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    « Gaza: A Poem | Main | Am I an Activist? »
    Saturday
    Jul122014

    Nails on a Chalkboard: The Implosion of Coffee Party USA

    For the few remaining who actually care, Coffee Party USA is suffering what some have termed a crisis in leadership, but which is far more existential, far more visceral.

    The Coffee Party (CP) is a “grassroots, non-partisan movement that aims to restore the principles and spirit of democracy in America.” The origins of the organization begin with Annabel Park, a filmmaker and political activist with a strong following. (Check here for more on the group’s formation and history.) Eventually organizing as a 501(c)(4), CP formalized into a national entity with a board of directors and a loosely-connected array of local chapters that depends largely on good will, connections, and civil conversation. This last is very important; from the Coffee Party website comes the “Civility Pledge”:

    As a member or supporter of the Coffee Party, I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest, and respectful toward people with whom I disagree. I value people from different cultures, I value people with different ideas, and I value and cherish the democratic process.

    The organization has something of a schizophrenic following: while boasting nearly a half-million fans on its Facebook page, the total number of paying members and donors—as near as anyone can tell—hovers closer to 1,000, making it an organization with a strong reach to the barely involved, but an anemic connection to the true activists. It’s an organization that has done little with little, and with little attention.

    And yet: I’m one of those “few remaining who actually care.”

    I came to the Coffee Party self-serving; a desire to promote and sell my book had me hunting for radio and social media opportunities and so I reached out to then Board President Eric Byler asking for a spot on one of the group’s internet radio shows. I quickly struck up a friendship with Eric which led, first, to him and me co-hosting a new radio show, and then on to my appointment to the CP board of directors. I served until the fall of 2013, when I resigned over ideological differences.

    The people I worked with were—and are—fundamentally good people, but in late 2013 they made a tragic error in judgment. The group has always struggled with fundraising; filled with passion but lacking key non-profit skills, the group, frustrated, followed the lead of one director in pursuing a multi-level-marketing alliance with a questionable energy company, Viridian.  This decision was a groupthinked disaster, leading to discussions of conflict of interest, adjustments of by-laws, and the need to litmus test any new directors. One director—Eric himself—resigned over the issue. When Eric resigned, he went public to the membership (via Facebook), and the membership was understandably concerned (at first) and then irate, particularly over the lack of communication about what had been going on.

    A call for board resignations began and, up to this point, things looked like they could be managed. But then people decided to show their very worst selves. It wasn’t long before the “—gate” appellation formed: Viridiangate. Soon after came the rare but nevertheless obvious references to Nazism, communism, and Stalinism. Factions formed. People yelled, screamed, and questioned each other’s integrity. Board members lashed back, several reaching new lows in so-called “civil conversation.” People were banned from the various CP properties, and posts were deleted. In retaliation to the retaliation, members began hijacking threads whenever and wherever they could, preventing any of those other 400,000 plus people from engaging in any kind of reasoned dialog. Questions and statements were twisted and parsed for positional advantage. People who in the past could have been counted on to challenge such incivility began to reveal themselves as no better or worse than any other participant in any other mob. The few remaining board supporters were continually harassed, badgered, and bothered until, in frustration, most simply gave up and left the conversation. The whole thing was a true exercise in how a small minority can completely outscream any reasonable conversation. It got ugly. Very ugly. And very un-CP-like.

    And the truth, supposedly a priority for CP and its members, was forced to the gangplank, sacrificed to the baser twisting of supposed “facts.” Make no mistake: the board members have tripped over themselves trying to justify banning posts, jettisoning members, fixing elections, and just generally figuring out how to redefine the concept of cognitive dissonance. But at the same time a small group of very vocal members have gone to great lengths to twist any word, thought, action, or intention into cringe-worthy conspiracy theories and blood-red anger, not only directed at the board, but directed at anyone who defends them or, in some cases, anyone who even tries to see both sides of the story. And both sides have systematically opposed any real attempts at conciliation, instead spending time accusing each other by asking ridiculous questions of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” variety.

    Today, the dispute left the CP and FB confines; an article came out about this crisis. Written by Laura Sesana and released on arbiternews.com, the article presents just these kinds of “facts” while conveniently hiding any real truth.

    It presents the following, for example:

    Despite cutting all ties with [Annabel] Park and the threatened lawsuit, the Coffee Party has continued to use her image and slogans (which are protected by copyright) to promote their website and Facebook page without Ms. Park’s permission.

    Certainly “facts” so far as they go. But “truth?”  Not so much.

    Technically, the board did not cut ties with Annabel Park. She left the Coffee Party in 2011, both as a leader and as a member, though she has been granted permission to access the organization’s assets at various times in order to promote programs of mutual benefit to the group’s principles.  Also, Annabel was only one of several hundred FB fans (out of nearly a half-million, remember) who were banned by the page’s administrators, a practice first initiated when Ms. Park was still leading the Coffee Party.

    But then, that truth would get in the way of the desired narrative….

