make progress, and they want to be the company that has the single payer.

Medicare was named after the Canadian health care system which was championed by actor Kiefer Sutherland’s Grandfather Tommy Davidson. This article describes the Greatest Canadian’s effort.

As premier of Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas pioneered a number of progressive policies there, including the expansion of public utilities, unionization and public auto insurance. But his biggest achievement was the creation of universal health insurance, called Medicare. It passed in Saskatchewan in 1962, guaranteeing hospital care for all residents. The rest of Canada soon followed, province by province. After his death, Douglas earned the title of "The Greatest Canadian" in a poll by the CBC.

One day our nation will get a Medicare-for-all system, but the undue influence of money remains as the greatest obstacle. In our upcoming meetings we will be inviting a representative from Common Cause to discuss what we can do to support campaign finance reform and a representative from Ohio’s Single Payer Action Network (SPAN) to discuss the ongoing efforts to bring single-payer health care for all to Ohio. Stay tuned and engaged!

Coffee Party Cincinnati Year-in-Review: 2010

By Sheli DeLaney and Fariba Nourian

The beginning—a handful of good quality beans

Coffee Party USA was formed by Annabel Park and Eric Byler in March 2010 because they were frustrated by the vitriolic rhetoric surrounding the healthcare reform debate and the incessant media coverage of the Tea Party. Coffee Party USA and Coffee Party Cincinnati (or CPC) were launched simultaneously, along with countless other chapters across the nation, as part of a national call to join the Coffee Party movement. The first meeting of Coffee Party Cincinnati was held March 13, 2010 at the Coffee Emporium in Over-the-Rhine.  At this meeting and a number of others that soon followed, a collection of few hundred individuals came to show their interest in Coffee Party Cincinnati.

What is the Coffee Party? As spokespeople for Coffee Party Cincinnati (CPC), we get that question all the time. Coffee Party USA has a long definition and mission statement that can be read at their website: However, CPC is a local chapter, and we define ourselves as follows: a non-partisan grassroots political organization that was created to be a venue for people who are disenchanted with two-party politics and want to work toward positive solutions, civility in political discourse, government accountability, removing corporate influence from politics, and making government the expression of our collective will.

First steps—getting ground

Spring 2010: After the launch, a dedicated group of local Coffee Party enthusiasts began to meet regularly. One of the first things we did was celebrate the passage of the healthcare reform bill. On April 30, we threw a party at Red Polly in Northside to say thank you to Steve Driehaus, Ohio representative from the first congressional district, for voting in favor of the healthcare bill. Rep. Driehaus attended the party where he gave a talk, answered questions, and mingled enthusiastically with the crowd.

Summer 2010: Our next focus was immigration reform. Throughout the summer, Coffee Party organizers hosted numerous screenings of 9500 Liberty, a documentary about immigration policy that was filmed by Coffee Party USA co-founders Annabel Park and Eric Byler. In this documentary, a rural county in Virginia becomes “ground zero in America’s explosive battle over immigration policy when elected officials adopt a law requiring police officers to question anyone they have ‘probable cause’ to suspect is an undocumented immigrant.” See the entire film online at

Also over the summer, we made a big effort to establish and widen our local network of followers. We set a standing meeting date for the second Thursday of every month, usually held at a neighborhood coffee house. In addition to our email listserve with over 100 individuals and a Facebook page with 1,238 followers, we established a blog and a Twitter account. However, the biggest networking news is that we purchased the domain, which will be launched sometime in 2011! While the website is currently under construction, all the other forms of social media are active and up-to-date. Please see all our contact information and where to find meeting information at the bottom of this article.

Maintaining momentum—percolating cheerfully

September 2010: The first Coffee Party USA National Convention was held in Louisville, KY September 28-30. One dedicated CPC member attended the convention and brought us back a thorough report.

October 2010: An Early Vote Rally was held in front of the Hamilton County courthouse on October 4. CPC members joined others from a variety of organizations to encourage eligible voters to take advantage of Ohio’s special laws that allow early voting throughout the month of October. We also used this opportunity to register Hamilton County voters, and distribute the first draft of our voter’s guide.

On October 30, CPC attended a satellite rally in Cincinnati in support of the hugely successful Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC put on by political satirists Jon Stewart (host of The Daily Show) and Stephen Colbert (host of The Colbert Report). Coffee Party USA had a large contingent at the rally.

November 2010: For the midterm elections in November, we published an offical Coffee Party voters guide for Hamilton County, OH. We distributed this through our social media outlets and local coffee houses. On Election Day, we personally handed out our guide at a few polling locations around town. Although it did not seem to make a big impact in the midterm elections, we were not discouraged.

Bitter brew brings new crew

Winter 2010: The events of fall made it apparent that coffee was not the beverage of choice for many voters. After the disappointment of losing out to tea in midterm elections, meeting attendance rose sharply. Livened by the espresso shot of enthusiasm from new members, we decided to choose a new direction for CPC. The group voted to focus our efforts on jail overcrowding—a big problem locally as well as nationally, with negative effects on both the budget and society. By focusing on jail overcrowding locally and the prison industrial complex nationally, we hope to partner with other organizations to find solutions and impact policy. One of our first targets was the marijuana ordinance implemented in the city of Cincinnati in 2006, which made possession of marijuana a level 4 misdemeanor. This ordinance is widely viewed as a waste of city resources with little benefit for fighting crime. CPC called its members to action in the form of a letter campaign to city council members to ask them to repeal this ordinance.

Several other events got the attention of CPC this winter. The first was a book signing at City Hall by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, which was followed by a panel discussion of experts in civil rights, policy, legal and ex-offender testimonials. A CPC representative attended this event and gave us a report at our December meeting. The second event was a call to reform our criminal justice system, a presentation by the ACLU that was sponsored by the Urban League of Cincinnati. A CPC representative also attended this event and gave a report at the December meeting. Reports of both events can be found on our blog (November 2010 and December 2010). Finally, CPC sent a small contingent to the Stop Kasich Before He Gets Started rally in Columbus on January 8, sponsored by the Defend Ohio Campaign. The rally was a large and enthusiastic protest of Governor Kasich's anti-worker, anti-youth, anti-environmental policies. The video from the rally is also posted on our blog.

Year-old coffee—surprisingly fresh

We would like to announce that the marijuana ordinance was recently repealed for the city of Cincinnati! And while we do not know how much our letter-writing campaign affected this decision, we view it as a major victory for Coffee Party Cincinnati in 2010. 

That’s all for our year in review. For the first year of the Coffee Party, we feel we accomplished a lot. We are in it for the long run.  It’s important to us that we are here for people when they want to rally around an organization that is working toward positive solutions.

