The Coffee Party and its discontents

We reported on Thursday of a schism between the progressive wing of the Coffee Party and its leadership. Launched with high hopes last year and seen by some as a progressive answer to Tea Party, the party has instead been an example of the failure to counter the power and energy of the tea party movement — and its own board members are portraying it as an organizational disaster.

This week, the organization also announced the dissolution of the interim board this week, and three board members lashed out against the two cofounders in response.

“We are writing to you because it is our belief that much can be learned from the experience of the Interim Board, and the dynamics on the Board which we believe seriously impeded our process. We would like to identify some issues which, from our point of view, have become problems within the Coffee Party, and which, if not corrected, will hinder its success,” wrote ousted board members Bahiya Cabral-Johnson, Teri Torres-Hart and Sabina Virgo in an open letter.

Painting a general picture of organizational chaos, they pointed to a lack of civility in the organization, a lack of democracy and a lack of consultation.

“By the time the volunteer Interim Board was dissolved the group had dwindled from seven to five after two members withdrew to pursue other activities. At that time, the Coffee Party USA Board of Directors chose to re-delegate their authority to a larger team of active Coffee Party volunteers who are now charged with managing the transition to a permanent board,” said a member of the Coffee Party leadership about the changes.

UPDATE: Full letter after the jump, as well as a response written by the Coffee Party’s Eric Byler

“The fact is that, for all the qualifications and best intentions of the individual members of the Interim Board, the board was not, as a unit, capable of effectively guiding us through the vital process of forming a permanent Board and creating an infrastructure,” Byler writes.

From the Interim Board of the Coffee Party

To the National Team, CP Activists, participants in Shared Purpose, and all other interested Coffee Party People.

We are united in our hope that the Coffee Party grows, fulfills its potential, and becomes a powerful force for Democracy and Civility in our country. The nation we live in faces many challenges – this is a time filled with both crisis and opportunities – and we wish the very best for the Coffee Party, as well as for all other movements and organizations working to heal our political process, and to bring justice to our system of governance. We understand that an email was sent out last night to the National Team, and perhaps to others, dissolving the Interim Board. No one on the Interim Board received a copy of that email. As we write this letter, none of us knows exactly what the email said. We do understand that the email said “Do Not Forward”. It is hard to believe that our dissolution is supposed to be kept a secret.

We are writing to you because it is our belief that much can be learned from the experience of the Interim Board, and the dynamics on the Board which we believe seriously impeded our process. We would like to identify some issues which, from our point of view, have become problems within the Coffee Party, and which, if not corrected, will hinder its success.

In that spirit, we have observed the following problems in the process of the Coffee Party:

1) There is a lack of actual democracy within the organization. In a democratic organization, one person does not have the power to dissolve Boards, Interim or not. In a democratic organization, all votes (and all people) count equally. This is not the case within the CPM. We have had multiple experiences of having completed a task that we were asked to do, and then having all our work undone, because the founder of the Coffee Party did not approve of the outcome. It is our understanding that this experience is not limited to members of the Interim Board.

2) There is a lack of actual civility toward the Interim Board, as well as toward the Managing Director, David Overcash. We have been sent emails from our founder calling us timid bureaucrats, sexist jerks, out of touch with the people, fearful, intimidated, unable to understand the historic importance of the moment…etc.…

3) There are no clear lines of authority in the Coffee Party. In a democratic organization, decisions made by the majority cannot simply be overridden or delayed, or undercut by one person.

4) There is a proliferation of groups and people that are empowered to do the same work, without coordination, or even knowledge of each other. If the results from one group empowered to complete a task are not acceptable to Annabel, their work is discarded, and another group or person is given the responsibility, ad infinitum….

5) Projects are authorized and positions offered and filled with no knowledge of the Interim Board.This creates a situation where the Board is/may be responsible for assisting actions or funding projects that were never even discussed by/or put on the agenda of the Interim Board. This is fair neither to the Board nor the projects.

