Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nix the Quick Fix

Focusing on New Technologies and New Habits in Energy

Tuesday, October 28th marked the final community forum event in the Georgia Deliberations 2008 program series. Once again we tackled the topic, “The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future” this time in our home base, the auditorium of the Russell Library at UGA. Fifteen attendees -- a mixture of students, retired faculty, and members of the community – gathered on this chilly fall evening. A team of dedicated UGA student volunteers helped to lead the discussion: Kristen Tullos (moderator), Jessica Van Parys (moderator), and Ashley Bartlett (recorder).

The deliberation got off to an interesting start, as participants tackled all three approaches at once! But the crowd was quick to pick favorites, and Approach 1 (Reducing our Dependence on Foreign Energy) proved the least popular. Many spoke out about the limited supply of untapped oil in the US and the repercussions of moving to an isolated approach – namely, even if the US could stop buying oil from other countries what would those other countries stop buying from the US? In the end, most agreed that drilling for oil domestically is a temporary fix at best. Interestingly, few people focused on the possible damage to our environment inherent in this approach.

Approach 2, which suggests a focus on moving away from use of fossil fuels through investing in alternative sources of energy, received positive if skeptical reviews. While most of the crowd agreed that the research, development, and adoption of other renewable energy sources is an essential step, they also realized that this is an option that will take time. Can we last another 50 years living on oil and coal? Can average Americans afford expensive new technologies? One participant revisited Approach 1 during this conversation, suggesting that tapping US resources now might provide a crutch for Americans to bear down on while other options are investigated and implemented on a large scale. Only one participant seemed to take issue with the adoption of nuclear power as a viable and safe option for the future.

Nearly the entire group favored Approach 3 (Reduce our demand for energy), with a mixture of elements from Approach 2. Everyone recognized the wasteful nature of American culture and that until we find a way to change the habits of individuals, there isn’t much hope for solving the energy problem. Although slight mention was made of using government regulation to curb energy use, more people seemed to believe that the increasing price of gas and other commodities will force people to re-evaluate the way they live. Several older participants in the crowd, who made great contributions to the discussion, repeatedly suggested that solving the energy crisis is the responsibility of younger generations. Younger participants in this group seemed ready to take on this challenge, but also urged their elders to keep pushing for change as well – because it’s the future of their children and grandchildren that is at stake.

The turnout for this forum was solid and the discussion thought provoking – especially some shocking statistics about the size of the carbon footprint created by meat and dairy production alone. A good ending to our fall forum series – and hopefully, we’ll have some returning participants on the next go-round. Stay tuned for updates on other forums from the Russell by visiting our home page or joining our facebook group.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alive & Well

Current Concerns and Initiatives of the Highlander Center

On Sunday, October 26th the Russell Library hosted, “The South and Appalachia – Linking to the World: The Current Concerns and Initiatives of the Highlander Research and Education Center,” at the Athens-Clarke County Public Library. This event, the fifth in the Weaving the Threads of Justice program series, reflected on Highlander’s legacy of social activism and examined the Center’s most recent projects.

Guest speaker Susan Williams, coordinator of Highlander’s Education Team as well as the Highlander Library and Resource Center, began the program with a custom from the institution itself – asking everyone in the audience to introduce themselves to the group. The initial exercise not only loosened the crowd up but also provided an interesting snapshot of the variety of people in the Athens area who gathered to learn more about strategies and approaches for effective activism and community empowerment employed at the Highlander Center. After introductions, Williams showed a short film, “Weaving Threads of Justice: Highlander Center at 75” – a look at where Highlander is now, produced in celebration of the Center’s 75th anniversary in 2007. The film interleaves footage of the huge crowds at the Center’s grounds for the anniversary celebration with interviews with individuals sharing the stories of how they came to Highlander and the ways that this place has influenced their paths in activism and community engagement.

Following the film Williams went on to tell the audience about the most recent developments at the Center, including the proposed acquisition of an apple orchard on neighboring property. Highlander is exploring ways to incorporate the orchard into the workshops and programs they offer. Williams noted that far too many people have never picked an apple or even seen one growing on the tree, so this orchard will be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the land. She opened the floor up to questions and used audience commentary as starting points for new areas of discussion: How can you make an activist group sustainable? How does a movement attract younger generations committed to the cause? How does a non-profit group build a donor base? In a short time, Williams was able to share just a few secrets of the long lasting success of this incredible institution.