Special thanks—the cream and sugar

Coffee Party Cincinnati would like to give a heartfelt thank you a few of our extra-caffeinated members for their contributions over the past year. First and foremost, we thank our friend Galina for attending the National Coffee Party Convention in Louisville KY this past September. We were very grateful to have a Cincinnati representative at this historic event, and Galina gave us a great report at our monthly meeting about her experience. Next, we would like to thank Justin Jeffre, for bringing our blog to life. He regularly submits superb articles that are informative, attention-getting, controversial, and great for sparking dialogue amongst our readers. Last but not least, we would like to thank Paul Majewski, for purchasing the domain name for our website, and for volunteering to construct our website on his own time and free of charge.

CPC Contact info:

Facebook: Join the Coffee Party Movement, Cincinnati OH
Twitter: Coffeepartycinc
Website: (under construction)
Meetings: 6pm on 2nd Thursday of every month, location varies (meeting location announced via Facebook, Twitter, and email)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Palin proves she’s polarizing and Obama hits a home run

Obama delivered a great speech, the best of his Presidency. His tone reminded me of candidate Obama’s powerfully unifying speech on race which to me was the highlight of the campaign. His speech really contrasts with Sarah Palin’s address which seemed bitter, selfish and divisive. Palin proved she isn’t capable of rising above petty politics even on the day the country was memorializing victims.

Both Palin and Sharon Angle picked the day of the memorial for the victims of the shooting to respond to criticism of the violent rhetoric that they’ve been using by pretending they were themselves victims. But they aren’t victims.

It’s important to note that the person that really first took issue with Palin’s cross hairs was Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords herself, the member of Congress that was the target of the shooter.

"We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."

Giffords had reason to be concerned because she and many other Democrats had already been targeted and threatened in many ways. She wasn’t paranoid or looking to score political points. She was deeply concerned and her warning was ignored even though these kinds of shootings happen fairly regularly.

Another critic of Palin, Beck and Sharon Angle's rhetoric is Eric Fuller. A 63-year-old disabled veteran, Fuller had campaigned for Giffords.

How many other people? How many other demented people are out there? It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target. Their wish for Second Amendment activism has been fulfilled—senseless hatred leading to murder, lunatic fringe anarchism, subscribed to by John Boehner, mainstream rebels with vengeance for all, even nine-year-old girls." There was a little girl named Christina Green, nine years old, who is one of the deceased.

I’m surprised that there isn’t more talk about Jesse Kelly’s disgusting flyer that read.

Get on Target for Victory in November Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly

Where’s that apology? Is anyone on the right going to say there’s nothing wrong with that?

And let’s not forget that the Secret Service said there was a spike in threats against Obama after Palin's rallies. Palin was telling lies like “he palls around with terrorists” at the time which angered the McCain campaign.

This is when Tea Party Republican leaders were saying there were going to be death panels that would kill people’s grandparents and create a communist tyranny. Ironically the health care bill was a Republican health care bill written largely by health industry lobbyists with lots of Republican amendments.

While the deranged gunman may not fit into the typical political boxes it is inaccurate to say he was not political in any way or that our culture -- which since the past few years now includes extreme and violent political language in the mainstream body politic in a way I’ve never seen -- did not affect his thoughts and actions.

Loghner referred to himself as a "terrorist" which is a term with a political contxt. As Bill Maher said,

I don’t think he was all that apolitical. Yes, he was all over the map. But when you’re talking about, you know, treason and the intrusive big government is the enemy, and the gold standard stuff, I’m sorry, but a lot of this sounds like an afternoon on right-wing hate radio.

We know that at least one would-be mass murderer was inspired by the paranoid and crazy rants of Fox's Glenn Beck. He also inspired this guy and this guy. Here are some quotes from Glenn Beck who has described himself as the "progressive hunter",

"God will wash this nation with blood if He has to." “The war is just beginning," "Shoot me in the head if they try to change our government," "You have to be prepared to take rocks to the head," "The other side is attacking," "There is a coup going on," "Grab a torch," "Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers," "They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.”

Beck isn’t the only one talking about this stuff. Bill O’Reilly may have inspired this Tea Partier that threatened a Democratic Congressman because he was afraid his $3 million trust fund. And he also may have inspired the right wing lunatic that shot Dr. Tiller.

People like Beck, O’Reilly and even John Boehner strike me as a bit unstable themselves. To be fair, John Boehner is one of the only Republican leaders that spoke out against this rhetoric. The other is Joe Scarborough.

I have a lot of family members and friends that listen to him and watch him and are frightened by the things that he says every night with the chalkboard, where they really—people that watch him and listen to other people that constantly say Barack Obama is a racist, he’s a Marxist, he is changing America forever, he is killing freedom in America—those words have impact. Now, people don’t go out—I’m not talking about people going out—my mom’s not going to go out and shoot somebody. But my mom and a lot of other people like her that watch him every day start to believe, if they hear every day, every day, that there is this guy in Washington, D.C., this black guy that hates all white people, and he wants to take your money—turn the music down—and that he’s a Marxist, and he wants to destroy the country you grew up in—you feed that vile message to Americans every day, it’s going to have an impact.

Rhetoric from Lou Dobbs and Michael Savage have been linked to violence against Hispanics and illegal immigrants. And hate speech against Muslims causes violent incidents like this.

BTW, Loghner did make a joke about a girl who read an emotional poem about abortion killing babies. And right wing extremists have been inspired by the AZ shooting. They see it as the beginning of a violent revolution. There are a whole lot of crazies out there, lot of guns and an awful lot of violent rhetoric being thrown around.

Palin failed to acknowledge that words matter and gave a speech that was all about her instead of the victims and the harm violent rhetoric an acts cause our nation. Words can dehumanize people and fear can create violence. Too often extremism is not only tolerated but is increasingly being equated with patriotism by many on the right.

Did Palin cause the AZ tragedy? Not directly, but she along with other leaders on the right have whipped up extremism with violent rhetoric and imagery. As Gabriel Gifford warned,“they have got to realize there are consequences to that action." Nobody can say she was wrong to say that, especially Sarah Palin.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What lessons can we learn from the Arizona tragedy?

Photo courtesy of here.

The tragic event in AZ may or may not have been politically motivated, but we as a nation should use this moment to reflect on where the violent political rhetoric we’ve seen in recent years has lead. And we should ask ourselves why we have such a violent society and what we can do to reduce that violence.

There has been a lot of discussion about the recent senseless act of violence and what lessons can be drawn from it. Some have blamed the extreme rhetoric that we’ve seen from the political right, especially the Tea Party Republicans on the threats against a number of Democratic Congressman.

