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Is the Coffee Party the answer to partisan politics?

On April 15, the U.S. House passed a 2012 budget resolution in a partisan vote. No Democrats supported passage of the bill. One side deemed the plan the "Path to Prosperity," while the other called it a "Road to Ruin."

Right vs. left. Red vs. blue. One side frustrated with the other.

Annabel Park felt similar frustration in January 2010 when she posted comments on her Facebook page ranting about news coverage that made it seem like the Tea Party was representative of America. There was a flurry of instant feedback from others who felt the same frustration. This was how the national Coffee Party movement started.

Park explained the creation of the Coffee Party movement in a YouTube video where, oddly enough, she stood outside in the falling snow. "We want to see cooperation among people in Congress and government, and we want to see people who are representing us move toward solutions to the problems instead of strategically obstructing any form of progress," said Park.

The Coffee Party mission statement states that it "provides a place where men and women of all ages, races, physical abilities and orientations can come together for a respectful and honest exchange of ideas." The party is nonpartisan.

I recently attended a Coffee Party meeting to see the concept in action.

The Coffee Party of Northwest Tucson put together a panel of local Republicans and Democrats to discuss three issues: nuclear power, securing the border and the involvement of government in our lives. In attendance were: Brian Clymer, chair of Legislative District 26 Democrats; Hollace Lyon, chair of the SaddleBrooke Democratic Club; Donna Alu, chair of Legislative District 26 Republicans; and Lesley VanBorssum, chair of the Winning With Women organization. Marlene Schiller, co-chair of the Coffee Party of Northwest Tucson, was the moderator.

Schiller would present a question, and each panel member had an allotted time to answer. Audience questions were submitted on paper; immediate audience comments were not allowed. At one point, when VanBorssum spoke about the role of government in business affairs, an audience member began to speak, clearly in disagreement. Schiller quickly swung her gavel to reinstitute order and said the audience could speak with panel members during the last 30 minutes of the event, during socializing.

While panel members had different opinions, there were times when I heard phrases like, "You're right," and, "I agree with you"—across party lines. There was unanimous concern about how nuclear waste is handled; agreement that the border issue must be looked at holistically; and an accord that no one wants excessive government interference in daily life.

Coffee Party of Northwest Tucson member Kathleen Pastryk feels encouraged when there is unanticipated agreement at their weekly discussions. (Meetings are held from 1 to 3 p.m., every Tuesday, at the Oro Valley Public Library.)

"Our meetings have a 'spark' to them that isn't always present at political meetings," she said via e-mail.

When I inquired about the "spark," Pastryk explained it as "the recognition that you agree with someone who you didn't expect to agree with. The give-and-take produces a 'spark' of recognition that we are on to something."

The "give-and-take" occurs not by loudly arguing one's point, but with a degree of courtesy.

"The Coffee Party is serious about civility. I have seen meetings of other groups where people in the audience were loud and rude, tried to drown out others, vented a lot of incomprehensible anger and generally acted out. Part of the reason why we are the 'Coffee Party' is to do a better job when it comes to civil discourse among members of the public," said Pastryk.

Finding common ground during discourse is one of the objectives of the Coffee Party. That, in turn, can lead to problem-solving.

"I think that people can find common ground, but I suspect that there are many who don't care to try," Pastryk said.

Pastryk raised an interesting point about trying to find common ground. Republicans and Democrats, both on the local and national levels, clearly disagree on many issues, and they aren't trying hard enough to find common ground. Partisan politics only creates drama instead of solutions.

More by Irene Messina

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