About 50 Columbia residents participated in a protest of a different sort when they joined “The People Speak: America’s Role in the World,” a series of public discussions held in more than a thousand cities across the country during October.
Participants debated U.S. foreign policy and the occupation of Iraq on Friday as part of the series, which is organized under the umbrella of the United Nations Foundation, a group that is supported by the United Nations. The talks were locally sponsored by the Association of Master of Public Administration Students and MU’s European Union Center.
The goal of the talks is to give Americans of every walk of life the chance to speak their minds about the United States’ role in the world.
“It is not clear to me what they are asked to do there,” said Robin Remington, referring to U.S. soldiers in Iraq. “But it is clear they are dying out there.”
Remington, an MU political science professor emeritus, said Americans should question President Bush’s credibility and intentions in Iraq.
“Sometimes people are so patriotic in this country that they don’t see the real climate, the big picture,” said Renata Johnson, a journalism graduate student from Brazil.
The two-hour discussion had a liberal tone and was attended mostly by MU faculty and students.
The discussion was centered around two questions: “Should the United States use military force only to protect vital interests or also to promote democracy?” and “Should the United States spend more money in fighting poverty and illiteracy overseas?”
For Bruce Ludwig, a building inspector, this was his chance to speak out.
“What I like about this is that we are all coming at it from some pretty different perspectives,” Ludwig said. “It is the essence of sharing.”
Christina LoNigro, the spokeswomen for the United Nations Foundation, said the national debate initiative has been very successful and will expand its debate season into November to reach a total of 1,600 debates nationwide.
Friday’s debate was the second in Columbia. On Wednesday, a group of 60 people gathered at Columbia College to discuss similar topics.
Professor James Scott, one of the debate’s moderators and director of the European Union Center, said he was surprised by the turnout and happy with the outcome of the discussion.
“We cannot make progress without dialogue,” Scott said.