Those on the right counter by saying there is extremism on both sides, but I think that is definitely a false equivalency. Instead of making false equivalencies between right and left extremists, people on both sides-especially the right-should make it a point to tone down the rhetoric and denounce any violent rhetoric. This is something local leaders on the right have refused to do.

And I would like to know who on the left has used violent rhetoric since people are repeating that it’s happening on both sides. I haven’t seen it and I follow the news pretty closely.

The closest thing I’ve seen was conservative Democrat Joe Manchin’s commercial where he shoots the Cap and Trade bill. Though he is clearly not a liberal, I have no problem denouncing that ad. Why can’t conservatives do the same thing?

I think this article at Salon makes a great point by stating that perhaps we shouldn’t try to read too much into the delusions of someone that appears to be insane and may not have a discernable political ideology.

Loughner is almost certainly insane and, like the countless other mentally disturbed people who send similar ravings to media outlets around the world, his ideas would have been ignored as incoherent and irrelevant if he hadn't fired a gun into a crowd of people Saturday. The fact that he did fire that gun, however, doesn't make his delusions suddenly meaningful. It doesn't make his list of favorite books significant. Crazy people who make headlines and change history are still crazy.

This view that his list of books don’t seem to mean anything is supported by this excerpt from this article,

The postings suggest Loughner is "a person who doesn't have a very concrete ideology," said Frederic L. Solop, chair of the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. "I don't see any reflection of a political party or a specific set of ideas."

According to the article,

Steven Cates, who attended an advanced poetry writing class with Loughner at Pima Community College last spring, said he didn't recall Loughner talking about politics. "He didn't seem very interested in politics. Whatever politics were brought up in class, he seemed to tune it out," Cates said.


One of the high school friends who spoke on condition of anonymity paused when asked if he considered Loughner a Republican or Democrat.
"Is there a radical party? It went beyond that, it wasn't left or right," the friend said.

While we don’t know for sure if this violence was politically motivated we do know that if it were it wouldn’t be surprising given the fact that Gabriel Giiffords and other Democrats had already been threatened. And we need to discuss why that is.

Unfortunately there are many people with mental issues that go untreated which are susceptible to violent vitriol. And there are many leaders on the right that have been using inflammatory and violent rhetoric. And some of them are getting paid a lot of money for it.

This article by Joan Walsh makes a good point.

Sadly, to my knowledge, no conservative leader has yet called for dialing back the rage on the right in the wake of the Giffords shooting. Sarah Palin sent condolences to Giffords' family, but said nothing about her unconscionable SarahPAC map putting 20 House members, including Giffords, in actual crosshairs for supporting healthcare reform, or her infamous Tweet telling conservatives "don't retreat, reload." Giffords' 2010 Tea Party challenger, Jesse Kelly, hasn't apologized for inviting supporters to "shoot a fully automatic M16" to "get on target for victory" and "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office." Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle hasn't yet recanted her statement about the need to pursue "Second Amendment remedies" if political change lags behind the Tea Party's dreams.

Although there's no evidence Tea Party rhetoric had anything to do with Giffords' shooting, it can be no surprise that her father, when asked if his daughter had enemies, told the New York Post tearfully, "Yeah, the whole Tea Party."

Though Gifford is courageous, she and many others did have reason to be concerned about their security. As this article notes,

Her 2010 vote in favor of healthcare reform only further angered conservatives in the district. After the passage of the reform bill, she became the target of political vandals, who smashed a glass door at her Tucson office. And Giffords was among the representatives listed on a controversial target map released by Sarah Palin's PAC that featured crosshairs over the districts of pro-health reform members.

Unsurprisingly, given that the 8th is a border district, immigration also played a central role in Giffords' 2010 reelection campaign against Tea Party favorite and Palin endorsee Jesse Kelly. Giffords often blamed the federal government for failing to "secure the border," but she also opposed S.B. 1070, the harsh Arizona immigration law that has been challenged as an unconstitutional infringement on civil rights. Kelly targeted her criticism of that law in a campaign attack ad.

(There is also new attention being paid today to a Web ad for a Kelly campaign event in June promoted as "Get on Target for Victory in November/Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office/Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kell." It's important to note, though, that nothing is known at this point about the motive for the shooting.)

Giffords isn’t the only Democrat that has been targeted and threatened. There’s a long list of others.

Democracy Now! reports that Gifford has spoken out about Sarah Palin’s cross hairs targeting her. And she feared for her life before this assassination attempt.

In March, Giffords appeared on MSNBC after the healthcare vote and spoke about the threats against her.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: We have had hundreds and hundreds of protesters over the course of the last several months. Our office corner has really become an area where the Tea Party movement congregates. And the rhetoric is incredibly heated—not just the calls, but the emails, the slurs. So, I mean, things have really gotten spun up. And, I mean, you’ve got to think about it. Our democracy is a light—a beacon, really—around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box and not because of these, you know, outbursts of violence, in certain cases, and the yelling and the—you know, it’s just—you know, change is important. It’s a part of our process. But it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Do you think Republican members of the House, the Republican leadership, should have spoken out more forcefully to denounce this violence? Or are you satisfied with what they’ve said? For example, the Minority Leader, John Boehner, was on Fox News denouncing violence.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: I think it’s important for all leaders, not just leaders of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party—there are certainly a lot of independents out there, that [inaudible] even will not resonate towards—but community leaders, figures in our community, to say, "Look, we can’t stand for this." I mean, this is a situation where people don’t—I mean, really we need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up and, you know, even things—for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.

These are facts that we can be sure of. And that is what we need to discuss regardless of whether the deranged gunman was motivated by political ads or violent rhetoric he most likely saw or not. Obviously all the people that have been speaking out about this inflammatory rhetoric aren't just being paranoid, dramatic or trying to score political points. This issue is very serious and may be deadly.

Coffee Party Cincinnati brings in New Year with good times

Thanks to everyone that came to the Northside Tavern last night. It was nice to have some casual free flowing conversations about a number of subjects at a great bar with good people. Thanks to Sheli and Fariba we had some snacks.

I’m not sure if Channel 5 aired the clip of us there, but it was nice of them to show up. We think it’s important that people know that there are many of us that don’t support the Tea Party’s goals and we are real Americans too.

We had at least ten people show up, but unfortunately only half of us were there when Channel 5 showed up. Though our group was small we know that we are not alone and that many other people that couldn’t make it share our values.

I was pleased that we had a special guest. We have been focusing lately on the Prison Industrial Complex and over-crowding in our jails so we decided to invite former City Councilman and current NAACP President Christopher Smitherman. He and his wife Pam joined us and we had a very positive exchange.

