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Coffee Party, With A Taste For Civic Participation, Is Added To The Political Menu

by March 3rd, 2010

By Kate Zernike

Fed up with government gridlock, but put off by the flavor of the Tea Party, people in cities across the country are offering an alternative: the Coffee Party.

The Coffee Party began on Facebook as a Tea Party alternative.

Growing through a Facebook page, the party pledges to “support leaders who work toward positive solutions, and hold accountable those who obstruct them.”

It had nearly 40,000 members as of Monday afternoon, but the numbers were growing quickly “” about 11,000 people had signed on as fans since the morning.

“I’m in shock, just the level of energy here,” said the founder, Annabel Park, a documentary filmmaker who lives outside Washington. “In the beginning, I was actively saying, ‘Get in touch with us, start a chapter.’ Now I can’t keep up. We have 300 requests to start a chapter that I have not been able to respond to.”

The slogan is “Wake Up and Stand Up.” The mission statement declares 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 we face as Americans.”

Local chapters are planning meetings in cities from Washington to San Antonio to Los Angeles (where there have been four in the last month.) The party ( is planning nationwide coffee houses for March 13, where people can gather to decide which issues they want to take on and even which candidates they want to support.

This summer, Ms. Park said, the party will hold a convention in the Midwest, with a slogan along the lines of “Meet Me in the Middle.” The party has inspired the requisite jokes: why not a latte party, a chai party, a Red Bull party? But Ms. Park said that while the Coffee Party “” and certainly the name “” was formed in reaction to the Tea Party, the two agree on some things, like a desire for fiscal responsibility and a frustration with Congress.

“We’re not the opposite of the Tea Party,” Ms. Park, 41, said. “We’re a different model of civic participation, but in the end we may want some of the same things.”

The Tea Party argues for stripping the federal government of many of its roles, and that if government has to be involved, it should be mostly state governments.

“The way I see it,” Ms. Park said, “our government is diseased, but you don’t abandon it because it’s ill. It’s the only body we have to address collective problems. You can’t bound government according to state borders when companies don’t do that, air doesn’t. It just doesn’t fit with the world.”

Still, she said, “we’ve got to send a message to people in Washington that you have to learn how to work together, you have to learn how to talk about these issues without acting like you’re in an ultimate fighting session.”

Ms. Park and chapter organizers said they would invite Tea Party members to join their Coffee counterparts in discussions. “We need to roll up our sleeves, put our heads together and work it out,” she said. “That’s, to me, an American way of doing this.”

Born in South Korea, Ms. Park moved to Houston when she was 9 and worked in the taco stand her parents bought there, which she said helps her understand average Americans.

“We encountered racism, yes, but the majority of people were kind, they were good people, they were like our family,” she said. “I understand where they are coming from.”

Eileen Cabiling, who founded the Los Angeles chapter, said she had campaigned for President Obama, but paid little attention to politics until the Tea Party convention and Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speech, where he rebuked Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike for their inability to move on legislation.

“I had withdrawn in campaign fatigue,” Ms. Cabiling said. “I was like, what happened?”

Only 2 people came to the first meeting, she said, but 30 came Sunday, including some Tea Party members, who she said could agree with their more caffeinated counterparts on some things.

“This is about recognizing that the government represents us,” Ms. Cabiling said, “so we need to step to the plate and start having a voice and start acting like bosses.”

Unlikely Activist Who Got To The Tea Party Early

by March 3rd, 2010

By Kate Zernike

SEATTLE “” Keli Carender has a pierced nose, performs improv on weekends and lives here in a neighborhood with more Mexican grocers than coffeehouses. You might mistake her for the kind of young person whose vote powered President Obama to the White House. You probably would not think of her as a Tea Party type.

But leaders of the Tea Party movement credit her with being the first.

A year ago, frustrated that every time she called her senators to urge them to vote against the $787 billion stimulus bill their mailboxes were full, and tired of wearing out the ear of her Obama-voting fiancé, Ms. Carender decided to hold a protest against what she called the “porkulus.”

“I basically thought to myself: ‘I have two courses. I can give up, go home, crawl into bed and be really depressed and let it happen,’ “ she said this month while driving home from a protest at the State Capitol in Olympia. “Or I can do something different, and I can find a new avenue to have my voice get out.”

This weekend, as Tea Party members observe the anniversary of the first mass protests nationwide, Ms. Carender’s path to activism offers a lens into how the movement has grown, taking many people who were not politically active “” it is not uncommon to meet Tea Party advocates who say they have never voted “” and turning them into a force that is rattling both parties as they look toward the midterm elections in the fall.

