Twenty-eight people turned out at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville on last Sunday’s rainy afternoon to exchange nonpartisan conversation with the goals of getting to know each other and of building community.
The sponsors, the Oconee Progressives and Oconee Democrats, had reached out across party lines with their invitations, and they were successful.
Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton, a Republican, attended, as did Kate McDaniel, secretary of the Oconee County Republican Party, and Marcus Wiedower, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican in the special election for House District 117 representative last November.
The event started at 3 p.m. and lasted just an hour, but several people were around a half hour later, continuing the conversations started during the structured part of the session.
Organizer Of Event
While the Oconee Progressives and Oconee Democrats sponsored the event, Pat Priest, long active in local Democratic politics, was the event organizer.
“The two groups invite everyone in the community, including local Republicans and Independents, to join in fun and quick conversations in pairs in response to prompts given over a public address system,” Priest said in an email message she sent out promoting the event.
“The hour-long event will work like a speed dating set-up, with new pairings of people conversing for each question provided,” Priest said.
Fourteen pairs participated in the first session, but the number of pairs changed during the hour, as others who came later joined in the discussions.
Just before the 4 p.m. ending, 17 groups were participating, and one of those was made up of 3 adults and two children.
Among the Democratic participants was Deborah Gonzalez, who now represents the 117th House District in the General Assembly, and Dan Matthews, a member of the Watkinsville City Council.
Watkinsville Council races are nonpartisan, but Matthews long has been involved with the Democratic Party in Oconee County.
Chalis Montgomery, running as a Democrat in U.S. Congressional District 10, was present, as was Lisa Lott, who is running for Superior Court Judge for the position now held by Regina Quick.
That race is nonpartisan.
Women dominated the session, but, when 17 groups were participating, nine men were included in the total of 35 individuals involved in the discussions.
Two Ministers And Questions
Sheila Hunter, minister at Watkinsville First Christian Church, 4 North Main Street, Watkinsville, and J. Ricardo Smith, pastor at Browns Chapel Baptist Church, 1030 Brown Chapel Road, outside Bishop, read out the questions to the participants.
Examples included “What were/are your grandparents like?” and “What were you like in high school?”
Conversation was stopped by the ringing of loud bells after about 4 minutes, and participants found another partner for the next question.
During discussions, the noise became loud, making the conversations in the pairs quite private.
I attended the event and did participate in one of the conversations, discussing who has been a strong role model in my life. I named my father.
I shot video during much of the session and have edited it into the short clip below to give some sense of the gathering.
At the end of the session, Tracy Wyatt from Oconee Progressives thanked those who participated.
I used her comments without editing, starting at 1:36 in the video. Organizer Priest is in the green jacket at her side.
Oconee Progressives in an informal group started by Wyatt and three other Oconee County women concerned about, among other things, the level of discourse in the county in the wake of the inauguration of Donald Trump as president a year ago.
Wyatt talks briefly about Oconee Progressives in her closing comments.