Mr. Smitherman invited the Coffee Party to send a representative to the NAACP’s membership meeting to let their membership know about Coffee Party Cincinnati, our values, our goals and figure out how our groups can work together on common ground issues. We look forward to taking him up on that invitation.

One positive announcement we had was that council repealed the anti-marijuana ordinance which disproportionately locked up African Americans. We alone can’t take credit for that, but contacting our officials does have an effect, especially at the local level.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coffee Party Party 6-8pm Tonigh At Northside Tavern! Whoop, Whoop!

We hope to see you there!

And for those who want to engage in some positive peacful political action check out this event in front of City Hall tomorrow evening.


Workers and community activists will take to the streets in Cincinnati and
Columbus this Friday to demand justice for home health care and child care
workers and call for a balanced approach to the budget. The day begins with
the One Ohio Now rally at 2PM in Columbus and concludes at 6:15PM in Cincinnati
with a candlelight gathering to support home health care and child care
workers. See below for more details on each event.


One Ohio Now campaign will hold a campaign kick-off rally in Columbus at 2PM on
the Westside of the Statehouse (One Capitol Square).

About One Ohio Now: One Ohio Now is a state budget coalition of over 27
organizations ranging from neighborhood health services, local government
groups, education and school board groups, and Ohio working families. Coalition
members have been studying the budget shortfall and organizing common sense
solutions over the past year as advocates seek balanced approach at achieving
revenue needs to create a prosperous jobs and family economy in Ohio. In light
of the state's projected $8 billion budget shortfall, One Ohio Now - one of
Ohio's most diverse budget coalitions - has put together this comprehensive
presentation that outlines our principles and provides a basic balanced
approach to solving Ohio's budget woes.


Home health care and child care workers, union and community leaders,
unemployed workers and union members will hold a candlelight gathering at
6:15PM at the Cincinnati City Hall (810 Plum Street).

On the eve of Dr. King's birthday and nearly 43 years after his assassination,
Ohio Gov John Kasich has announced plans to take the freedom to join together
and bargain for a better life away from our state's home care and child care
workers -- hard-working Ohioan’s who, like those Memphis sanitation workers
-- desperately need the right to seek a better life. The event will demand
Ohio Governor John Kasich not strip away home health care and child care
workers’ rights to bargain collectively for a better life. Workers will
share their concerns about Gov. Kasich and his allies’ attempts to blame and
punish low-income workers for the state of the economy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Defend Ohio Campaign's rally to stop Gov. Kasich

Concerned citizens from all around Ohio braved the cold in Columbus to protest Governor-elect John Kasich's (R) agenda. Speakers at the rally, organized by, criticized Kasich's attacks on workers' rights and public employees, his plans to privatize public services, his threatened cuts to public schools and higher education, and his environmental policies.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hey Coffee Party, wake up and support Fair Trade Coffee!

The most powerful voting we can do is with our dollars. American consumers can change the world by changing how we spend our dollars. Fair trade and direct buying will create more responsible farming habits, buying habits and raise the standard of living for people around the world.

You can see how large corporations can and have been persuaded to support fair trade policies with farmers. But there is still much work to be done to push corporations like Starbucks in the right direction.

Even if you’re not a Coffee drinker you can help support fair trade policies that help impoverished farmers around the world. You can get everything from Fair Trade clothing to Fair Trade chocolate. Learn more about the Fair Trade Movement and vote for socially responsible policies with your dollars every day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The New Corporatism in American Politics and the Grassroots

This is an article written by historian and progressive activist Dan La Botz. La Botz is part of a group Cincinnati Progressive Action. The article is kind of long but very informative. I suspect what he wrote about the Coffee Party may generate some discussion.

The New Corporatism in American Politics and the Grassroots

From the Tea Party to the Coffee Party, How Political Parties Grow the Grass and Mow the Lawn

Dan La Botz

There are moments in history when driven by economic and social conditions, by war, or by political problems, grassroots groups spring up from below, among rank-and-file workers or people in local urban or rural communities. Usually the Democratic Party has succeeded in gathering up such movements, domesticating them, and gathering them into its fold and making them part of its electoral machine, to the benefit of corporate America. Overtime, however, the labor unions and the national African American and Latino civil rights groups became so tame and tired, that they ceased to provide the social base required by the party if it was to be successful in elections.

So today, the major political parties, both Republicans and Democrats, are creating new foundations and non-governmental organizations to expand the base of the parties and attract new voters. Those party think-tanks and NGOs in turn create what could be called pseudo-social movements, often describing themselves as "grassroots," though, in fact, they are created and controlled from above by inside-the-beltway D.C. organizations. These new corporate organizations, now propelled by the internet and social networking, are changing the landscape of social and political life.

The Republican Party and conservative think tanks and foundations summoned up the Tea Party to give the Republicans new life after its defeat in the national election. The Democratic Party has similarly over the last several years inspired or created a number of such group --, Repower America, Reform Immigration for America, and the Coffee Party -- organizations that both work to shape the politics of social movements and win a new base of support for the Democrats. The organizers of these groups, using electronic media, social networking, and creating coalitions that absorb other smaller groups, create organizations that often meet in the local coffee shop, churches, American Legion or union hall, but have an agenda set in Washington by foundations and NGOs which in turn are controlled by the two major parties.

The new corporate movements inspired and controlled by the Republicans and Democrats have the same relationship to a grassroots movement that genetically modified grass imbued with the Roundup pesticide does to a country meadow. The new grassroots is not so much a pasture as it is a modern suburban lawn, seeded, fertilized, watered and mowed by the foundations -- ultimately to be enjoyed by the Republican or Democratic Party as the site of campaign barbecues.

A New Corporatism

What we're witnessing is the development of a new corporatism in American politics. Some use "corporatism" to refer to control of our economy and culture, society and politics by the corporations -- and certainly we have that problem. I use "corporatism' here, however, as political scientists use it, to refer to government and party control over other organizations and movements. Most important among these are those started by the Democratic Party, its leaders or simply those who share the party's goal of creating a new activist base, while also setting limits of activism and ideological dissent.

The goals of the neo-corporatism are two: First, to be able to mobilize people concerned with social problems and turn them out to vote for the major parties. Second, to create a series of organizations that can prevent the development of politically independent movements with agenda of their own. The trajectory of these groups is that in the name of political realism and expediency, they become bureaucratically centralized -- usually in Washington -- and pursue opportunistic and pragmatic goals within the framework set by the Democratic Party and its legislative agenda. The ultimate goal of the Republican and Democratic Party neo-corporatism is to prevent the development of independent political parties which might disrupt the regular rotation to power of the two capitalist parties.