Ms. Carender’s first rally drew only 120 people. A week later, she had 300, and six weeks later, 1,200 people gathered for a Tax Day Tea Party. Last month, she was among about 60 Tea Party leaders flown to Washington to be trained in election activism by FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader.

This month, a year to the day of her first protest, Ms. Carender stood among a crowd of about 600 on the steps of the State Capitol, acknowledging the thanks from a speaker who cited her as the original Tea Party advocate. Around her were the now-familiar signs: “Can you hear us now?” “Is it 2012 yet?” “Tea Party: the party of now.”

Jenny Beth Martin, a national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella organization of local groups that Ms. Carender has joined, calls her an unlikely avatar of the movement but an ideal one. She puts a fresh, idealistic face on a movement often dismissed as a bunch of angry extremists.

“She’s not your typical conservative,” she said. “She’s an actress. She’s got a nose ring. I think it’s the thing that’s so amazing about our movement.”

The daughter of Democrats who became disaffected in the Clinton years, Ms. Carender, 30, began paying attention to politics during the 2008 campaign, but none of the candidates appealed to her. She had studied math at Western Washington University before earning a teaching certificate at Oxford “” she teaches basic math to adult learners “” and began reading more on economics, particularly the writings of Thomas Sowell, the libertarian economist, and National Review.

Reading about the stimulus, she said, “it didn’t make any sense to me to be spending all this money when we don’t have it.”

“It seems more logical to me that we create an atmosphere where private industry can start to grow again and create jobs,” she said.

Her fiancé, Conor McNassar, urged her to channel her complaints into a blog, which she called Liberty Belle.

“He didn’t mind hearing it,” she said. “He just couldn’t hear it all the time.”

It was not enough.

So she called the city parks department, which suggested a location and gave her a permit. She still did not know if any other protesters would show up.

She put out the word to some friends from the Young Republicans, which she had joined in late 2008, but it was not a big group. She called Michael Medved, the Seattle-based conservative radio host, but he did not put her on the air. She scanned a list of economics professors who had signed a Cato Institute letter opposing the stimulus and found two locally, but they could not make it.

She also called someone she had met at an election results watch party, who agreed to spread the word among Republicans. She called a conservative local radio host, who put in a plug. And she sent an e-mail message to the conservative writer Michelle Malkin, who agreed to announce the protest on her blog and even sent some pulled pork to feed the crowd.

The porkulus protest did not draw enough people to finish the pulled pork, which Ms. Carender took to a homeless shelter. But she collected e-mail addresses, remembering that Senator Barack Obama had done that at events as he prepared to run for president.

The “tea party” label came three days later, from a rant the CNBC correspondent Rick Santelli delivered from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the nationwide protests followed.

Six weeks later, Ms. Carender’s e-mail list had grown to 1,000 “” it is now 1,500 “” allowing her to summon protesters on short notice and making her the model child of the Tea Party Patriots, which has since become a driving force for advocates nationwide with its weekly conference calls to coordinate Tea Party activity.

In her activism, Ms. Carender has also drawn on her theatrical experience. Discovering that advocates of a health care overhaul were marching in the city last summer, she staged a “funeral for health care,” with protesters wearing black and bagpipers playing. For her first Tea Party event, she dressed as Liberty Belle (newspaper accounts mistook her for Little Bo Peep).

In a video viewed 68,000 times on YouTube, she confronted Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington, at a town-hall-style meeting on health care. “If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs,” she said, waving a $20 bill to boos and cheers, “then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.”

Ms. Carender is less certain when it comes to explaining, for instance, how to cut the deficit without cutting Medicaid and Medicare.

“Well,” she said, thinking for a long time and then sighing. “Let’s see. Some days I’m very Randian. I feel like there shouldn’t be any of those programs, that it should all be charitable organizations. Sometimes I think, well, maybe it really should be just state, and there should be no federal part in it at all. I bounce around in my solutions to the problem.”

She, like many Tea Party members, resists the idea of a Tea Party leader “” “there are a thousand leaders,” she says.

Glenn Beck? “He can be a Tea Partier, but it’s not like the movement bends to him.”

Sarah Palin? She will have to campaign on Tea Party ideas if she wants Tea Party support, Ms. Carender said, adding, “And if she were elected, she’d have to govern on those principles or be fired.”

Ms. Carender herself has become a Tea Party leader, even a celebrity.

