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Many Americans say they’re fed up with the hypocrisy within the federal government, and they’re doing something about it. But the grassroots groups emerging to voice their disdain are of two very distinct flavors: tea and coffee. This Thursday and Friday, we'll explore them both. In this report, KSMU’s Jennifer Moore looks at the Coffee Party movement in the Ozarks.
SOUND UP: A WOMAN HELPING SOMEONE UP THE STAIRS
It’s mid-afternoon, and about a dozen people are gathering on the sidewalk in front of Hollywood Theaters in downtown Springfield. They vary greatly in age. One of them is Seth Merritt, a junior at Missouri State University, who says he’s helping organize the Coffee Party because he believes there is strength in numbers, and that the federal government needs to know Americans are watching carefully.
“Our goals are just to unite local, progressive individuals in the Springfield area, to try to have their voices heard. But it seems like a lot of people really like to sit back and talk about how things need to be better, but they don’t ever want to do anything about it,” he says.
Merritt says he thinks Barack Obama has done some good things since moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but he feels President Obama is a very different person than Candidate Obama was. Roger Ray, pastor of the Community Christian Church in Springfield, agrees.
Ray says before the 2008 election, Obama promised to deliver affordable health care to every American while cracking down on insurance companies. Ray says the new federal health care overhaul falls short of those promises. He adds that he’s disappointed that Obama has not stood up more for gays and lesbians serving in the military, and that the president supported a surge in US troops in Afghanistan.
Ray says the US is significantly increasing its national debt by fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"And all we’re doing is creating new generations of terrorists," he adds.
Ray is one of the leaders of the Coffee Party movement in Springfield. They’re considered “lefties,” whereas the Tea Party members are closely aligned with the right. Both groups, however, are careful not to associate themselves with any political party—what they do have in common is they say they are tired of not being listened to by elected officials.
The local Coffee Party held a rally on May 1, which Ray says 140 people attended throughout the day. He says the word “progressive” is more accurate than “liberal” when describing Coffee Party members. And what do these self-titled progressives see as their top priorities?
“The poor, the planet, the unemployed and the underemployed," says Ray.
On this day, they’re gathering for an informal talk about Obama’s nomination for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan. They feel she’s an okay choice, but she appears to be a bit conservative on key issues, they say.
After a few minutes of chatting, the group begins the short walk to US Senator Claire McCaskill’s office on Park Central West.
SOUND UP: Door opening, shuffling
Roger Ray takes the lead in talking to McCaskill’s staff.
The members of the coffee party say they are concerned that large corporations, and their money, are running the country, not the people of the United States.
Melvin Miller is an 86-year-old retired pastor of a First United Methodist Church in Iowa.
He says he was greatly concerned when, earlier this year, the US Supreme Court did away with all limits on campaign contributions made by corporations to presidential and congressional campaigns.
I ask them whether religion plays a role in their motives for joining the coffee party. One woman says, ‘No. This is a country for people of all faiths and no faiths, she says, and these issues affect us all.’ But Melvin Miller, the retired pastor, says for him, religion most certainly has something to do with his activism.
"We are supposed to be our brothers’ keeper, and we are supposed to be practicing justice. I think it is much more justice to give aid to people who are in need than it is to give aid to wealthy individuals who have more money than they know what to do with. There is no justice in that," Miller says.
And Reverend Roger Ray would second that.
"Jesus was a healer. And I don’t think Jesus would have checked someone’s insurance card before healing them," Ray says.
Lela Panagedes says she feels the US is spending exorbitant amounts of money on unnessecary wars, and that America needs to reevaluate its social priorities.
“I’m all for supporting the troops, and making sure they have the health care they need when they return home. But why are we putting so much money into war, rather than building peace?” she asks.
Chuck Snowden, a senior citizen, has worked for several defense contractors, and says there appears to be no end to military contracts and massive spending.
“I’m old enough to remember when Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the military industrial complex. This is the last thing President Eisenhower would want,” he said.
His wife, Ruth, also feels like dollar signs are not just influencing the federal government: they’re running it.
“Allowing corporations to make unlimited political contributions is just scary. Where’s democracy in that?” she asks.
The Coffee Party was formed, partly, as a nationwide response to the Tea Party Movement, which tends to fall along more conservative lines. You can click here to learn how the Tea Party is taking shape in the Ozarks. For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.