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Monday, May 17, 2010

Freedom Seminars of Portland, Ore.: Worthy of Emulation

Last fall FEE president Lawrence Reed and Freeman editor Sheldon Richman traveled to Oregon to participate in the 2009 session of Freedom Seminars, a series, run by David and Laurie Hendersen, that for 19 years has presented lectures by prominent freedom advocates to enthusiastic crowds from a wide area around Portland, Ore.

Larry and Sheldon had the pleasure of addressing 90 friends of freedom of all ages, from students to retired folks. Each gave two lectures during the day-long seminar. Larry spoke on “The History of Money and Inflation” and “The Importance of Character in a Free Society.” Sheldon spoke on “Education: Privatization vs. School Choice” and “Beware Health Care Reform.” Lively Q&A sessions followed each session. Between the lectures the participants divided into two discussions groups for extended exploration of the topics.

Freedom Seminars is a model that should be emulated throughout the country, since it is an ideal way to maintain interest in the freedom philosophy through face-to-face contact. It is also a perfect way for freedom advocates to introduce friends and family to free-market economics and individual liberty.

The seminars are put on each year entirely by dedicated volunteers. The program consists of two speakers from around the country giving two lectures each, along with discussion. A low admission fee, which includes a hot lunch, is charged attendees.

How did Freedom Seminars get started? According to David Hendersen, the origins can be traced back to Ridgway K. (Dick) Foley, a successful attorney, former FEE trustee, and Freeman author. For many years – and at his own expense — he invited speakers from FEE, the Institute for Humane Studies, and kindred organizations to present lectures to 12-35 people at a dinner meeting held in a nice hotel or the University Club.

David and Dick met at a FEE seminar in Agate Beach, Oregon, in June 1984, after which Dick invited David to a number of the evening lectures. Impressed by the gatherings, David offered to help with the costs, and they teamed up for a number of small programs in the late 1980s.

In September 1991 Hans Sennholz, then president of FEE, told his friend Dick Foley that he would be in Seattle in early November. Dick invited him to speak in Portland. Dick contacted David, and a one-day seminar was arranged for Hans, with Dick also agreeing to speak.

Since Laurie Hendersen had experience setting up fundraising events as a donor-relations staffer at Willamette University, she took on the management of the Sennholz program, with assistance from employees at David’s company, Columbia Food Machinery (founded in 1980). Dick and David divided the costs, and nearly 100 people attended.

The audience reaction was so enthusiastic that the organizers decided to hold a similar event a year later. Freedom Seminars were born, if not yet in name. A nominal sum ($25 per attendee) was charged, covering about a third of the cost. The organizers made it a point to have students attend.

Freedom Seminars incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1995, and people who attended the events began donating generously. Longtime freedom advocates Ed Kelly, Jr., and Ervina Anderson joined president Dick Foley on the board of directors. (He still serves as president.) Ed handles the audio recording, while Ervina and her husband, Leo, handle book sales at the seminars. Volunteers guide the discussions. David and Laurie’s 15-year-old daughter, Kathleen, helps Laurie manage the events, with help from Columbia Food Machinery employees.

Over their nineteen years Freedom Seminars speakers have included, among others, Tom G. Palmer, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, David R. Henderson., Donald Boudreaux, Greg Rehmke, James Bovard, David Friedman. Brian Doherty, Robert Higgs, Ralph Raico, Edward Stringham, Jacob Hornberger, Father Robert Sirico, Burton W. Folsom, Jr., Jane Shaw, Richard Stroup, Charlotte Twight, and Doug Bandow.

The lesson of Freedom Seminars? There’s no more powerful way to spread and deepen appreciation of the freedom philosophy than through regular events such as these. The educational value and camaraderie are vital to advancing freedom while creating a lasting community built around a dedication to the free society.

Maybe this would work in your city! Email Laurie and David at [email protected] with questions about starting your own program.