    Also, it’s true that the Coffee Party has ”continued to use her image and slogans,” (though it’s unclear whether they are protected by copyright; CP claims it’s using public sources), but doesn’t also point out that Ms. Park was apparently fine with such usage for the three years that have elapsed since she left the Coffee Party, and only now—when she vehemently disagrees with the board—is she raising the issue.

    And while it’s also a fact that the Viridian plan was “discovered by a group of members,” it would be more truthful to point out additional context, which includes Annabel herself using deception in texts to the board (which she admits to but justifies) prior to Eric’s resignation, and that it was Eric who took the details public. In that sense, it was more accurately revealed to a group of members.

    And what of all that supposed civility? Well, lately there really isn’t much of it to go around. Oh sure, most of the words appear civil enough but, in the same way that Clinton had us ponder what the word “is” is, we all know a good dodge when we see it. And trust me: the dodging would make any storefront politician proud.

    We get things like this:

    You can not [sic] have a civil conversation with liars and obfuscators.

    a blanket statement that apparently makes incivility okay. As in, for example, calling people liars.

    And here’s some snark sent in response to the revelation that a particular board meeting did not include a financial update (despite the fact that dozens of others did):

    No financial report!!!! INCOMPETENCE!!!! OFF with her head!

    This one gets a bit meaner still…

    [She] was not elected either... not to anything, not even [Coffee Party] dogcatcher. Sorry for the comparison to all you hardworking Dogcatchers out there.

    And while many may try to parse all of the above and somehow pretend my definition of “civil” is too self-righteous, try this one on for size:

    [He] is a piece of shit. Period. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that. (I normally don't swear on social media, but I can't think of a better word.)

    I can. And so, I’m guessing, can anyone who is serious about civility.

    For the last four years I’ve been writing passionately about hypocrisy, particularly how hypocrisy in our political arena leads to us-them thinking, demonization, and ultimately a dehumanization of those we oppose. It’s okay for us to use money in politics, because we’re right and they’re wrong. It’s okay for us to lobby because we want reform and they want the status quo. And it’s okay for us to be uncivil because it’s not uncivil if you use the right words and if they’re evil anyway.

    If the Coffee Party is going to survive it’s going to take a few brave people to stand up and shout at everybody on both sides who persist in such behavior. For a while a few were actually doing that, but they’ve grown exhausted and have retired their efforts. And so what’s left, unfortunately, are nothing but the sounds of nails on a chalkboard, screeches reverberating in a self-constructed echo chamber in which only the already converted participate. There is no longer an interest in truth, only “facts; no longer an interest in building, only in tearing down; no longer an interest in two-way conversation, only in unilateral shouting.

    When the dust settles, as it eventually must, I fear there will be nothing left standing, and all that potential will have violently crumbled, a useless footnote in the attempt to create a better, more civil body politic.

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    Reader Comments (16)

    Thank you for this writing, Michael. Many have been, for months, trying to discern your statements for validity, and accuracy. With your writing today, you have eliminated any lingering doubt as to how you view the current difficulties within the Coffee Party USA.

    I see you are flying the Coffee Party Logo on this article. My question to you is: why? How do you justify your statement that the current Board of Directors should remove themselves? What is your thinking on this matter, specifically? I mean, relative to "the truth"?

    You have much more experience with these individuals, and these Coffee Party USA Boards of Directors than most of those in our membership who simply do not understand the nuances of corporate boards which you have accumulated in the time of your involvement with them. Surely, you have much to share with those of us in the unwashed, unknowing masses on this matter. I, personally would just LOVE to have the record set straight for our membership, so that we FINALLY have some concrete truth to deal with, to create tactics and strategies moving forward. Is it possible to present such truth for us, either on our members' page, or here on your own?

    After all, that is no more than what most of the members I have been dealing with every hour for the past two months have been asking for. By your own words, the membership doesn't have it. The Board, after more than 30 respectful requests won't give it. That puts you in a rarefied atmosphere, indeed. Think of all the good some unvarnished truth could do for all of us.

    I haven't seen it yet. I look forward to seeing it. I believe the membership deserves it. How about it?

    July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterM. B. Fields, Jr. DMA

    [Update: I mistakenly typed "Bob Trottner" in the comment below. I meant "Bobby Rodrigo." I've corrected the comment.]

    Bud: I've been pounded by several people to clarify where I stand on things, and I have. I will say it again, quite clearly: The board is wrong. The board has behaved abominably. The board should go. AND some of those who want the board to go are acting in ways that deny the CP principles.

    Too many keep forgetting the first part of my opinions and spend time taking affront to the second.

    Also: I was brought into this whole thing at Annabel's request. I was asked repeatedly to try to mediate, to arrange calls, to work with both sides to reach agreement. On three separate occasions there were one or more board members willing to talk, but any attempts were shot down by members of stepdownnow. (If you recall, Laurie Hughes basically left them to join the C.S. because she had the temerity--apparently--to suggest that my approach might be worth at least talking about.)