Those who join these new groups are folk looking for a way to influence politics in a progressive direction, well-meaning people, often new to politics, though some of them longtime activists and genuine grassroots groups. They join and participate in these organizations because they seem to have the potential to influence national policy in a good direction, though in the long run the goal of the politicos who conjured up these organizations is precisely to circumscribe the limits of activism and to contain their followers within the ideological boundaries and political programs of their respective parties and of corporate capitalism.

Neo-Corporatism: A New Version of an Old System

Political parties, of course, have always given political expression to other organizations and movements and have always worked to create or to control others groups and developments for the parties themselves. The Republican Party was during the late 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries became the expression of groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, and other such employer organizations, or of wealthy capitalist farmers and later of corporate agribusiness. And the party acted in government as arbiter of those various capitalist interests within the capitalist system.

At the same time the Republicans and those employer organizations worked to keep in tow and in check small business associations which were otherwise often at odds with the big corporations. The Republicans fundamentally fought for the interests of finance and heavy industry, while keeping small town merchants and manufacturers and farmers from breaking with big capital and heavy industry. Similarly they fought for the wealthiest farmer groups, while working to keep medium and small farmers from breaking ranks. The Tea Parties of those days were Citizens Alliances, Midwest Grange groups, and nativist associations which rallied and railed against socialists, labor unions and immigrants.

More recently, the Republican Party's economic conservatives, still representing the interests of finance, industry, and oil, also both helped to create the evangelical religious right which acted to draw lower middle class and working class white voters into the party's fold. Perhaps that the starting point of the neo-corporatist organization of politics was with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, established in 1979. Falwell's group provided the prototype for other such rightwing religious organizations which simultaneously drew people into the Republican Party and headed off the development of political alternatives on the right.

The Old Democratic Party

The Democratic Party before 1965 was based primarily on the Solid South -- the racist white politicians who enforced segregation and disfranchisement of African Americans below the Mason-Dixon Line -- and also the corrupt big city machines in place like New York and Chicago which turned out the immigrant and working class vote. At the same time it also always represented finance, industry, and service corporations -- though often consumer goods rather than heavy industry. The Democrats, however, found their most important political support through mass organizations of labor, African Americans, Latinos, and women. Beginning in the early 20th century, the Democratic Party had succeeded in politically subordinating the American Federation of Labor and its craft unions to its corporate political agenda, while also coming under pressure from those organizations to adopt elements of their agenda.

During the 1930s, a powerful, militant, and politically radical labor movement arose that in some states created independent labor parties. The experiment, however, as short lived. After the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s, the Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrats also succeeded capturing the CIO. With the AFL-CIO merger in the 1950s, the Democrats and the labor unions formed a partnership that lasted, with much better results for the Democrats than for the unions, until today.

Similarly, with the rise and then the victory of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Democratic Party, after long resisting African American demands for equal rights, succeeded in drawing in and subordinating the NAACP and other African American organizations, while also becoming the primary vehicle, however inadequate, of the black political agenda. Likewise with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Council for La Raza whose leaders and members been drawn into the Democratic Party's sphere of influence. The organized women's movement too succumbed. The women's movement of the 1970s found its organizational expressing in the National Organization for Women (NOW), which also became politically subordinate to the Democratic Party, as did most other women's organizations.

The Movements Ossify

The workers movement of the 1930s, the civil rights organizations in the 1960s, and the women's groups in the 1970s had all been tumultuous movements, but once gathered into the Democratic fold they ossified. The bureaucratization of labor organizations and the growth of a privileged caste of labor officials, together with the routine character of collective bargaining from the 1940s to the 1970s, led the unions to become pragmatic, moderate, and weak. They also grew out of touch with the changing character of the workforce, far more "male, pale and stale" than the membership.

Similarly, the civil rights organizations moved from the period of radicalism to respectability, from militant leadership to liberal leadership, and from real confrontations with power to symbolic reenactments of the past. The women's movement, linked to the labor movement and the democrats, largely shared the same fate of succumbing to the system, ceasing to be a movement in the streets and largely becoming a legislative lobby. Unions, African American and Latino organizations, and NOW and other women's groups became, at the political level, extensions of the Democratic Party and of a liberal establishment which supported the corporations and capitalism -- and the actual economic, social and political interests of those groups were largely forgotten.

All of these groups -- labor, African Americans, Latinos and women -- sought to use the Democratic Party as the vehicle for their political demands, though in that vehicle they were definitely not in the driver's seat, and sometimes they felt as if once the election was over, they were locked in the trunk. The Democrats -- and the corporations they represented -- succeeded because they held the steering wheel. The labor and social movements, locked up in the party of another social class, could not change the direction of the party, or government, or of the economy. And a crash was coming.

When these groups pressed hard enough, the Democrats would take up their cause, and often even a token effort often proved to be enough to continue winning the votes of workers, African Americans, Latinos and women. Year after year, for example, the Democrats failed to pass labor law reform, including most recently the Employee Free Choice Act, yet labor continued to support the Democrats -- because the alternative would mean a social struggle that the labor movement was not prepared to carry out. While disappointed with the Democrats' jobs of representing them, most of those groups felt that creating an independent party would be too difficult, though they had also learned that taking over the Democratic Party also proved impossible.

A Shrinking Social Base

The Democratic Party, however, was also disappointed with unions and the civil rights groups which by the 1980s were failing to keep voters loyal to the party. The unions shrunk from about 35% of all workers in the 1950s to just about 12 percent by the 1990s, losing power and influence. The Republican Party made gains among Hispanic voters. The historic African American civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, passed through a series of organizational crises which made them less useful, though most black voters continued to vote for the Democratic Party seeing no alternative in the Republicans. While some new social movement had appeared -- particularly the environmental movement and the gay and lesbian rights movement, and while the Democratic Party had gained most from them -- they had not proven large and strong enough to rebuild the party's base. So by the 1990s the Democrats stumbled upon another strategy, the creation from above of new organizations that could both conjure up and control a mass following for the Democratic Party. The Democrats went into landscaping; time to plant the grass.

The Democrats' new corporatism might be dated from the establishment of in 1998, originally as a group calling upon Congress to censure rather than impeach President Bill Clinton and then "move on." opposed President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq and became for one of the country's most important anti-war groups. created Action Forums as local discussion and action groups and worked with to organize street demonstrations and other events.

MoveOn's fundamental strategy and method was to act both on the Democratic Party and within the Democratic Party. MoveOn became involved in the 2004 election and issued its Call for Change in the 2006 election, always with an eye to moving the Democratic Party to the left, but without moving to the left of the Democratic Party. The desire to serve the party gradually supplanted the responsibility to serve the movement. By the end of middle of the century's first decade it had become clear to many anti-war activists that MoveOn's fundamental commitment to the Democratic Party had become an obstacle to effective anti-war activism., though it had not exactly been created in Washington, provided the prototype of the a group created and commanded by Democratic party loyalists who wished to use the organization to both create and contain a social movement, a movement which might otherwise have found its way into other more independent channels, in the case of the anti-war movement into United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ ). MoveOn also provided the first model of organization for the new corporatism: an organization led by Democrats organizing from above, through an electronic apparatus which they controlled and reaching down into the social soil of America.