In addition to the regular snacks and coffee offered at the reception, audience members were treated to handpicked apples from Highlander’s orchard! Audience members mingled till nearly 5:15 – a sign that a good time was had by all!

Time has flown by this fall – and our last program in the Weaving the Threads series is nearly upon us! Please join us at the Russell Library on Sunday, November 16th from 2-5pm for “Reflections on Songs, Actions, and Social Justice: Film, Lecture, and Music from Guy & Candi Carawan.” In true Highlander fashion, we will have music, film, discussion…and of course food, for what is sure to be a fantastic closing event. The exhibit gallery will be open to the public during this event. For more information please visit: or call (706) 542-5788.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coping with the Cost of Health Care in Tifton

Our team from the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia was on the road again this week -- traveling to meet with citizens in Tifton, Georgia on Wednesday, October 22nd for the third deliberation on the issue of health care. Our venue: the Leroy Rogers Senior Citizens’ Center, just a few blocks away from the heart of downtown. Jill Severn, who manages civic engagement and outreach work for the Russell Library, and Dr. Babafemi Elufiede, Chair of the History Department at Albany State University, served as moderators for the discussion. Retired UGA professor Dr. Margaret Holt served as observer, while Jan Levinson took on the role of recorder.

This marked both our third trip to Tifton this fall, as well as our third forum on the issue of health care. As in the two previous deliberations held on this topic, at the Carter Presidential Library (9/17/08) and the Russell Library in Athens (9/25/08) respectively, this discussion focused on three suggested approaches to resolving flaws in the current US health care system. This forum was enriched by the presence of two local physicians, who provided information from an insider’s perspective – as well as relevant statistics. Men and women were equally represented in the group, all participants were age 55 and above, and all actively engaged in the discussion.

Notable Moments in the Deliberation:

  • One of the physicians in the crowd described flu shots as something one does for the whole community – an individual action that prevents others from becoming ill. Another participant said that she had always considered flu shots something she did for herself and not for others – but rethought her commitment to the practice after the physicians comment.
  • In discussing measures that could be taken to reduce costs in health care, the entire group unanimously agreed that advertisements for prescription drugs should be banned on television. In the end, they felt that tax payer money is paying for these advertisements which only encourage people to self-diagnose and demand unnecessary drugs from their doctors.
  • In talks about rapidly advancing medical technology, the group discussed excessive (and expensive) testing that takes place during visits to the doctor. Participants felt that although extra tests are often unnecessary, doctors tend to test more to avoid malpractice suits.
  • Many in the crowd expressed that health care was both a right and a responsibility and were in favor of government intervention for changes to the system.

  • Several stressed the importance of a focus on end of life decisions that contribute significantly to the rising costs and felt that this was an issue that also needed attention.

  • As in other forums, people spoke to the escalating problems due to the shortage of doctors especially those in primary practice or internists. Questions were raised about what kind of incentives might encourage more doctors in this category to be trained, graduate and practice.

  • Some were distressed with the complexity of medical records and the difficulties in deciphering the medical paperwork from service providers, insurance companies and others in the system. They suggested a far greater need for clarity and transparency.
  • There was considerable understanding that the problems of so many uninsured Americans had consequences that were negative for all. “One way or another those who can pay, will pay.”

Although this was our final stop in Tifton for now, we hope to plan more forums in this part of the state AND to train people in the community to frame and moderate issues. More on that in the coming months.... Our next (and final!) community forum this fall, “The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future” will be held on next Tuesday, October 28th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Richard Russell Library in Athens, GA. If you are in the Athens area we hope you'll join us for this deliberation. For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library website or call (706) 542-5788.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Women of Highlander Live On...

On Sunday, 19th the Russell Library hosted, “The Untold Story of Women’s Leadership at Highlander Research and Education Center: 75 Years of Fighting for Freedom,” at the Demosthenian Hall on North Campus. In her presentation, guest speaker Colleen McDermott, a doctoral candidate in the program of Adult Education at UGA, spoke about the major contributions of the female staff members at this institution – how they shaped its direction, success, and ultimately its endurance. Dr. Tom Valentine provided brief but glowing introductions to the speaker, his longtime student.