    People who are trying to save an organization that claims dialog and civility as primary principles are the same ones who refused to participate in civil dialog with those with whom they vehemently disagreed. That is both ironic and hypocritical.

    This is by no means everyone--not by a long shot--and it's certainly not you. But, in the same way that we only hear extreme right wing dialog because they shout out the other 70% of Republicans with their noise, a few CP'ers decided to shout the loudest. Threads were hijacked. People like Leah and Bobby Rodrigo were harangued with disingenuous "questions" to which there could never be a satisfactory answer. It wasn't fair, it wasn't honest, and it's just downright mean.

    That's my view. You don't have to agree but it's mine anyway, and I was ASKED for it. People dragged me in, some tried to control me, then some tried to shut me up. So I said my piece in one place, in one essay. That's all.

    July 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Thanks, Michael. Yes, we still care.

    When a little time has passed, I'm sure we will have the capacity to create a safe environment to debrief and regroup. Until then, I have recommended that people look for an organization that resonates with them and is constructive...build something instead of tearing apart Coffee Party. The big picture is not Coffee Party...it is our country. On that, I hope we can agree.

    While you and I have disagreed on the appropriate response to competing narratives and criticism, our desire to manifest the vision presented by Coffee Party remains strong. I wish you were still a member of the Board of Directors. Our lack of volunteers has contributed to many communication challenges and we are working to correct.

    Please keep in mind that regardless of what action the board has taken, criticism has been the result. Questions are repeated from many people that do not believe the answers provided. Our friends and business associates have been called and "warned," encouraging each board member to resign. We have been threatened with lawsuit(s). Every time we attempt to respond to a private message or email in a way that is helpful, it ends up on Facebook and chaos results.

    BTW, the board responses to questions are here: http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/bod_statement

    Have we always responded respectfully? Of course not. We are human. It has been my opinion that no response was preferred to a disrespectful one. Our lack of response has also been criticized...in our opinion, there is no positive outcome, regardless of what action is taken. And of course, many of us are also trying to earn a living and limit the volunteer hours that Coffee Party consumes. In this era of instant gratification, this too has been criticized and conspiracy theories form.

    Regardless of these challenges, our intention is and has been to restore a public space where civility and reason are the norm. It is this ideal that keeps us committed. It was the newsroom, not the board, that decided the internal controversy should be kept off the main page on Facebook. We regret that banishment was the only way to fulfill this decision.

    We are ready to move forward to rebuild and create the Coffee Party we aspire to be. Here are the ways people could be constructive as a volunteer with Coffee Party USA:
    --Board Development - We will be reviewing the elections process, timeline, candidate and voting requirements for future elections
    --Local Chapter Communication & Development - This has been largely missing since we lost staff in 2011...volunteers in this area to assist with national events and host monthly conference calls for communication would help a lot!
    --Help with other volunteers - We've had many volunteers that need to be contacted with and connected to work groups and committees
    --Newsroom - help create content and aggregate news that is relevant to Coffee Party primary issues, core values and forwards the mission of connecting communities to restore the government for the people
    --Start a local chapter…

    www.coffeepartyusa.com/volunteer
    Debilyn

    July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDebilyn

    Michael, you are right that there has been real nastiness from both "sides" in this mess, and I am glad to see you speaking that truth. I have observed it, too, on Coffee Party threads, and commented on it when I did notice it. But I would just add two things: the first is that there are still many members hoping for more civil dialogue, who were themselves civil through this crisis : in asking questions, asking for specific information, which might have led to a less contentious back and forth. But for the most part (except for one very vocal board member, who not only trash talked ~ but also used language, directed at members, that I think most would consider to be degrading and sexual harassment) , the board was silent and inaccessible to members. You cannot have conversation, civil or not, if those at the center of the controversy are not talking with anyone.

    And second, among some members themselves (among whom I at least personally have not seen any incivility) a letter was created and sent to the CP members (the 1,000 ~ or possibly fewer), outlining the basic issues at hand. I also "signed & sent" this letter to the board, along with many others, as I believe the content of these concerns is accurate. I would not have sent it unless I felt there was strong evidence of all of these. I agree with you that it is sad that it has gone this far, but what were members to do when the board refused to discuss the concerns below with them? And for a slate of candidates hoping to participate in fair elections, a "campaign civility pledge" was required by the existing board (written by the existing board) that basically equated criticism of the current board's actions as "uncivil", which I believe is a misuse of the concept of civility. To me, this was a form of censorship, and one reason I consider the current "election" (offering only 3 candidates, 2 already on the board) to be illegitimate.