MoveOn used the new electronic media and social networking as no other group had used them before, reaching out to millions with its ideas and its actions. MoveOn did provide many people with their first experience of activism, and set them in motion around issues such as the war in Iraq, and for many this was a politically important and personally meaningful experience. But the goal was always both to create that movement and to contain it within the political parameters of the Democrats.

Eventually MoveOn, moved on to deal with all sorts of economic and social issues, becoming a broad liberal lobby that claimed five million members, more than twice as large as the country's largest labor union. MoveOn urged its members to vote, and to vote for Democrats and to support the Democratic Party agenda. MoveOn would provide the model for other groups -- Repower America, Reform Immigration for America, and the Tea Party -- which were more directly created and controlled respectively by the Democratic or Republican Party.

Reform Immigration for America

A similar process took place around the issue of immigration reform. Back in 2003 immigration national advocacy organizations, mostly based in Washington, D.C., and labor unions came together to create the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) also known as the New American Opportunity Campaign (NOAC). The founders of CCIR were four immigration advocacy groups -- The Center for Community Change, the National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Forum, New York Immigration Coalition -- and two labor unions, SEIU and UNITE. The groups organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, modeled after the civil rights freedom rides of the 1960s, and then went on to create an umbrella organization for all immigrant rights and immigrant organizations.

When in 2005 Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) introduced the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act (or "McCain-Kennedy Bill") -- involving legalization of a majority of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S., stricter border enforcement, a large guest worker program, and plans for the orderly control of future flows of immigrants -- the CCIR became its principle organizing vehicle. CCIR worked on building support for the bill in immigrant communities throughout the United States. Well-funded and professionally organized, CCIR staff worked to convince local immigrant groups and regional coalitions, though local immigrant groups often objected that both the organization and the bill had been foisted on them.

Many independent immigrant groups wanted all immigrants living and working in the U.S. to be legalized, objected to the heavy costs and penalties in the proposed bill, opposed guest workers, and rejected the idea of building more walls on the borders. Every major city or immigrant community saw tense arguments not only over the bill's content but also over the CCIR's top-down organization for it.
Then, under the pressure of genuine grassroots groups -- hometown clubs, soccer teams, local radio disc jockeys, church congregations -- a tremendous movement developed in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and many other cities and towns. In the spring and summer of 2006 that movement took to the streets, not controlled by CCIR and not in support of any particular bill, but rather a social explosion of immigrants demanding the right to live and work in America. Those massive demonstrations, some as large as one million people -- the largest social movement demonstrations in American history -- threatened in some places to become a kind of general strike of Latino workers.

Still, the movement could not overcome the backlash -- fanned by conservative Republicans and some Democrats -- that had developed among many whites. The Kennedy-McCain Bill failed to pass the U.S. Congress, and the CCIR went on to support other versions of "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" proposed to the Congress over the next few years. The Washington-based immigration advocacy groups held together around roughly the same program for immigration over the next several years.


After the election of Barack Obama, the same core group that had created CCIR founded a new group,Reform Immigration for America (RIFA), to support another "comprehensive immigration reform" bill. Under the pressure of immigrant communities, RIFA created a program somewhat more progressive the former CCIR's, calling for more visas, rather than for guest workers programs. While RIFA's program puts forwardmore humane values, it is not without its problems. It would not legalize all immigrants now working in the country and would deny undocumented immigrants an opportunity to work legally, driving them into the underground market. More important, RIFA and the advocacy groups at its core are prepared to accept a far more conservative compromise bill in order to pass immigration reform in one version or another.

Genuine grassroots immigrant groups and their allies will have little if any voice in the political process of passing some sort of immigration reform, which will remain in the hand of the Democratic Party. The Democrats will subordinate RIFA to their aims, and RIFA will keep local immigrant groups in line. Ultimately the Democrats will further weaken an immigration bill to please the Republicans. Neither RIFA nor the Democrats are prepared to organize the power of immigrant workers, which would in turn revitalize the labor movement.

Repower America

In 2008 multi-millionaire and former Democratic Party presidential candidate Al Gore created Repower America, an extension of his organizations the Climate Protection Action Fund and the Alliance for Climate Protection, which claim five million members worldwide. The group's home page says, "Founded by Al Gore, Repower America is dedicated to revitalizing our economy, strengthening our national security and solving the climate crisis through clean energy."

Well funded and staffed, Repower America has put organizers in the fields in states throughout the country, and they in turn have hired young people to distribute literature and circulate petitions on environmental issues. The website invites "grassroots supporters" to engage in "grassroots" lobbying for the environmental agenda. Recently the group also created Inconvenient Youth to involve teenagers from 13 to 18. That site has a social networking to allow members to connect with others near them, cultivating the young shoots of the neo-corporatist grassroots.

Founded by Al Gore, one of the Democratic Party's most important and, since his failed election campaign, most successful leaders -- winner of both the Nobel Peace Prize and an Academy Award for his film "An Inconvenient Truth" -- Repower America is clearly a Democratic Party project. Clearly Gore's goal is to build a top-down movement that will support the Gore's environmental policy within the Democratic Party.

Interestingly, when the Obama administration recently decided to permit the oil companies to engage in drilling along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Repower America created a petition where its members and others could appeal to President Barack Obama to reconsider and change that policy. One should not take that as a mark of political independence from Obama and the Democrats. While Repower America may be willing to criticize some particular administration policy, no one should expect it to fundamentally criticize Democratic Party policy or come to an independent position.

Operation Free

Gore's isn't the only neo-corporatist environmental game in town. The U.S. Department of Defense has created Operation Free, a "coalition of leading Veterans and national security organizations," to promote green environmental policies. The DOD sends veterans traveling around the country to speak on the need to "Secure America with Clean Energy." Locally sponsored by groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund, Operation Free tours the country in a big blue bus emblazoned with a military-style service patch displaying wind turbines and solar panels.

Operation Free's veteran spokesmen and -women, talk about their service time in wars overseas, their commitment to the country, and to environmental policies. Sounding like liberal sheep in conservative wolves' uniforms, they tell environmentalist audiences that they oppose the oil companies and that they can better reach conservative voters and win them to support green policies. "We've won health care reform, and now we can win green environmental policies," one veteran told an audience in Cincinnati, Ohio. The carefully orchestrated meetings are dominated by the veterans' prepared statements and they permit only written questions, and most audiences hesitate to raise the issue of war and its environmental consequences.

