We really mean it!
So I was cruising the blog world, trying to get a sense of what people are saying about Coffee to the People, when I discovered that there is a small, but vocal crowd of cynics out there insinuating that the political orientation of our shop is some kind of marketing gimmick rather than an authentic act of progressive political activism (see mao, xcorpuscristix, fruitcakebear, et al). As somebody who has spent most of my life working on political causes that I care about (during the 1990's I interned for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, managed a congressional campaign, and worked for the Women's Campaign Fund; more recently, I founded the UCSF Mental Health Advocacy Group and I currently volunteer on a number of political issues from anti-war to mental health), I am a tad offended. Still, I understand that this is partly a sign of the times--Americans these days (especially young Americans) tend to be highly suspicious of political activism in any form and are quick to assume that it is motivated purely by greed or personal ambition.
Allow me to set the record straight. When my family and I opened Coffee to the People, my primary goal was to create a coffeeshop that would serve as a center for progressive political activism within our community. While Bob and Megan concerned themselves with the business end of things (i.e., ensuring we made good coffee and could afford to stay open), I focused on creating an environment that would inspire people to get involved in making their world a better place. If you come to our shop you will find that everywhere you look there are portraits of people who have changed things for the better through political action: Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, John Muir, and many, many more. There are also inspirational quotations about the power of individuals and groups to effect change. My favorite is this one from Anne Frank: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." On the tables we have created collages of visual artifacts from important social movements in American history. For example, we have tables dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Suffrage Movement, and the Free Speech Movement.
Obviously, while words and pictures can set the tone for political activism, getting people to take real meaningful action requires a great deal more. That's why we try to offer people all kinds of ways to get involved in our community. To begin with, we offer only fair trade and organic coffee, giving people the opportunity to make environmentally sound choices in their daily lives. Second, once we make a profit (as of this writing we are still very much in the red) we will donate 1% to 1% for the Planet and 4% to Global Exchange. Third, we have a section of our store dedicated to educating the public about important political events. Currently, we are featuring a display in support of the Muni Social Strike. The display also includes information about how to contact your elected officials--all the way from the Board of Supervisors to the President of the United States. Fourth, we give 10 - 15% food and beverage discounts to progressive political organizations that want to use our shop as a meeting place (and we don't charge any kind of rental fee). Finally, we make our shop available for public forums on important political issues. Last month, for example, Jeff Ott spoke about the war on terrorism and the organizers of the Muni Social Strike gave a presentation encouraging people to get involved.
Call me an idealist, but I believe the work we do at Coffee to the People is socially and politically important. I also believe that we are an excellent model for how socially-responsible businesses should conduct themselves. For those who would question our motives and our effectiveness I ask, what have you done lately to make the world a better place?