Library talk aimed at bridging political divide

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LEWISTON — Following the 2016 presidential election, professional facilitator Craig Freshley wanted to get people talking to each other. 

Freshley, whose company, Good Group Decisions, moderates professional development workshops for organizations and municipalities, said the national divide over politics is at an all-time high, and that tension affects how people work together.

“What we really need is to talk with each other more, especially across the political divide,” he said, adding that as a moderator, “I’m not afraid to jump in.”

On Saturday, May 6, Freshley and a group of Lewiston organizers will bring his series Make Shift Coffee House to the Lewiston Public Library. It will be the fifth event in the series, which aims to bring a diverse group of people together to talk about political issues.

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Freshley said that at the most recent event, in Bangor on April 7, there was a big cross-section of liberals and conservatives. He said the audience talked about issues such as health care, taxes, abortion and climate change. 

The first Make Shift Coffee House was held in January, just a week before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. 

Freshley said in his experience as a facilitator, he’s seen the animosity increasing. But, he said, “I’ve seen over and over again, when people understand where each other is coming from, they find it harder to dislike each other.”

“We’ve gotten to a point where people don’t just disagree, they dislike each other because of political views,” he added.  

The event, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the library, will feature food, coffee and music. Sponsors of the event include Lewiston Rocks and Project Tipping Point. 

Lewiston Library Director Rick Speer said Wednesday that hosting community conversations is part of the library’s mission. The library hosts a number of events and forums, and Speer says he was a quick supporter of the Make Shift Coffee House idea.

“He easily sold us on the importance of bringing people together during these often contentious times to gain a better understanding of others’ viewpoints,” Speer said of Freshley. 

Speer said Freshley led a retreat workshop for library staff recently, and came “highly recommended.” 

The discussion facilitated by Freshley will center on the question of “What is the rightful role of government in shaping the future of our community?” 

“We’re hoping to get people talking, and get people listening,” Speer said. “That’s the key.” 

Freshley said he’s hoping the topic will appeal to both conservatives and new Mainers. He said family and community are cared “deeply” about in Lewiston.

Heidi Sawyer, a Lewiston resident who moderates the Lewiston Rocks Facebook page, is also helping to promote the event. 

She said while planning for it, many topics were considered, but they all came back to one theme — the overall role of government. She said the organizers “thought that would be a perfect topic because it’s the foundation of everything.”

“So if it is the root of most issues, then let’s talk about it,” she said. 

Sawyer said the group eventually included Project Tipping Point, led by consultant Shanna Cox, and “it was like this perfect mix of ideas, passion and ideologies.” 

Speer said Sawyer’s community Facebook page represents “the best mix of political opinions.” 

Musicians Haditi Adan Abdula and Michael Krapovicky volunteered to provide music for the event. 

“My role is being moderator, but lots of people are making it happen,” Freshley said. “Come tell us why you believe what you believe and hear others do the same — that’s the purpose of the whole thing.” 

arice@sunjournal.com

For more information on the May 6 event, visit makeshiftcoffeehouse.com

Craig Freshley, a professional moderator, will lead a discussion that aims to close the divide between opposing viewpoints at the Lewiston Public Libary on May 6. 

Craig Freshley 

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