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Coffee vs. Tea: A political movement is brewing

Members of the Coffee Party's Seattle chapter discuss politics at a coffee shop in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Members of the Coffee Party's Seattle chapter discuss politics at a coffee shop in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
  • Coffee Party leaders held 350 to 400 events Saturday across the country
  • "Just like in the American Revolution, we are looking for real representation," founder says
  • Group's first action will be April 27, during Congress' Easter recess

Washington (CNN) -- The new Coffee Party movement deemed its official kickoff Saturday a "huge success," with dozens of talks held at coast-to-coast coffee shops as members came together to discuss the issues most important to them.

Billed by many as an answer to the conservative Tea Party movement, the Coffee Party was born on Facebook just six weeks ago. While the group has become an instant hit online -- it boasts more than 141,000 Facebook fans as of Saturday -- gauging the success of this weekend's coffee meetups was predicted to be an indicator of the group's strength.

A statement released by the party said "today's coffee houses have been a huge success -- both for Coffee Party USA and for democracy. All across the U.S., Americans from all political sides sat down for civil conversation and, of course, coffee."

At Java Monkey in Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, coordinator Stacey Hopkins said turnout far exceeded expectations, with around 60 people participating at the "very productive" meeting where health care reform was the overriding issue.

"We had kids there, we had college students, high school students, and we had retirees," she said. "It went across a very broad spectrum age wise and racially, and this is that we'd like to see."

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In Asheville, North Carolina, about 35 people gathered at Filo Pastries and Coffee, according to CNN iReporter Rachael Jernigan, a stay-at-home mom who coordinated the meeting.

"I think the biggest thing to come out of it was people were tired of being labeled and divided," said Jernigan, who added that a Tea Party member was among the attendees. "They do agree on a lot."

About 30 people came out to a meeting at Raleigh, North Carolina's Cup A Joe, said CNN iReporter Davis Hall.

"I really liked what the Coffee movement said the foundation was -- which is to get everybody of all stripes of life to get together," Hall said.

The meetings were among about 350 the party planned to hold Saturday.

Coffee Party founder Annabel Park, who worked as a volunteer for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia's 2006 campaign, says the group is not "aligned" with any party and calls the two-party system out of date.

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Park said the bitter battle over health care is an example of how government is not working.

"We feel like the health care debate showed not only that we are a very divided country, but there's something really wrong with our political process. We kind of got to see the innards of the political process and realize there's something very broken. I think that's what we're responding to."

The party statement said the next step "is to dig into what our community discussed (and) find out what matters most to them." Park said the Coffee Party's first real national action will be March 27, when members will get together to discuss ways to engage members of Congress during the Easter recess.

"Just like in the American Revolution, we are looking for real representation right now. We don't feel represented by our government right now, and we don't really feel represented well by the media either," Park said last week on CNN's "American Morning." "It's kind of a simple call to action for people to wake up and take control over their future and demand representation. And it requires people standing up and speaking up."

Sound familiar? Tea Party activists use much of the same language in describing their year-old protest movement that's steeped in fiscal conservatism and boiling-hot, anti-tax rhetoric.

"It's a response to how they are trying to change our government," Park told CNN, referring to the Tea Party. "It's their methodology that we are against. We may want some of the same things, but their journey is so alienating to us."

So what does the Tea Party movement think of this new sensation?

"This Coffee Party looks like a weak attempt at satire or a manufactured response to a legitimate widespread grassroots movement," says Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks, a nonprofit conservative organization that helps train volunteer activists and has provided much of the organizational heft behind the Tea Party movement.

"It's driven from the top down and it's not a grass-roots movement driven from the bottom up," Jim Hoft of the St. Louis Tea Party said.

CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.