At the Olympia rally, she did a television interview and accepted a hug from Kirby Wilbur, the radio host who first publicized her porkulus protest. “This is the future of the conservative movement!” he declared upon seeing her.

Her biggest goal now, Ms. Carender said, is replacing Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat elected three times by wide margins, in November.

So Ms. Carender held a small anniversary rally on Saturday at a local mall. But her focus is on vetting candidates and using the contacts she has established over the last year to get out the vote.

“There is no way we will out-fund-raise the liberals,” she said. “The only weapon we have is energy and time.”

“Can City Apps Bring Transparent Data To Jersey City’s Citizens?”

by February 26th, 2010

By Ron Callari

Technological advances are affecting how citizens are interacting with their city governments, as transparency, efficiency and cost-savings become the guiding principles in municipalities today. As more and more cities open their data to the public, tech-savvy individuals and companies are creating APIs (application programming interfaces) to provide Web 2.0 solutions for a variety of city issues. How might this technological development help Jersey City’s citizens better access and understand their government, all while saving the city money?

In its simplest form, a City API or app can be a descriptive list of a set of functions that are included in a government database and address a specific problem. For example, in a city with a traffic-light problem, a resident might typically call the public works or transportation department. Those calls take time and cost money when addressed by staff members you reach by phone. But with an API, a city could permit its residents to upload photos or videos of specific traffic light issues, vote on which ones should be addressed with urgency and view progress updates over time, for free. This could be done from smartphones with stand-alone apps or directed to a specific website for public perusal.

Read full article <a href=””>here</a>.

Public Forum On Improved Internet Access, Service In Southeast Seattle

by February 25th, 2010

Hidmo Community Empowerment Project, Reclaim the Media and the Northwest Media Action Grassroots Network present Let’s Get Connected: Internet and Social Justice in Central and South Seattle, a community forum on winning better, faster, and more affordable Internet access in the historically underserved neighborhoods of the Central District and Beacon Hill. The event takes place Weds. March 3, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Garfield Community Center on 2323 E. Cherry Street, Seattle.

Mayor Mike McGinn was elected in part based on his proposal to connect all Seattle homes and businesses with next-generation fiber-optic Internet service–providing affordability, customer choice, and speeds many times faster than what is currently available to many in Seattle’s underserved neighborhoods of the Central District and Beacon Hill. Between the FCC’s recent call for gigabit-speed Internet, Google’s announcement of fiber-broadband test projects, and Federal broadband stimulus funds, it appears that 2010 could be a big year for Internet access in the US. How will the changes be felt in Seattle?

Participants in the March 3 “Let’s Get Connected” event will be invited to share their own experiences with local Internet access, while community media producers document their stories on audio and video. Featured guest speakers will discuss the history of telecommunications access in central and South Seattle, present-day challenges for fair, affordable access, and ways the City can respond to public outcry for digital justice.

“The neighborhoods of Central and South Seattle have been sidelined in technology access for too long,” said Reclaim the Media director Jonathan Lawson. “Achieving real digital justice means that everyone, regardless of income or zip code, should have equal opportunities to connect, create and innovate, through networks that provide affordability, universal access and gigabit speed.”

Let’s Get Connected is the sixth in a series of community forums sponsored by the Hidmo Community Empowerment Project; it is also the first in a series of public forums on broadband Reclaim the Media plans as part of its Seattle Digital Justice campaign. The forum intends to bring together a variety of community members and civic leaders for productive discussions on an issue of present importance.

Child care and refreshments will be available (please make childcare reservations by Feb 25).

This event is sponsored by the Hidmo Community Empowerment Project, Reclaim the Media, the Seattle Digital Justice Coalition and the NW Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), with support from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Seattle Parks and Recreation. More info: or 206.328.7088.

“‘Will Of The People’ Often Subject To Tinkering”

by February 25th, 2010

By Jim Brunner
Seattle Times political reporter

OLYMPIA — As Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill clearing the way for tax increases Wednesday, the outcry was strong, just as it has been for the past several weeks as the measure inched through the Legislature.

“Can’t you at least put up a facade that you are paying attention to what the voters are saying?” said Tim Eyman, sponsor of Initiative 960, after watching Gregoire sign the bill suspending for a year the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a public vote for any tax increase.

At times, the rhetoric from I-960 supporters has been incredulous and angry, as though voter-approved initiatives were sacred texts, never to be rewritten.

