Journalist Coffee Party Founder meets
Theologian Log Cabin Republican Founder.
Democracy in America 2.0 is born.
Question: What happens when founders of two of the most iconic modern day civic organizations (on opposite sides of the aisle) just happen to pick seats next to each other one fateful day? Answer: An inspiring friendship that tells the story of the soul of America at its best.
Log Cabin Republican founder Rich Tafel and Coffee Party co-founder Annabel Park now share their closest held hopes and dreams with each other, the same church (where Rich is pastor) and a podcast called “Democracy in America.” The strongly held political opinions that compelled each to devote their lives to their respective causes haven’t changed — but each has found a new sacred space that includes seeking to understand the other. “No winner, no loser, just great understanding,” is how one Annabel + Rich fan describes the two when this theologian and journalist dynamic duo are mixing it up. There’s even humor involved, oh, and a Democracy Van (Alexis de Tocqueville, eat your heart out).
Activist, Immigrant from South Korea, Filmmaker, Traveler, Listener, A Texan, Loves dogs and democracy equally, In the Warren wing of the Democratic Party, Tries to live an examined life, Kale addict.
Rich on Annabel. Annabel is one of the nation’s leading progressive activists. She’s co-founded many liberal causes including the Coffee Party. Her documentaries and interviews help her followers see the world in greater detail. Traveling across America in her Democracy Van with her dog Beto eating kale, she defies stereotypes, sort of. (Sadly, Annabel named her Beto after the Texas politician of the same name, but I’ve noticed he now responds to Pete…)
Committed, Courageous, Called, Mystic, Republican, Activist, Pastor, Spiritual, Entrepreneur, Prankster.
Annabel on Rich. Rich is a true Renaissance man who has many talents and accomplishments. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School and is an ordained pastor – changing the world when he started the Log Cabin Republicans in the early 90s advocating for gay rights as a conservative during the height of the AIDS crisis. He’s a pastor at the Church of the Holy City in Washington, DC where he started the Center for Spiritual Entrepreneurship, an incubator for spiritual impact startups. At any given time, he is involved with a number of fascinating projects, but what I really admire about him is that he is always full of compassion and curiosity. Because of these qualities, he is able to connect with people of all backgrounds and beliefs.
More Description of their Treasonous Friendship:
Rich describes it this way: We ended up accidentally sitting next to each other at Citizen University hosted by Eric Liu. Annabel presented a documentary to the group. We had a good discussion about it. What struck me as interesting about the documentary is that she interviewed southern Civil War reenactment actors about their own views. While it would have been easy to cartoon them, she presented their complicated humanity. This is something I find unusual for progressives. Though she had long ago given up on church, she agreed to come to hear me preach. After many months, she and I used the church to discuss tough issues. The power of those dialogues led us to do a podcast.
Here’s the way Annabel describes their friendship story: We became friends because we are both interested in democracy with a small “d” and we are both concerned about how divided we are as a country. In Rich, I found someone who understood the gravity of our political situation; our Union seems to be unraveling before our eyes. This stark reality keeps me up at nights partly because I come from South Korea, a country that went through a civil war in the 1950’s. I started attending Rich’s church after decades of being unchurched because it didn’t seem like his church was about Christianity so much as individuals finding spiritual strength while being supported by a community of people. The discussions with Rich at the church and outside of the church have become a lifeline for me while navigating the turbulence of our time.
Their Talk: “Democracy in America on the Road” (or your choice of roughly 4,000 topics they’d love to dive into with you, below)
Annabel and Rich have strong views for why she remains a progressive leader and Rich, a conservative leader. What makes them unique is that they are both more curious about understanding each other’s perspective than they are at scoring points or winning a debate. As one listener of the podcast summed up, once again, “No winner, no loser, just great understanding.” The combination of Journalist and Theologian offer something to the audience lacking in our media at this time. With Rich’s theologian background, they often go to the deep moral values underlying issues. With Annabel’s journalist background, she asks powerful questions. They employ the power of curiosity and humility. And both are good at speaking about the divisions within their movements as well. If you really want to understand what’s going on, these are the two who can help you gain deeper empathy and insights.
Annable and Rich are both good listeners and genuinely interested in understanding each other. They have many political disagreements, but are profoundly united by a concern for the health of our democracy and the fate of our country. Because they have become close friends, the political differences pale in comparison to the strength of their bond as friends — they think what hurts our political discourse is that people focus on “winning” rather than understanding, persuading, and deliberating. Democracy is not a game that we win. It’s a process that guarantees people a chance to be heard without fear, to be represented, to be treated as an equal in the eyes of the government and civil society. It’s the only way for us to maintain liberty and justice for all. It must be protected.
Now for the 4,000 topic choices (deep breathe): “Democracy in America on the Road,” “Progressive Journalist Meets Conservative Pastor; Be Curious!” “We Must Keep Our Democracy” “We Are Friends, Not Enemies; A Progressive Activist and a Conservative Pastor on the Road in America.” “Friendship and Politics,” “Unraveling of the Union,” “Where Are We Headed as a Country?” “What Is Democracy and Why Is It Important?” “Why Are We So Divided?” “What Can We Do About the Division?” “How Do We Talk to the ‘Other Side’ Without Losing It?” (Ok now you can breathe again.)
The time-space continuum to consider: Annabel and Rich both call the Nation’s Capital their home.
What the pair would need to come to your school: $1K each. (A steal, you’re going to fall in love with these two.)