6) The result of this pattern of organizational chaos has been to limit the effectiveness of our organization, as well as having led to the burn-out and departure of numerous earnest and hard- working individuals, many of whose names and contributions are not even known to those who joined us later. The lack of organizational coherence has limited our ability to work collectively, and taken much of the joy and camaraderie out of the work.

We chose to write this letter, as opposed to taking the safer path of saying nothing, because we value this organization – we value the people from all over the country who have been drawn to it – we value the vision, the passion, and the commitment of the founder of the Coffee party – and we value the work that we have done as an Interim Board.

Annabel has always said that ‘we are an experiment’. We agree. And experiments are exciting, but they take time, and sometimes they take wrong turns. But if they stay true to their vision, and if they recognize that honest criticism is a constructive force for change and learning and growth, then ‘experiments’ have all they need to succeed.

We sincerely hope you receive this letter in the spirit of caring in which it was written.

We wish you all the very best!

Bahiya Cabral-Johnson, Member, Interim Board

Teri Torres-Hart, Member, Interim Board

Sabina Virgo, Chair, Interim Board,

Coffee Party response

Dear Coffee Party members,

Annabel and I had expected to announce this after more planning and consideration, but in light of the email you all received from Interim Board members Sabina Virgo, Teri Hart, and Bahiya Cabral Johnson, I will explain a bit now, and, Annabel and I will host an open call Coffee Party Radio Show Wednesday March 23 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM eastern time. During this hour, we want to hear your thoughts and concerns, and answer questions about the replacement of the Interim Board with a Transition Team that will fulfill the duties of the Interim Board, including the approval of funding, the creation of a permanent Board, and the creation of an organizational infrastructure.

It is not true that an email was sent to the National Team announcing that the Interim Board would be dissolved. Annabel wrote to members of the National Team who have been working on a strategic plan, including a process to transition to a permanent Board. Her purpose was to ask them to join the Transition Team, but that was as far as we’d gotten. Annabel and I are both very eager to create a permanent Board, and we are confident that the Transition Team will do so on schedule by the end of June. This afternoon, we will complete the assembly of the Transition Team. In the next two weeks, the Transition Team will announce a process for creating a permanent Board, and, all of you will be invited to participate in that process.

During the past week or so, Sabina, Teri, and Bahiya had been threatening to resign. They were angry at Annabel, and their position was, essentially, either she goes or we go. I spent a lot of time trying to keep the board together because I felt it would be best for the Coffee Party if none of the Interim Board members left until their work was completed.

On Monday night, a few hours before the weekly Interim Board call, Sabina told me that at least one, and possibly 3 Board Members would resign if Annabel was a participant on the call. I realized then that, even if I could have succeeded in keeping the Interim Board together, it would not have been in the best interest of the Coffee Party to continue with 3 board members this unhappy. That’s why I support the decision of our Board of Directors to replace the Interim Board with a Transition Team.

I am saddened by the tone of the email you received last night, and I can understand why it may have alarmed you. But I think it’s for the best that we have been jolted into an important realization: The fact is that, for all the qualifications and best intentions of the individual members of the Interim Board, the board was not, as a unit, capable of effectively guiding us through the vital process of forming a permanent Board and creating an infrastructure. In the coming weeks, some of us will have to take on more responsibility than we might have planned, but we will pull together, we will be successful with our April actions, and we will complete the work of the Interim Board on schedule by the end of June.

The Transition Team will be made up of members of the National Team who have already made great progress on an organizational infrastructure and a plan to create a permanent Board. At the end of the day, the Coffee Party will be better served by a team of people who are highly motivated and really enjoy working together.

I hope you will call in and/or listen to our 6 PM eastern Coffee Party Radio Show. Annabel and I are eager to speak with you. If you have questions but cannot make it on the call, please email them to me at XXX@CoffeePartyUSA.com. Thank you, Eric Byler

 

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