The Obama Campaign

Barack Obama's brilliant 2008 campaign for the U.S. presidency drew upon the experience of groups such as and Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, creating an attractive website and logo, using electronic social networking that eventually involved millions, and then turned that electronic network into a campaign organization that mobilized tens of thousands to do precinct work. Many young people in particular, who had never been involved either in politics or a genuine social movement, experienced the Obama campaign as what was for them a social movement.

The sense of excitement, the meetings and rallies, the door-to-door canvassing, though orchestrated from Washington, D.C. were experienced regionally and locally as the nearest thing to a movement that many of the participants had ever known. When the campaign was over and Obama was elected, he then turned his campaign organization into Organizing for America. OFA invites those who visit its website to join "grassroots OFA campaigns to support the President's agenda."

OFA represents perhaps the largest and broadest of the neo-corporatist organizations, a "grassroots" group controlled by the Democratic Party President who is the head of the U.S. government and commander-in-chief. After Obama's election, however, interest in OFA declined, revived only briefly, sporadically and spottily by the campaign around health care reform. OFA called upon Obama supporters to engage in lobbying for his health care reform -- without single-payer (Medicare for all) or a public option. Disappointment with the President on the left and the right, had left the door open for the Republican's neo-corporatist Tea Party.

The Tea Party

The stunning victory of Barack Obama in the 2008 election devastated the Republican Party. Not only did Obama win, but the Democrats also won a majority of both houses of Congress. At the same time, however, during his first year in office Obama failed to provide strong, clear leadership to the Democratic Party majority, to his supporters in the Democratic Party and to his followers in Organize for America. Enthusiasm waned, support dwindled, and the grass dried up. Then the crab grass came.

Rightwing Republicans with strong support from conservative foundations such as Freedom Works and from FOX News and other conservative media, stepped into the vacuum created both by the lack of leadership from Obama and by the disorientation of mainstream Republicans. Beginning in 2008, rightwing Republicans and some Libertarians began to call for a Tea Party to protest against Obama's administration and its policies. By January 2009 the Tea Party had been born -- with many claiming to be the fathers, mothers or midwives of the movement. Tea Party activists took a lead in opposing Obama's call for health reform, arguing that it was the first step toward socialism and the end of America as we have known it.

While the proliferation of Tea Party websites, organizations, political programs, and ideological orientations gave the impression of a genuine grassroots movement, in fact the Republican Party and its most conservative think-tanks backed by the corporations had quickly taken command of the group. True, the Tea Party has its racists and fascists, its cranks and screwballs, but it's the Republicans who have paid the bills and provided the direction. Dick Armey, former leader of the House Republicans, lobbyist, and chair of Freedom Works, emerged as the principal party leader of the Tea Party, while Sarah Palin, Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008, became one of the group's favorite spokespersons. The Tea Party organizers increasingly promoted an anti-government and free market position, claiming that
Obama was leading the nation toward socialism and the brink.

By the spring of 2010 Tea Party organizations were active principally in Republican Party primary races supporting more conservative candidates than those wanted by the Republican Washington establishment. In a few place the Tea Party and its rightwing activists wrecked local Republican Party election plans. Such a development could threaten the Republican Party leadership and even the future of the party, still the Tea Party remains for now part of the party, not a genuinely independent political movement. Whether or not the Tea Party will be able to sustain momentum after the November 2010 elections remains to be seen, but we can be sure that the Republican Party will remain in place.

The Coffee Party

With the Tea Party garnering much of the media's attention, two Barack Obama supporters, movie makers Annabel Park and Eric Byler, decided to create the Coffee Party, with the motto "Wake up and Stand up!" in January of 2010. Using the kind of electronic media techniques developed by MoveOn and by the Obama campaign, they created a website, and then quickly called meetings in some 370 coffee shops throughout the country and a few overseas. The group claimed 150,000 members within six weeks. The initial meetings were followed a second round of meetings, often with a different group of participants.

The Coffee Party, while clearly intended to be the Democrats' answer to the Tea Party, presents itself as non-partisan. The group's website explained itself this way:

"The Coffee Party Movement gives voice to Americans who want to see cooperation in government. We recognize that the federal government is not the enemy of the people, but the expression of our collective will, and that we must participate in the democratic process in order to address the challenges that we face as Americans. As voters and grassroots volunteers, we will support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them."

The group's organizers failed to inform participants that the movement had been formed by Democratic Party loyalists, though that was obvious from the discussions that revolved around the Democrat's key issues, such as health care reform, with a clear intent to minimize calls for single-payer. Discussions of the wars abroad were generally off the table.

Some of the Coffee Party's initial announcements asked people to turn from the extremes and to "meet in the middle." Local leaders explain that the group rejects the political extremes of left and right. Cincinnati's principal Coffee Party organizer speaking to a class at the University of Cincinnati said, "We won't want to be like those people out in the streets carrying signs with hand-written slogans." Sounding like an American Progressive of the 1910s, he said, "We want our discussion to be based on facts. When we have a question we go to the experts and read academic papers that have been peer-reviewed."

Rather than taking to the streets, in Cincinnati at least the Tea Party has organized a meeting to thank a local Congressman for voting for Obama's health care reform. So, while the Tea Party has been in the streets winning a following by challenging the government, the Coffee Party has so far remained cloistered in mostly middle class coffee shops, eschewing the streets and rejecting confrontation.

Grassroots Redefined

All of these organizations talk about building "grassroots movements," but in a way that gives a new definition to old expression. Grassroots originally meant a movement with roots in local concerns and suggested the notion of a local group democratically controlled by some local community and the people involved in it. Grassroots suggested a kind of authenticity, a genuinely homespun movement of local people, even if concerned with regional and national issues. It also suggested a movement from below, in local communities or one sort or another that then reached up to try to influence the centers of power. These neo-corporatist movements, however, mostly have their origins in Washington, D.C., though, even if conceived outside of the beltway, they have been created by people loyal to the Republicans or the Democrats as the case may be.

While mostly created from on high by the parties, party leaders, NGOs or foundations, there is no doubt that in many cases they have successfully reached down into the grassroots. Whether we talk about MoveOn, the Obama campaign, The Tea Party or the Coffee Party, almost all have found constituencies in communities across the country. None of them, however, really originated there, with the possible exception of some of the first manifestations of the Tea Party. Controlled by the parties, foundations, and NGOs, well-funded and usually with professional staffs, they have reached outward and downward -- principally through electronic media and social networking -- to attempt to build a local base. They are planting the grass they want, and view other things that pop up as weeds.

