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Greenwich panel

Moderator Joe Donahue, a WAMC radio host, gestures Wednesday during a panel discussion following the showing of "American Creed" at Greenwich Central School. Other panelists included (from left) Annie Miller, director of the Greenwich Free Library; Kevin Kelleher, from American Legion Liberty Post 515, Bruce France, Better Angels organizer; and Pastor Sandra Spaulding of the Bottskill Baptist Church. Out of the picture to the right is Devin Bulger, from the Comfort Food Community.

GREENWICH — What unites Americans?

A showing of the PBS film “American Creed” on Wednesday evening at Greenwich High School informed a panel and community discussion of the beliefs that hold America together.

“American Creed” grew out of conversations between Stanford University professors David Kennedy, a historian, and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under President George W. Bush, on what values Americans have in common.

The film includes comments by a major league baseball manager who used children’s sports to help bring together longtime residents and immigrants in his Pennsylvania hometown; a Native American elementary school principal in Oklahoma; an award-winning novelist who was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in a struggling, racially mixed New Jersey neighborhood; a former Marine whose work supports and creates community among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans; and a second-generation Chinese-American whose nonprofit organization fosters civic engagement.

The event was sponsored by the Greenwich Free Library, American Legion Liberty Post No. 515, Comfort Food Community, Greenwich Interfaith Fellowship, and Better Angels, a national organization that promotes dialogue across political divides.

WAMC radio host Joe Donahue moderated the panel and community discussion that followed.

Annie Miller, director of the Greenwich Free Library, said the library decided “this was a great project for us,” in part because of a recent online discussion she witnessed among librarians over whether library staff should carry guns openly at work.

“It was a daylong civil conversation about a hot-button issue,” she recalled. “Why should this be so unusual? This movie’s message is important to get out.”

“There’s power in talking to people you don’t agree with,” said Sandra Spaulding, pastor of the Bottskill Baptist Church. “We want to be in conversation.”

Bruce France is an organizer of the local chapter of Better Angels.

“We encourage people to have constructive conversations with people you disagree with,” he said. Through discussion, “people find common bonds.”

All the panelists said they felt uncomfortable at certain points in the movie because they expected the narrative to go in a particular direction, but the situation was resolved in a way that surprised them.

“I hope everyone felt a little uncomfortable,” Spaulding said. “Uncomfortable is good.”

The desire to create a better life, the importance of education in achieving that, and the unifying power of community service were common themes in the movie and the conversation that followed. Many of the panelists and community members said they were descended from immigrants who worked their ways up from initial poverty.

A man from Cambridge said he belongs to several community organizations where “it doesn’t matter if you’re red or blue.” Projects like roadside cleanups and supporting the local food pantry cross political divides, he said.

Doris Nichols, an Argyle resident, said she was concerned about community conflicts there.

“That’s the only way out — keep saying that we’re all in this together,” she said.

Better Angels’ goal is to bring “reds” and “blues” together, France said, but “we struggle to get reds, Republicans, and conservatives to our events. We’re looking for you to be part of this.”

Donahue told of a misunderstanding that ended when he found synonyms for rejected words.

“We may not all have the same language, but when you get down to it, we agree,” he said.

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