RALEIGH — To join the Coffee Party in Raleigh, you can't be a screamer, a name-caller, a loud-mouthed zealot or somebody whose idea of politics translates to jabbing a sign in the air, red in the face.
All you need are some manners, a good listening ear and a caffeine jones.
Inside a month, this politeness-first political movement has jumped from one meeting at the Hillsborough Street Cup A Joe to five coffee chats scattered across the Triangle. Nationwide, the Coffee Party USA has drawn nearly 200,000 supporters, sipping java and talking turkey in 47 states.
Its rise comes as the country's political dialogue grows, to supporters' minds, increasingly shrill among the blogosphere, anonymous online insults and TV ideologues of all stripes. They point to recent threats against congressmen who backed President Barack Obama's health care bill, to racial taunts on Capitol Hill in the debate's final days and to Sarah Palin urging supporters, "Don't retreat, just reload."
"We're not trying to make a ruckus," said Marques Thompson, who drove 100 miles from Williamston to attend. "We're not mad at anyone. We're just trying to have a substantive conversation."
Supporters bet that ordinary voters are starving for a place where they can talk without choosing sides or pledging total allegiance to either the Democratic or Republican agenda. When Coffee Partyers meet, they begin with this agreement: "I pledge to conduct myself in a way that is civil, honest and respectful toward people with whom I disagree."
But can you organize a successful political movement around polite dialogue, by demanding straight-talk from politicians, without any plans to storm the Bastille?
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