One Republican compared the Legislature’s actions to a “total solar eclipse.” Protesters have gathered on the Capitol steps and some lawmakers have received threatening e-mails, including one suggesting those who vote to overturn I-960 “should be hanged from the neck until dead.”

But this is hardly the first time lawmakers have gone against the “will of the people” as expressed by initiatives.

In the past decade, state lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – have poked holes in voter-approved initiatives that restrained state spending, gave automatic raises to teachers and demanded more money for public schools, among others.

Some of those measures won by much wider margins than I-960, which was approved by 51 percent of voters in 2007.

“The people who complain about this always pick and choose which initiatives they are complaining about,” said Hugh Spitzer, an affiliate professor at the University of Washington Law School and co-author of a book on the state constitution, which lays out a balance of power between the public at large and elected officials.

The state constitution says the initiative process is “the first power reserved by the people,” yet it allows the Legislature to rewrite any initiative with a two-thirds vote in the first two years. After that, it takes only a simple majority.

It wasn’t always that way. Before a 1952 amendment, the constitution said the Legislature couldn’t make any changes to initiatives for two years.

Curiously, given the strong feelings about initiatives today, the 1952 amendment was easily approved by voters. Judging from news coverage, it was scarcely controversial. An initiative legalizing the sale of yellow margarine – over the vehement protests of dairy farmers – proved far more divisive.

Since then, lawmakers have amended or repealed at least 30 voter-approved initiatives, according to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed’s office.

In the past decade, it’s frequently been Democrats agitating against a series of tax limits implemented by voter initiatives, such as I-960. But Republicans have played a role, too.

In 2000, the Legislature punched a big hole in Initiative 601, a 1993 measure that created a strict state spending cap. Basically, lawmakers decided to use budgetary shifts to get around the I-601 limit. The bill to make that possible received crucial support from GOP leaders in the state House, which at the time was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.

Supporters and opponents of I-960 have spent a lot of time arguing about whether it should be given any more deference than the many others that have been watered down or repealed over the years.

Democrats like to point to Initiatives 728 and 732, both approved by big margins in 2000. Those initiatives demanded that the Legislature grant automatic cost-of-living raises to teachers and dedicate money to reduce class sizes in public schools.

Yet the Legislature suspended those requirements in lean times, and budget writers plan to do so again this year.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said he’s heard a lot of angry talk from Republicans about I-960’s suspension, yet “I didn’t hear that outrage” when the Legislature backed off the education initiatives.

Republicans argue there are some big differences between those measures and I-960.

The education initiatives gave no new funding to the state even though they required hundreds of millions a year in additional spending on schools. The voters-pamphlet statement on I-728 boasted that it could be funded “without raising taxes or taking money away from other programs.”

When a 2004 initiative proposed raising the state sales tax by a penny to pay for better schools, voters overwhelmingly rejected it.

Meanwhile, voters have endorsed I-960’s main provision — the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax increases — three times since 1993.

“It should be hard to go against the will of the people. It shouldn’t be an easy thing,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama.

Orcutt noted that I-960 provides an “out” for legislators if they can’t get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for tax increases. They can send any proposed taxes to the ballot for voters to approve. Democrats have ruled that out.

In signing the bill suspending I-960 on Wednesday, Gregoire noted that voters had approved the measure before the current economic crisis.

“They did it in a time when we weren’t facing the greatest recession in the state of Washington,” Gregoire said. The bill suspends the initiative until July 2011.

Eyman who stood just behind Gregoire during the bill-signing ceremony, made a thumbs-down gesture and held his nose for the cameras. He’s already filed a new initiative to restore the two-thirds requirement for tax increases.

While he’d expected lawmakers to throw out I-960’s restrictions on tax votes, Eyman said he was shocked they also axed “transparency” requirements, including advisory votes on any tax increases approved by the Legislature and a requirement that the names of lawmakers voting for tax increases be printed in voters pamphlets.

Gregoire said those provisions were of questionable worth and printing the information in the pamphlets would be costly.

Spitzer, the UW law professor, said initiatives place unrealistic demands on the Legislature, and it makes sense that lawmakers frequently need to revisit them.

“I have a simple solution: Every initiative which institutes a new program must provide a tax source. Every initiative that cuts taxes must specify in detail which programs would be cut,” Spitzer said.

That’s unlikely to happen.

But the public this fall may get to judge the Legislature’s actions twice. Voters could be voting on Eyman’s latest initiative, assuming it qualifies for the ballot. And voters will get a chance to reshape the Legislature, with the entire state House up for election.

Jim Brunner: 360-236-8267 or