    · Supporting the Viridian Energy partnership and exposing our private information to Viridian sales associates who should not have downloaded our information to their personal computers

    · Failure to address financial conflict of interest in accordance with your fiduciary duties

    · Approval of meeting minutes that fail to reflect what actually occurred, and instead reflect what you would like for us to believe occurred, in order to avoid accountability for the above

    · Refusing to allow qualified candidates to share the ballot with you, for fear Members may hold you accountable for the above

    · Banning and/or censoring people who criticize the Board's actions, revoking Memberships of those who criticize the Board's actions, and failing to de-escalate a culture of incivility

    · Condoning hostile acts by Directors against Members, such as defamation and sexual harassment

    Civility does mean refraining from the kinds of gutter talk you cite above. Unfortunately, I saw similar statements made by at least one board member (vulgar name-calling, etc.) ~ But the CP civility effort is far from dead. About a year ago, Annabel Park set up a Facebook page, Bridge the Divide, to encourage citizens from a range of perspectives to chat, converse and debate with each other across all kinds of divides. The admins there are incredibly fair, and very practiced in dealing with trash talk, recognizing it, encouraging de-escalation, and sometimes tossing out those putting out the worst of the worst (and I think as many liberals as conservatives have been banned from the page, though overall it is a small number that has required exclusion.) And the page is growing, from an original 200 to nearly 1,000 now.

    My sense is that Americans are exhausted by polarization, gridlock, the nastiness of the political debate. Someday there will be a turning, and a seeking, for something different. It may be that Bridge the Divide is that new beginning.

    July 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn Ruud

    Michael:

    Most of the members of CPUSA have decided that doing what is required to keep CPUSA as it was originally intended to be is much too important to step away from, as Debilyn seems to suggest. That isn't what is going to happen. She knows, or at least should know this. But, that notwithstanding, I'd like to respond to your statement.

    As I believe (and most certainly hope) you know, I have been as limited in commenting as I could more than bear during this difficulty, for various and sundry reasons. Firstly, I found many of the posts to be ill mannered, ill-tempered, ill-timed, uncivil, non-productive and mean-spirited. Given that the majority of those particulars happened in the immediate aftermath of the first revelations of betrayal (as perceived by others), I gave quite a bit of latitude in them as simple expressions, no matter how ill=formed, of that betrayal, anger, frustration, and hopelessness. There are many members already fragile by the ongoing failure of their government representative bodies to respond to their needs, who simply found this time of disappointment too great a burden to handle appropriately. Giving them free and unfettered access to a place where they could "vent" was a reasonable prescription. We both have seen some few of those members solidify their discontent in completely unresponsive, immature (perhaps) and other ways that do not lead to accomodation or discourse. Mistrust belies no friend. Taking away their hope of a vehicle to address civil discourse due to the actions or inactions of others created for them an irresolvable breach. I do not condone nor, in many instances, agree with their determinations. I do honor their ability, however to make them.

    I have seen the vultures coming to the carrion with no purpose other than to forward their own desires and agendas, and have spoken out against it in the strongest way I possibly could, given both the circumstance and the moment. First, as a potential candidate, then as a member working with other members without legitimate recognition by this board, whom we feel are not appropriately or legitimately disposed to give it. As it was members (and members of the Board of Directors, incidentally) who initially sought my candidacy, so is it members who now are working to create a positive environment and pathway forward for the Coffee Party USA. We have found no lack of willing volunteers to "put hand to plough" in these efforts. One important reason for that is because these member volunteers are respected, endorsed, encouraged and supported in their efforts. They find legitimacy in their purpose, which is entirely sufficient. They have been given permission, tools they require, and a positive environment with which to do work greater than themselves. This is as it should be, I believe. It has always been, is now, and will always be my sole purpose as a member of the Coffee Party USA, no matter what position I may or may not serve. This Board seems to continue in it's belief that the members serve at their pleasure, while nothing could be more remotely removed from the truth. The Board of Directors serve entirely at the pleasure of the membership not only in spirit, but in the letter of the law.

    We are working to repair, re-align, and reinvigorate the Coffee Party USA. No member that I know of will support this Board of Directors...at all. That more than 300 of them have signed a Petition seeking the immediate resignation of this Board and it's members is a telling fact. This Board committed that, should such membership request it's removal, it would immediately do so, as per it's President in June, 2014.

    The membership has spoken, and continues to do so. We have no intention of abandoning the true and best purpose for which we are gathered. The onus is not upon us to retire to other places. That onus is upon the entire Board of Directors who currently sit, or seek to sit. Their requirement for voluntary removal has been more than met, regardless of what this Board or its members prefer to believe. Meanwhile, lawyers gather.

    We, the members of the Coffee Party USA are creating solutions for the members of the Coffee Party USA. We need accurate, intelligent, and creative advice from those who are willing to give it. From the beginning, our watchword has been that of Wisconsin: "Always Forward!". Belief that with no board, no progress or activism is possible does not exist with the membership, or those facilitating their innovative work now, and for the future to come.

    I wish there were those of sufficient and passionate belief in the vision, mission and true values of the Coffee Party USA who would come to these member groups as Councilors, Advisers and Guides because, even as the pages and groups have so clearly demonstrated, emotion can be a strong seductress, just as power can be. It has long been said that people can be passionately convinced they are right, and still be wrong. I believe, personally, this to be true of this Board of Directors. But, it must also be said that people of passionate purpose, without SUFFICIENT guidance can create bad results.

