By Dr. Tana Durnbaugh
The opportunity to discuss foreign policy in a guided format is unique to Great Discussions the Foreign Policy Association Nationwide program. The Chicago League of Women Voters has used this program for over five years and as a participant I found it to be a challenging and thoughtful exploration of foreign affairs.
As a result of my experience, I wanted to offer Great Decisions in the 47th Ward-Lincoln Square area. I contacted Dara Salk community outreach director 47th Ward and Karen Kolb Flude and Helene Wineberg of the grassroots community group Forward Chicago. Both women were very encouraging and assisted in setting up a meeting with Dana Revilla Director of Sulzer Regional Library. When we met all parties were excited to be involved.
Great Decisions has been met with extreme enthusiasm and interest – our goal was 20 people (and this was a stretch!). 22 people came to the first meeting, with the final tally at 24 participants! Our meeting night format includes sign- in, handouts, and eat a cookie as wanted. We watch the Great Decisions Topic Video. We then divide into small groups or 5 – 6 people. I lead the process by announcing the question to be discussed. I monitor the group time and give a 2 minute warning. We then move to the next question.
Our first topic, the Middle East, was lively and the feedback was appreciative. Our group includes a mix of men and women, young adults and seniors. We are diverse in religion, birth areas, and political thought. We are lacking racial diversity and adults aged 35-50 years of age.
Things learned: Great Decisions is an amazingly well constructed program. The time spent including community groups was well spent. The program would not be going without the Chicago League of Women Voters, Forward Chicago, the 47th Ward Service Office, and Sulzer Library.
Finally and perhaps most important, watching citizens discuss in an honest effort, complex foreign policy issues that impact the USA is hopeful, uplifting and reassuring. They want to learn, be involved and share with and listen to others. They want to be citizens of knowledge and action.