They talked about hobbies, about their favorite conversational topics, about the American dream, about their personality traits, about admired historical figures, and about family traditions.
According to the instructions, the 10 pairs of citizens gathered at the Oconee County Library on Saturday morning, and the others who joined the conversations during the following hour, were not to talk about politics.
The session was billed as a “community-building” event and was organized by the Oconee Progressives, a local group that has as one of its goals bringing the community together.
The session was spirited, with lots of smiles and signs of joyful interaction.
“This was really fabulous,” Andrea Wellnitz, one of the founders of the Progressives, said at the end of the session.
“I think that a lot of people shared stories,” she said. “We all have more in common, and we all have more connections, and we all have so many stories to tell, so I just really am appreciative of everybody who took the time to be here today.”
Format Of Session
Priest asked those who came to the Oconee County Library at 10:30 Saturday morning to pick a partner and sit at the paired chairs spread around the room. The Oconee County Library is at 1080 Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.
The format was described as similar to speed-dating.
One of two moderators was to read a question, Priest said.
The pairs were to discuss their answers to the question for four and a half minutes.
Fabiana Hayden, another of the founders of the Progressives, was to ring a bell at the end of the four and a half minutes and the participants were to find a new partner for discussion of the next question.
The procedures were to be repeated throughout the session.
Posing of Questions
Maria Caudill, former chair of the Oconee County Republican Party and current chair of the Oconee County Planning Commission, was one of the two question-readers.
Neal Priest, Athens physician, musician and political activist, was the other.
Caudill and Neal Priest alternately selected questions from a list created by Pat Priest.
“Where are you from and why are you now or still living in this neck of the woods?” Caudill said in launching the conversation.
“If you could be anywhere and do anything, what would be a perfect day for you?” Neal Priest said, reading the fourth question of the session.
Caudill and Neal Priest had each asked five questions by the end of the session.
Third Such Session
Twenty-two people were in the room when the session started, including me. (I didn’t participate in the discussions so I could video record the event.)
Three other people joined the group as the morning progressed, and some had to leave before Wellnitz closed the formal part of the session a little before noon.
Participants could stay, eat snacks and continue the conversation after the questions ended, and many did.
A similar number had turned out at Brown's Chapel Baptist Church, 1030 Brown Chapel Road, outside Bishop, for last year’s event.
The Progressives launched the New Friends for the New Year program in 2018, and a slightly larger number–28–turned out at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville for that event.
Participants in the session on Saturday included Deborah Gonzales and Brian Patterson, both seeking the Democratic nomination for District Attorney in the primary in May.
Also in attendance were Jonathan Wallace, running as a Democrat for the 119th State House District, and Watkinsville City Council Member Dan Matthews.
The 14-minute video below is made up of a series of clips from the hour-long session on Saturday.
Included is the entire introduction of the session, when people were getting organized and Priest explained the program format.
I also left in the final minutes of the session, when Wellnitz made her closing comments.
Between are clips of the reading of each of the 10 questions and of some of the pairs (or sometimes groups of three) discussing the various topics.
The video of the entirety of the session from last year, shot by Sarah Bell, is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo Site.