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Marlene Schiller

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Marlene Schiller, co-chair (with Wil Eastland) of the Coffee Party of Northwest Tucson, says the goals of the Coffee Party branch she helped start are to bring civil discourse back into politics and to educate voters. Most of the members are registered as independents, according to Schiller. The group meets every Tuesday afternoon at the Oro Valley Public Library (1305 W. Naranja Drive), and once a month for an evening Coffee Party Café. On Wednesday, Jan. 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the library, the group hopes to bring together various sides to the ethnic-studies discussion. For more information on the group, call 575-1743, or search for the group on Facebook.

When did the group start?

Our group in the northwest started the first weekend in March of this year. The Coffee Party itself started back in January as a national group, and they held two meetings in central Tucson, at Coffee Xchange and the Sky Bar. Those were organizational meetings. After the first one, we got requests from people up in the northwest ... "but we don't want to go all the way down to central Tucson." We volunteered to start other groups and got started immediately. We had a discussion group that started at the Oro Valley Library on current affairs, but the leader was quite ill, and the group dwindled, so we thought: Why not turn the group into a Coffee Party (chapter)?

What attracted you to the group?

Most of us were upset with the political system as it is being enacted. We wanted something that would restore civility to the political scene. What attracted us was part of the Coffee Party's mission statement: We are a meeting place for Americans seeking common ground and collective action to strengthen our democracy. We give a voice to Americans who want to see cooperation from the government to support leaders for positive solutions. Also, we are a nonpartisan organization. In order to have reason in the political system, we have to educate ourselves. There's been difficulty separating fact from fiction, and we've encouraged our members to go to the sources. We try to keep up with what is going on in the Legislature and in Congress.

In a way, isn't the Coffee Party supposed to be an alternative to the Tea Party?

The founder, Annabel Park, didn't want for us to sound confrontational, but we jokingly say we are for the people who don't drink tea. We believe in civil discourse as the way to go, but unfortunately, civil discourse doesn't give you much publicity.

What events do you have coming up?

We had a panel in the summer on ethnic studies, but we'd like to do something on that again. (Incoming Superintendent of Public Instruction John) Huppenthal announced he's going after the universities next (after the Tucson Unified School District). That is broader, and some of us wonder: How much should state government interfere with what is going on in our schools? It's important to know that we do not require unanimity from our members. One of the ways you clarify the issues is you discuss them.

What are your goals for the future?

To enlarge our group. Right now, we have 50 members, but we know the more people we have, the more influence we can have. My own personal feeling (for) the next few months is that we have to pull back on the local issues, because the snowbirds won't come to our meetings. Some have learned about us and are interested in the Coffee Party, but if our goal is to raise the level of education among voters and understand the issues so they can better participate in a democracy, we need to discuss national issues, too.

What do you think is important to remind people about the Coffee Party?

That civil discourse is one of the most important things we have in a democracy. The first discussion group I ever went to was when I lived in Ohio. I noticed our local library had a notice up about a civil-discussion group. That was my first exposure with one of these groups, and that was completely nonpartisan. It was a way to get the public informed. People no longer read the newspapers. They get a lot of information on the computer, and most of the time, it's not correct. There should definitely be a place where all points of view are welcomed.

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