You may remember last December when Starbucks shops in Washington D.C. presented each coffee with a barista-scribbled message of “come together” across the cup; the effort was a message to elected officials to stop bickering and fix the national debt problem.

Now with the government shutdown in full swing – when the stakes are even higher and the squabbling tinged with even more stubbornness – Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is at it again; this time sending a message for lawmakers to come together, by giving away free coffee to customers who show others how it’s done.

Earlier this year, the concept of the "caffe sospeso" went viral; born in the cafes of southern Italy, the "caffe sospeso" (which translates as “suspended coffee”) allows a person with means to buy an anonymous cup of coffee for a person in need. (Read more about it here: Pay it forward, coffee-style.) The Starbucks’ plan, which is good October 9–11, 2013 at participating stores, is modeled on this pay-it-forward model. If a customer buys the next person in line their beverage, the paying customer receives a free tall brewed coffee.

“Our customers do amazing things everyday. A customer buys the next person in line their favorite beverage – not as an act of charity or thanks – but an acknowledgement of commonality and humanity. The gesture is small, but the act is endlessly inspiring,” says Starbucks.

Is free coffee going to end the stalemate? No. Is it little more than a promotional gimmick? The answer depends on how cynical you are. But at the very least, it’s an innovative way to spread some kindness and inspire some togetherness.

Starbucks adds, “We’re hoping this small motivation will encourage you to be the spark of connection that helps bring us all a little closer at a time when showing our unity is so important.”

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