Last Saturday, March 8, several other AAUW members and I joined with almost 200 local residents at Dutchess Community College to discuss "Americans' Role in the World: Building a More Secure Future". During the morning small groups of participants ranging from college students to retirees discussed the four proposed approaches: preserving and sharing global resources, seeking security through free trade, promoting democratization and human rights, and using military power to secure the peace.
The groups expressed concern for destruction of the environment, and felt that personal efforts could not solve the problems without major changes of public policy including investments in mass transportation. Globalization was seen as inevitable, but current free trade agreements did not create a level playing field. Subsidies to agribusiness persist, while labor, environmental, and product safety standards have been sacrificed. Many noted the decline in world respect and prestige of our country. Multilateral approaches to promoting democracy and human rights and to deterring aggression were preferred. They were felt to be less threatening to other countries, and more likely to be effective over the long run.
After lunch a panel of experts answered questions. Professor Lewis Brownstein of SUNY New Paltz discussed the history of American ambivalence towards promoting democracy abroad. Major Tania Chacho of the US Military Academy and Professor Steve Rock of Vassar College both warned of over-reliance on military power to the neglect of diplomacy. Professor Himadeep Muppidi of Vassar College said the building of a secure future requires understanding the interests of others and seeing people as they see themselves. John Yaukey of Gannett News Service urged participants to check out web sites when they fail to find information in the mainstream media.
The National Issues Forum, the eleventh held at the college, was sponsored by the "Poughkeepsie Journal", the Dutchess Community College Foundation, the Gillespie Forum, the Mid-Hudson World Affairs Council, and the Dutchess Community College Political Science Club.