Most of these groups do not have a democratic membership structure with an elected leadership, nor do they usually have local chapters with any degree of autonomy. Organizational directives and political positions move from the top to the bottom, from the center to the periphery, though some of these groups create some semblance of local autonomy. The Tea Party may be if not the most democratic, at least the most chaotic. While Dick Armey, the Republicans, Freedom Works, and FOX provide much of the real direction for the Tea Party, local chapters do their own thing from holding meetings, and demonstrations, to issues proclamations and manifestoes.

The Democratic Party organizations create the regional and local structures and establish quite clear if not always publicly stated political parameters. And they may also offer a lot of space for local discussion and debate of the sorts that is either about high minded and abstract ideals -- "How do we promote real democracy in the United States" -- and therefore does not affect political policy, or is about organizational matters -- where to hold the meeting -- and therefore does not touch on any matters of substance. Generally, members have no way in a local chapter to make decisions that might affect the national organization, while the national organization makes all the substantive decisions for the local chapters.

Still, both the Tea Party and the Coffee Party, and the other organizations, find followers looking for like minded folk with whom to socialize, commiserate, and chat (both actually and virtually). The success of these models has a lot to do with creating partisan substitutes for what were once more diverse and democratic town hall meeting, or with building new forms of party precinct and ward organizations which went out of business with the growth of radio and television.

The Independent Left and the New Corporatism

How should the independent left, that is people to the left of the Democratic Party, anti-capitalists and socialists, relate to these neo-corporatist organizations and pseudo-movements? Our goal in approaching this question should be to understand that we want to join people in action and while working with them, win them to our point of view. With that in mind, each of these organizations presents a different set of problems or questions.

With regard to the Tea Party, while most of its members may simply be exceptionally conservative Republicans, there are within it various sorts of ultra-conservatives, some of them racist and some potentially violent. The more radical right-wingers often dominate protest demonstrations and put forward slogans and demands, and sometimes carry racist posters, which would make it impossible for us to participate in good conscience. We will probably not be able to even converse with much less influence people in the centers of these movements, though we might draw away people in their penumbra.

Organizations like, now that it has become a kind of generic liberal lobby, and groups like the Coffee Party call meetings in which we would want to be present, both to understand liberal arguments, and to meet some of the many fine people who participate in these meetings. We may through conversations with them be able to identify some who share our more independent views. When they call demonstrations, we may want to participate, though perhaps with our own slogans, signs and chants which raise a more independent political position.

Similarly with Repower America which has put so much money into creating an apparatus to organize young people, one might want to participate in the movements without adopting the politics, while offering critical perspectives. Where Repower does draw young people into the environmental movement, we would want to argue, for example, for the need to socialize energy resources and to create socialized green production. We should look for opportunities within Repower to challenge the capitalist, liberal, and ultimately Democratic Party parameters set by the group.

With Operation Free, on the other hand, we should take a different position. This is after all an organization of the Department of Defense -- better called by its historic name the War Department -- and we should try to rip off the green mask which covers the bloody red of imperial wars, occupations, mass murder, environmental disasters in victim nations, and the dislocation of millions, together with the drone missiles and the horrifying civilian deaths they cause. If we are members, we should insist that the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund cease to work with the War Department.

Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) has to be approached much as we would approach some of the labor unions which founded and support it, that is, as a bureaucratic organization with reformist politics which has some degree of organizational and ideological influence over millions of workers. When RIFA calls meetings and demonstrations such as it has which involved thousands of workers, we must be present, but we should not accept the RIFA program which does not speak to immigrants' real needs. Where possible, and this depends on local conditions, we should introduce a critique of RIFA's immigration program, such as denying undocumented workers in the U.S. the right to a job and increasing border policing. Just as we do in the labor unions, we should work in the movement, but without accepting its politics, working to represent the interests of all the immigrants and of the broader labor movement.

With regard to the anti-war movement, while keeping informed about activities and participating when possible with independent signs and literature, one would perhaps rather work to build United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), though at this point most independent anti-war activists are working to build a new independent anti-war coalition of some sort. Certainly the continuing war in Iraq, the expansion of the war in Afghanistan, and the shameful and horrifying drone attacks on Pakistan which have killed civilians demand that we build a new anti-war movement, and, with its commitment to the President and the Democrats cannot and will not provide leadership.

Ultimately, for those of us work in the grassroots, the point is this: We need no condescending gardeners. We will rather work to cultivate movements at the real grassroots, the diverse garden of self-managed organizations independent of both the Democrats and Republicans.

Note: In writing this article, I have found it helpful to refer to the Wikipedia articles on the various organizations discussed, from which I have taken some of the accounts and descriptions of them.

Dan La Botz is a Cincinnati based teacher, writer and activist and was the Ohio Socialist Party candidate for the U.S. Senate last year.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Call to Defend Ohio on January 8th

This is from the Defend Ohio Campaign.

Years of tax cuts for the rich and a deep recession triggered by Wall Street’s insatiable greed have left the State of Ohio with an $8 billion budget deficit. Governor-elect John Kasich is quite clear about who should pay for this fiscal crisis: students, teachers, public employees, and working families already hurting from high unemployment, rising poverty, and foreclosed mortgages. Furthermore, Kasich has threatened those who would dare speak up against his plans: “If you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding” (Columbus Dispatch December 5, 2010).

The only solutions Kasich wants to hear about are those which involve blaming unions, cutting jobs, reducing services, slashing school funding, and privatizing public functions. In short, Kasich is using the fiscal crisis as an excuse to impose an even more draconian version of the same stale policies he and his friends have always advocated. By threatening those who speak up, and by pointing the finger of blame at particular unions, Kasich is trying to divide Ohioans at a time when we most need to come together.

We did not get into this mess overnight. For years, thoughtful Ohioans have been offering real solutions to Ohio’s structural budget deficits. It is clear that we cannot solve the immediate crisis facing the state without reforms to our tax system that make the rich pay their fare share. But even that won’t be enough. Ohio, and many other states, will need more federal aid to protect basic services until the economy improves and revenues stabilize, and to deal with rising Medicaid costs caused by sustained high unemployment. One thing is certain: Kasich’s agenda of eliminating jobs, cutting wages, and slashing schools in the middle of a recession will only make things worse by pushing more people into unemployment and poverty.

We reject Governor-elect John Kasich’s divisive and threatening rhetoric and we oppose any efforts to solve this crisis on the backs of Ohio’s working people. We invite all Ohioans to join us at the Statehouse in Columbus on January 8th to voice your opposition to the Kasich agenda.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Obamacare: Worse Than You Thought

President Obama’s biggest accomplishment isn’t as good as many of his supporters would like to believe. Here’s why.