    IT is not true that every comment made by the Board or their supporters has been met with incivility, but this membership believes that no conversation can take place without at least a sincere recognition by the members of this Board that they are, en toto, illegitimate to that membership, and address by their voluntary resignation the will as set forth by the members they allegedly represent. Sadly, that is a first requirement today, where it was only a possible future requirement early on that was held by a rather silent minority at the time. The membership will countenance not one further refusal by this board to accept their responsibility for this dilemma. To them, it is a waste of space, time, and life. I would suppose the same would be said for the Board and it's members. We, the membership have come to this Board more than 20 times with a request for dialog. Every instance has been refused, and that refusal most commonly being by no response whatsoever. We move on. The question before us is, will they?

    If not today, there is no sense in even making the attempt. None. We turn our backs on an illegitimate Board, and consider any and all acts of that Board to be invalid, illegitimate and non-binding upon the membership of Coffee Party USA. I see no possibility of any different outcome, given the present circumstance. That does not mean that I would not personally entertain any attempt at reasonable dialog with any Board member enabled to speak to me for the Board of Directors at this late hour. So, that is an offer made. Time is of the essence, and tomorrow is coming quickly.

    In the meantime, Michael, you should see what these folks are actually accomplishing. It would warm your heart, and make you very proud, indeed of your fellow members. It truly would. I wish you would see it in action. You, among so many who have not only fought, but suffered in this cause, so richly deserve to witness the birthing of what we both have always known the Coffee Party USA to be capable. You are invited, at your pleasure, any time, anywhere, for any reason. We're trying so very hard to turn swords into plough shares. The work goes on. We will overcome. Today is a GREAT day in the Coffee Party USA, and you are most welcome to it.

    For Civility,

    Thank you Michael for providing a somewhat fair and balanced accounting of the current crisis. However, while this article might have been helpful six weeks ago, it is no longer relevant as anything other than a history lesson. And while I disagree with many of the "facts" and/or the way they were presented, I have no interest in debating them any longer. The only important fact is that the current leadership has already disengaged and moved on. All you hear now is the sound of one hand clapping.

    Valid elections to fill vacancies on the Board are being completed as we speak. And while the voting period is only half way to its end, we already have more votes cast than in any other election in Coffee Party history. And that is even more impressive considering that the number of ballots sent out was the lowest in Coffee Party history. So perhaps more people still care about Coffee Party than you give credit for.

    Once completed, the new board will begin filling additional vacancies by appointment as prescribed by the bylaws. And perhaps most importantly, the Board is once again (and you will be pleased by this) looking at implementing the organization structure that you and I agreed has been sorely missing.

    As you know, this has been tried three times prior, but never succeeded. Understanding why it failed each time should be very illuminating to anyone with an open mind. The first ("Interim") Board tried to put a plan in place. It spent four months and $40,000 creating it; and had the Interim Board been allowed to function as it should have, the necessary structure would have existed years ago. But when they tried to put in in place, the founders said "no". If the Transition Team had been allowed to pursue this course, this structure would have been in place. But again, the founders said "no". And if our Board -- the one you and I served on together had been allowed to do so, that structure, the one YOU created would have been put in place last year. But yet again, the founders said "no". Thankfully, those days are now over.

    Now, Coffee Party WILL get its much needed structure. Why? Because as Billy Sears, former Deputy Director under Annabel Park said in a recent interview given on Coffee Party Radio. “they [Eric and Annabel] no longer have the legal standing to stop it”.

    So yes -- much damage has been done. But as Sun Tzu reminds us, nothing can be learned from victory. It is only in defeat that we gain the ability to grow. If the founders had allowed us to learn from previous mistakes, we wouldn't be in this mess. Coffee Party wouldn't be devoid of structure. Coffee Party wouldn't be financially destitute. And our membership wouldn't be just 5% of what it was at its height. But again, that is in the past. Today, while the former leaders seek once again to force chaos onto the organization, its current leaders are taking steps to insure that we never repeat the mistakes of the past.

    On a different note, I do feel compelled to point out what has been lost in this debacle -- the idea of transpartisanship (not “non-partisan”, as you described). Transpartisanship stresses the putting aside of partisan nastiness in search of solutions to common problems shared by all. To work on behalf of the nation -- not just for the red or blue camp. In the end, it is transpartisanship and not the overly abused concept of civility that will drive the changes we seek. Certainly civility is a key ingredient, but by itself, it solves nothing. Real change will only come from real compromise, and that is what the current leadership envisions as Coffee Party's core mission. And anyone who in touch with the all-time low that Washington has descended to, failure is not an option. We're committed to that cause, and anyone that cares to join us in that fight is welcome to.

    July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    I agree very much with M.B.'s and Kathryn's comments.

    Michael, I suggest you read Dan's comment very carefully.

