Eric Byler is an award-winning film director and a co-founder/president of Coffee Party USA. This essay was originally published July 4th, 2011.
by Eric Byler
A transpartisan approach to civic engagement steers clear of pre-packaged issue platforms. It encourages all Americans to put the facts first, and use their own intelligence in approaching complex issues.
Coffee Party USA is an invitation to participate in the democratic process with civility, with respect, and within a transpartisan framework. But let me make this clear: transpartisan is not a synonym for “neutral.” It is not a barrier to participation. It is not a constraint. It is a liberation.
Understandably, the word "transpartisan" attracts people who want to have a voice in our political process, but are turned off by the partisanship and ugliness with which it is waged. Often, they are conflict-averse, as most humans are. So, they seek a non-partisan or transpartisan group with which to organize. But they are often unable to take collective action because their desire to avoid conflict supersedes their desire to have impact.
To silence them, all that is required is a loud, aggressive, (and usually extreme) position. If it is repeated often enough, it is labeled “controversial” and “partisan,” and so too is anyone who challenges it. Thus, a conflict-averse citizen or organization is barred from taking a position on anything people scream about in front of cameras. If we allow this to govern our civic life, the result will be a political process dominated by people who thrive on conflict, who subscribe to dogmatic ideologies, and aren't able to use their intelligence to examine complex issues because they are too busy fighting.
Chasing the Middle
Another pitfall for active citizens who are conflict-averse is that they spend too much time and energy “chasing the middle.” If your only goal is to find the "center" between two opposing arguments, you are giving up your right to define your own values. Since the 2008 election, the Republican party has moved to the right, decrying health care and climate change policies they had once championed in order oppose President Obama. Does that mean that a "centrist" must re-calibrate his or her beliefs on those issues in order to find the new "middle?" As responsible citizens, we cannot allow someone else's electioneering strategy to alter who we are.
Let's be cautious of the assumption that, "the right answer is always in the middle." Often, the right answer simply cannot be found on the line defined by the only two options we are given. Often, it's somewhere else entirely.
Transpartisanship and Coffee Party USA
So, how can the Coffee Party, or any transpartisan organization have impact in a deliberative process dominated by conflict-driven political entertainment?
See transpartisanship as an exploration, not a constraint.
Learn to deal with criticism, and accept that conflict cannot always be avoided.
Remember that our guiding principles cannot be abandoned, even in the face of strong rhetoric.
Organizing with the Coffee Party is not going to be a refuge from criticism or unfair accusations. Any movement, in fact any opinion that stands in the way of somebody's political agenda is sure to get a dose of that.
But, if you are willing to transcend partisanship, and stand up to the bullying and misinformation that disguise and perpetuate the Cycle of Corruption — without becoming part of it — your civic life will have an authenticity and integrity that enriches our deliberative process, and sets an example that inspires others to join you.