Meet a Civvys Winner: Make Shift Coffee House

The 2019 American Civic Collaboration Awards winners, like the Civvys winners in previous years, provide a blueprint for the rest of the nation as they problem-solve how to make our differences work for us, not against us. They use collaboration to build a stronger future, and encompass a civic imagination that inspires and ignites action. 

Let us introduce you to one of our 2019 winners, in the Committee's Choice category: Make Shift Coffee House.

IMG_4297.jpgCraig Freshley, founder of Make Shift Coffee House, accepts the award - with a ukelele!

There was no submission in our three years of doing these awards that came in as frequently or as effusively as the nominations for Craig Freshly and Make Shift Coffee House, and we simply had to share it with you. Craig, who has another full time job besides this, launched Make Shift Coffee House - a series of conversation cafes throughout Maine - in 2017, and has since hosted over 35 events bringing people together for civil dialogue and boundary-breaking conversation. His advisory board is co-chaired by Maine Republican and Democratic party representatives, and over and over again, his nominators spoke to the transformative work that happens when people gather face to face. 

Craig’s work is a testament to the relentless pursuit of a better world, an unwavering belief in bringing people together in dialogue, and trust in the people. Read on for his answers to a couple of our questions about his work, his plans for the future, and what it means to win this award. 


What are your hopes - and plans - for the upcoming year?

We want more Make Shift Coffee Houses in more places! A Make Shift Coffee House is a face-to-face place where liberals and conservatives try to understand each other’s political views. So far they have all been in Maine. They are very popular here and the model is very simple and replicable, so we would like people to replicate them all over! On January 15 we have a day of training planned for hosts and facilitators and thereafter we have funding to pay facilitators. Our hopes and plans are pretty simple: more respectful conversations across the political divide.

Why is collaboration important today?

It’s always important. It’s who we are as humans. It’s what we do. Working together to achieve common goals distinguishes us from many other species. Yet we also have within each of us an instinct for personal achievement and triumph over others. There’s a tension between self interest and group interest. Today in America the pendulum is swinging towards self-interest; it’s increasingly okay for the rich to get richer, for instance. Allowing ourselves to go too far in that direction will result in civil war and environmental destruction. The pendulum needs to swing back toward collaboration in order to save ourselves.


What do you wish people who have lost hope knew?

  1. There are many, many good people who believe in doing what’s right for the common good. We have heard hundreds of such people speak up at Make Shift Coffee Houses.
  2. Among people who disagree, even fiercely, there is always common ground. Talking and listening to each other helps us find that common ground. Then we can build on that, even with baby steps if needed, to get along with each other and work together.
  3. American has triumphed through worse. This is not the first time in history that we have experienced such political divide. It’s actually happened many times before, many times worse. The pendulum is swinging – we will get through this – with courage and hard work the pendulum will swing back.


What does winning a Civvys award mean to you?

For us – the volunteers and fans of Make Shift Coffee House – it’s wonderful to receive recognition for what we have known all along is a winner. We have seen first hand how these conversations work to melt away anger and tension. We want others to experience that too and we are hopeful that the award will help us bring Make Shift Coffee Houses to more people.

For me, this is a lifetime achievement award of sorts. I have built my career around civic collaboration, with Make Shift Coffee House just being the latest initiative. I really believe in what the award represents and when I’m old I will look back on this as one of the things from throughout my whole life that I am most proud of.

I rarely abbreviate the award name to “Civvy” because I love the words of the long version. American. Civic. Collaboration. I am honored to be associated with those three words.


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  • brian clancy
    published this page in Big Tent Blog 2019-12-23 11:14:47 -0500