    I'll just leave a few links for any uninformed and curious bystanders.
    http://www.stepdownnow.org/after_mark
    http://www.stepdownnow.org/2/this_is_a_copy_of_my_email_response_to_the_board_s_election_ballot

    July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Cassel

    I'm sad to hear that the Board of Directors has appointed itself as permanent leaders and wants to "move on" without the Membership. "Find your own organization" is not leadership. Below is my post to the Members who are disappointed about this, and, also a bit disappointed with Michael's essay:

    Michael Charney is not the person any of us should be upset by. It is the Board who has had all the power, and has grossly abused power in every reasonable and informed person's assessment, including Michael's if you read his essay carefully. Recall he was among the first to ask the entire Board to resign.

    But the Board has not resigned. They have not apologized for or even acknowledged misconduct for which there is irrefutable evidence. Instead they have attacked Members who criticize them in every conceivable way, and in some ways that were, for me, inconceivable until this past month. For strategic reasons, they have not used this tactic against Michael Charney (and, in fairness, Michael has been more charitable in his criticisms, and thus less deserving of retaliation in the Board's eyes).

    The Members who have been called names, lied to and lied about, and seen their comments deleted and their voices silenced — they have done the only thing they could do: criticize the Board more sharply. Some of them have criticized the Board with words that were overly harsh, in Michael's opinion, and in mine.

    When the Board responded with abusive language, sexual harassment, a fresh round of lies, revoking of Memberships, and finally a rigged election (Michael's words if you didn't notice), criticism that is "overly harsh" became more and more prevalent.

    I don't think anyone who is reasonable and informed could argue with anything I've said above. The error in Michael's assessment is that it could be interpreted to mean... "If you add up the sum total of many voices criticizing harshly, the result is the moral equivalent of things like financial conflict of interest, self-dealing, fraudulent minutes, and rigged elections."

    I don't think that is what Michael intended to say. Another way he could have put it: "The facts are on your side, the law is on your side, so why not ease up on the harsh rhetoric?"

    That would be a fair criticism, and it would not imply a false equivalence that the facts and the evidence, simply, do no bear out.

    July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Byler

    Eric, you are speaking and you have been heard. Now please listen. First, Michael Charney does not need an interpretor or a spokesperson. Your taking of his words and twisting them around to suit your own purposes is exactly what he is rehling against. Furthermore, the Board does not need you to interpret our words, actions, or motives either. We have not "turned" on Michael because unlike you, Michael is NOT divisive. Michael is NOT uncivil. And Michael IS plain spoken. if you and yours had come to the Board in such a manner, all of this could have been avoided. But you didn't. Instead, immediatly upon your resignation, you launched a Pearl Harbour-like attack, forcing both sides to retreat and dig in. Within minutes The Board was deluged by threats of law suits, forcing both sides to a sever all lines of communication. How totally disingenuous it is for you to blame the board for "being non -responsive when you forced silence on everyone. And dispute knowing those threats would have us sequestered, even as late as last week, the Board was again told that papers would be served.

    And this leads us to the ultimate false equivalence in which you claim that the two sides are in equal positions. At least Bud had the decency and honesty to explain the difference. You USED TO have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization, but you abandoned it. So now you are free to wage your offensive without personal consequence. As Dana Carvey used to say as The Church Lady, "Well isn't that convenient". But the Board, as Bud put it, "is in the seat". He also said we couldn't leave it. Well I suppose in your case, he was wrong. But the rest of us chose to stay and carry out our duties, and stay we will. Now, when you are ready to accept that, when you are ready to actually turn your swords into plows sheers, which as Michael pointed out has been nothing but rhetoric so far, then we can sit down and have a Coffee Party-like discussion on repairing the divide and getting back to the mission.

    Remember, you fired the first shot. You declared war. You have set all of this into motion, and only you can stop it. What is clear to anyone looking at the bigger picture is this; there can only be one of two conclusions to this conflict. Either you successfully crush us under your boot, or you call a cease fire and we sit down, perhaps over a cup of coffee and decide how to move forward. Which one will it be?

    July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    Michael,

    The future that I hope for with the Coffee Party is one where the members matter. I have never thought the board's role was only to the organization, but to the members as well. I believe one of the things that continually gets forgotten is the fact that one of the board's main responsibilities is to inspire people to want to join the organization to become members and volunteers. Without that, the choices become slim, because without inspiring new members, volunteers and possibly future directors that may have extensive experience to fill the roles to help the organization and movement to move forward, the result is that nothing happens. We both know that the board cannot do it all by themselves. The Coffee Party's past has shown this to be true.

    Like you, I called for the resignations of the current board, and I did this because I believed they lost the confidence of the members. I feared for the future of the movement because the current board's actions were not attempting to inspire for a hopeful future, but instead were only casting blame elsewhere while censoring, banning, shutting down communication, and purging some of their membership. That didn't change the fact that the members were not contacted for months on end, giving them the impression that they had been forgotten.

