It all started innocently enough. Fed up with the incivility in American political dialog documentary filmmaker Annabel Park vented on Facebook about the antics of the Tea Party. Today, just eight short weeks later, the Coffee Party movement page on Facebook will likely cross the 199,000 member mark while I'm writing this.

Already being active at the national level in both energy policy and social media, I was frustrated that I'd not yet found the same level of excitement at the local level. Our county Democratic party has never returned a call or email despite several attempts and if anyone ever populates their downtown Champaign office they wear their invisibility cloaks when they're on the scene. I'd long wanted some sort of local activity and the nationwide invitation to create a local meet on March 13th was just the thing.

I was first on the scene and I picked Cafe Kopi, calling ahead to find out about facilities. No, no advanced arrangements, they've been busy, so just take your chances. This worked out well for our first meeting — nine or ten people showed up and we had a wonderful conversation. We didn't do any of the sign making ritual that we'd heard about. An email list went around after the event but not much else happened.

Our second meeting followed the national schedule, occurring on the 27th. Again, a crowd of nine or ten, but amazing, at least to me, was that I was the only one to attend both the founding and second meeting. Despite the discontinuity we made marvelous progress based on this meeting. I had Democratic House candidate, David Gill's contact information, someone else knew how to reach our Republican Congressman, Tim Johnson, and we set out trying to get in touch with them.

Out of this meeting the local Coffee Party of Greater Champaign-Urbana got a Facebook page done in proper style and associated with the national party's effort. We also created a Google Group to facilitate a threaded leadership discussion. Someone had a Google Voice invite and 815-317-6337 was the best we could do for a local contact point, Google having run out of 217 area code numbers. The local Facebook group has over 80 members now and that's before any real local promotion has been done.

This stuff was exciting in a local organizing sense, but our gathering on April 8th was a little bit of history.

I sat across from a woman named Lynda Park during the first meeting and she seemed to know quiet a bit about the national Coffee Party leadership and their goals. I'm a little slow to the take - she finally leaned over and whispered "I'm Annabel's sister." One thing lead to another, Annabel had to come to Illinois to visit the rowdy Rockford chapter and then she swung down to Champaign for a visit. This happened to coincide with a day that David Gill said he had available and it all came together nicely in the upstairs space at Espresso Royale in Urbana.

Again there were less than a dozen of us, Annabel and Linda, David Gill, a mass media professor who's name I did not get, two younger fellows from Danville named Steve and Billy, Chris the Canadian immigrant, and we failed in secretarial duties — no one passed a sign up sheet as we did for the first two meetings, so I know I'm missing a couple of other people who were there.

The Coffee Party sat out to get Congress to engage and our April 8th meeting was the first time any Congressional figure, either seated or a candidate, sat down and took the time to talk with a Coffee Party meeting where Annabel was in attendance.

The meteoric rise of this grassroots organization, which is beginning to spread internationally, will continue. You can easily find information about local meetings on Facebook by clicking this link.

Meeting photo: Annabel in red, David Gill in blue, credit Neal Rauhauser ...