    I was looking forward to the possibility that the elections would eliminate the need for lawsuits and provide a solution to the ongoing crisis by bringing in new ideas and people that could convey a new feeling of hope to the members that felt they have been cast aside. Unfortunately, new rules, such as the campaign pledge, were implemented to make sure no one spoke ill towards the current board members and many good people were disqualified from running. It seemed that any hope for a new set of ideas to inspire a new confidence was taken away again from the membership. It is also important to note that I did not want to run in the election, and I refused more than once, but I was asked by many members to become a candidate.

    I believe the Coffee Party is more than just a Facebook Page, but a way for the people in this nation to find a place for ideas to escape from the never ending rhetoric and division that seems to be growing daily across the country. A place for sanity to return, instead of a place where the members feel they are treated like employees in a corporation.

    I have mentioned to many of the loudest dissenters to remember that it is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar, but unfortunately, their anger at being cast aside and forgotten was too much for some of them. I would like to note that not every person was casting aspersions to the current board, but only disagreeing with their ideas for the future of the party. However, this was considered hateful and uncivil as well. I agree with you though that some on both sides have not been civil, and I wish that this whole destructive episode had not ever happened, but regrettably, it has.

    July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cashon

    I would offer the following perspective. It is my observation that the person who was most responsible to lead during the times the group is accused of going astray seems to exempt himself from not only the deeds themselves, but the responsibility for doing anything constructive in response by whipping up the fog and mirrors he often accuses the politicians of using to distract from bad behavior. Not only does the former President fail to take up these issues in a constructive manner, knowing the stresses the organization faced at the time, he launched what he could only assume would be a fatal blow to the organization. This is the strongest evidence, in my mind, that the organization has in fact failed to become the organization it aspired to be. An organization that hopes to do the hard work CPUSA hopes to do needs to be able to address a conflict of interest issue without self destructing. People need to be able to go along with the people doing the work of keeping the ship afloat enough to allow them to respond to well-defined, carefully presented concerns in a rational and constructive way. People need to be able to go along with a scheduled election in order to get to the other side of it so that election concerns can be addressed.

    Calling a board "highly secretive" and suggesting ulterior motives out of the gate is no way to seek resolution, and it is certainly no way to lead an organization. It was a very effective way to lead an aggressive hateful campaign against very hard-working though imperfect people. It is no way to recruit people to an organization that hopes to solve political problems through increased understanding. It was a very effective way to recruit well-meaning largely unknowing and latent observers to a mean and very persistent war against the very piece of the organization that must continue to function in order for things to get better before they get worse.

    The only thing made clear to me out of all of this is that any proposal to pursue the goals of CPUSA that is in anyway aligned with this type of leadership is doomed to fail as it proves by requiring the current form of the organization to fail rather than recover from some ill-advised though not previously unheard of activities. (Adding on as a list of crimes the way a board and organization already in crisis responds to additional crisis created by the leadership itself simply confirms for me the original accusations are in danger of being inadequate to the task, so require additional crimes for sufficient drama.) For me it is not the individual board members who are being evaluated by the current crisis, it is the organization and the only leadership that has been there long enough to know what cleaning the slate does and does not do, and still continues to propose it as the solution.

    July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarb Bull

    Well said Barb! I especially loved, ". . . requiring the current form of the organization to fail rather than recover . . .". So by Ms. Bull's analysis, Eric is leading The Tea Party Rebellion -- exactly what CP was formed to fight against. What delicious, yet ultimately sad irony!

    July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    Well said to you as well, Mr. Cashon. And for the record, I don't know anyone that has ever called you uncivil. Like you, I wish this had never happened -- but it did. But as I told Eric, we are not stepping down. Elections will be declared final and the new Board will soon be seated. Will you set the "civil" example and come to the table now to discuss moving forward together John? There is much work to be done and we could use your calming influence.

    July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aronson

    I have been ignorant of these issues and the drama for months. I have been a member for 2 or 3 years, current according to my bank records. I wish we could all just get along. The Pensacola chapter of the Coffee Party is and / or has been doing some good things and I have been proud to be a small part of it. Through it we got exposed to the Occupy movement on a local level a couple years ago and then have collaborated or partnered with the local League of Women Voters and more recently with MTA. I love coffee and the idea of the Coffee Party is a decent fit for me. I understand from my local union what a messy and beautiful democracy looks like. It is NOT EFFICIENT with an uninformed or uninvolved membership (electorate). I still do not know or particularly care what brought this drama about, but like our nation, to effectively fix the mess without violence requires compromise, learning and doing better in the future... I pledge to attempt to be an asset and hopefully part of the solution.

    July 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBob Wilson

    Thanks, Bob.

    July 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Another excellent piece, Michael. I do admire you and your work.

    As a former member and former volunteer with the Coffee Party, the question that keeps running through my mind is simple.

    "What the hell are these people even fighting over?"

    This would all be very comical if it wasn't so very tragic.

    Rhetorically speaking and as far as I can tell, CP had about 5 minutes of relevance and attention when it first burst onto the scene as the presumed adult alternative and answer to the tea party movement. I admittedly wasn't there at the very beginning, but in reading the history I can only conclude that all the attention and all the money came in so quickly precisely because that's what Americans wanted, needed, and thought they had found.

    It was what I was hoping I had found when I stumbled across it in 2012.

    What seemed to happen next, and with the same caveat of not having witnessed it first-hand, calls to mind the Roger Waters lyric, "Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way."

    Without meaning to be rude or unkind, Annabel, Eric, and CP Version 1.0 leaders seem to have truly squandered a tremendous opportunity....and, it seems, a lot of money. I'm completely confident and convinced from my time with CP that none of it was with malicious intent. I also don't believe for a solitary second that the rise and fall was the result of a lack of passion or desire.

    What I say next I say with nothing but respect and admiration for the vision and the willingness to attempt to create a movement, but from where I'm sitting what seems to have been most sorely lacking was the necessary leadership skills and courage to steer the organization on a course that its members could support and follow.

    I seem to recall reading and maybe even hearing Annabel's refusal to embrace the notion of actually being the anti-tea party. This was despite what appears to have been the fact that it was that type of person being attracted to and donating their money to Coffee Party. (It wouldn't be too far into the future when a survey Michael conducted would, as I recall, essentially confirm this.)

    Her decision as the leader - both functionally and symbolically - to eschew this course was terribly naive and disastrously short-sighted. I suspect it wasn't solely her decision, and so the board at the time presumably must also bear responsibility for letting such an opportunity slip through their fingers.

    Things appear to have only gotten worse after the poor showing at the DC rally. Again, I wasn't there. I sincerely hope that no one will try to defend that decision or the outcomes by blaming the weather. Leaders never blame anyone or anything but themselves, and blaming the weather strikes most people as pretty lame. I'm one of those people. With apologies to the feelings of those involved, if your strategy hinges on a sunny day, you may want to consider letting others work on strategy.

    Here we are. Today, it seems that all that's left of CP is all of this destructive drama, and over what; a hair-brained fund-raising scheme? I'm sure that I must be missing something important here, but the Coffee Party "community" is very much an online group of people, are they not? My guess is a vast majority care about the environment and generally would prefer we burn less fossil fuels to generate electricity. They're smart people.

    Why, then, all the concern that, on the whole, they're seemingly ok with having their digital lives and online privacy in Zuckerberg's hands but somehow they're under imminent and mortal threat by a multi-level marketing program ostensibly out to sell clean energy?

    Is the concern so great over unwanted email from Viridian that..............what, exactly?.......... Coffee Party membership may drop to even lower numbers? Isn't it kind of already at that same "friends and family" type of level that still gives favorable ratings to Congress?

    Yes, Viridian was a very questionable strategy. Ok, it was dumb. It was fraught with all kinds of ethical (and maybe even legal) questions. That is obvious, and it should have been obvious to everyone on the board, but was it worth tearing the whole thing down over?

    As I said above, what the country needed 4 years ago - what it still needs - is a powerful, forceful, progressive movement; a movement capable of taking back from conservatives the "middle ground" they've been moving ever further to the extreme right since Reagan first duped ordinary Americans into believing they might be Republicans, too. (Sorry, Michael, I don't mean to offend anyone, but the 70% you describe has been way, WAY too quiet and has a lot of explaining to do about their party and its ideology.)

    Michael's survey of the members is presumably still around, is it not? What does it reveal? Who makes up the vast majority of the Coffee Party? Why the inexplicable compulsion to continue denying the identity of your members and, hence, the organization?

    In my opinion, persisting in that denial in the name of some nebulous concept called "transpartisanship" will lead to failure, especially in any attempt to pull off something that's almost completely unheard of - resurrecting a brand and a movement. It will fail because of the refusal to embrace who you are, who your members are, and what they want from you. There's an old saying in marketing, "You don't define your brand, your customers do." Isn't it time for CP to listen to and to serve its customers?

    Then there's this.

    I don't see very much possibility for immediate positive change so long as the fighting over this corpse of an organization continues. At a bare minimum, I think you all need to publicly bury hatchets. If you care at all about the organization and its future, you'll all start falling all over yourselves to be the first to apologize. Lead by example.

    Frankly, I also think most of you need to move on. Your lingering presence is only going to continue to foster resentment. I had originally named names and even included some explanation for each. I now believe it's best to simply leave it to each of you to decide for yourselves.

    To all of you, I close with this. Please, please believe me that none of this is personal. I respect, admire, and like you all, but you've done this to yourselves and, in the process, you've done it to the Coffee Party.

    It's all just my 2 cents. Feel free to tell me to go to hell..... or worse. I say that knowing you're not that kind of people!

    Good luck to all of you in whatever you may do from here. I'm sure our paths are not done crossing.

    Besides, I can't seem to help myself. I still care. I still want to believe that CP can be a force for change, so I'll just lurk around the edges for now.

    August 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Russak

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