During the last several years McDermott has conducted extensive interviews with current and former staff members at the Highlander Center for Research and Education, as well as conducted research in the institution’s archives. Her work has allowed for the identification of the vital leadership roles played by women at this important center for civil and human rights advancement. This topic – a labor of love for McDermott -- is both the focus of her dissertation and the centerpiece of a forthcoming book on which she is currently working.

The speaker used a short video describing Highlander’s history as a visual aid, pausing at various points to identify important women on the screen and to expound on the small and large ways that each contributed to the school’s development. They were fundraisers, teachers, and strike organizers. They introduced music and theatrical performance to the school’s regular activities. More than anything they succeeded in bringing a genuine hospitality to this place, contributing to an atmosphere of trust and comfort in tumultuous times. In discussing Highlander’s citizenship school initiative, an effort to promote literacy and therefore voter viability in the South Carolina Sea Islands, McDermott choked up for a moment when recalling the incredible achievements of this female-led education project. She moved from past to present seamlessly, ending with a few words about the current Director of Highlander, Pam McMichael, and the move towards a less hierarchical leadership model at the Center. Following the presentation, McDermott fielded questions from the audience and journeyed to the Russell Library for glimpse at the new exhibit.

The film screened during this presentation is currently on view at the Russell Library, as part of the exhibition Weaving the Threads of Justice: Highlander Center, 1932-2007 . The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday-Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm, through November 30, 2008.

As we near the end of October, we have ONLY two more events in the Weaving program series: “The South and Appalachia – Linking to the World: The Current Concerns and Initiatives of the Highlander Research and Education Center(Sunday, October 26th 3-5 p.m., Athens-Clarke County Public Library) and “Reflections on Songs, Actions, & Social Justice: Film Lecture and Music from Guy and Candie Carwan” (Sunday, November 16th, 2-5 p.m., Russell Library). Be sure to catch these wonderful programs while you still can!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Forums

Updates From Tifton and Atlanta

On the road again…the Russell Forum for CivicLife in Georgia has hosted two forums since last we blogged. The first deliberation, “News Media and Society, How to Restore the Public Trust” took place on Thursday, October 9th at the Welcome Station in downtown Tifton, Georgia. A small but mighty crowd of participants gathered to consider the widespread mistrust of the modern media in America and the steps we must take to re-establish trust once placed in newspapers, reporters, and broadcasters. Co-moderating this forum were Dr. Margaret Holt, a retired professor from UGA, and Dr. Veronica Adams-Cooper, a professor of Sociology at Albany State University. Students Kelly Frizzell (UGA) and Stefon Plummer (Albany State University) tended to the duties of observing and recording the events of the deliberation, respectively.

The night’s discussion was varied, but continually turned back to the blurring of lines between news, media, and propaganda. Comments frequently expressed a fear that many Americans don’t differentiate between television personalities who express opinions versus viable newspapers and nightly news programs which report facts. Even then, the crowd drew distinctions between local and national news sources – feeling that they could count on their local newspaper much more than many national sources which tend to reflect left or right-leaning biases. Although this crowd had a lively discussion with differing perspectives, they expressed a shared concern for this problem, especially in light of the recent economic crisis – this is a time when Americans need to be able to trust in their new sources. They favored Approach 3 (get citizens involved), and the idea that it is up to citizens to “use the off button” and develop alternative news sources until the main stream media responds to an increasing demand for honest, solid reporting of events.

Then...On Monday, October 13th the venue was the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. The topic, “What is the 21st Century Mission for Public Schools.” A crowd of twenty men and women tore through this issue with passion, leaving barely a silent moment in the two hour deliberation. Dr. Marshalita Peterson, a professor of education at Spelman College, moderated this forum with introductions from Dr. Margaret Holt. Jill Severn ably returned to the role of recorder, while Jan Levinson served as an observer for this event. Of all the forums held this fall, the crowd in Atlanta on this occasion certainly proved to be the most lively and outspoken thus far.

A kick-off question from the moderator: Before reading any of the literature provided at the forum, what would you have said should be the mission of our public schools? Some responded that we should return to an emphasis on basic skills (reading, writing, and arithmetic) which serve as the building blocks for everything else. Others favored helping students to become good citizens, infusing the classroom with global perspective, or focusing on the skills that would prove useful in the workplace. The varied responses to this initial question set the tone for a great deliberation. Highlights from this discussion:

  • In discussing Approach 1 (preparing students for the workplace) many suggested that we can’t anticipate what the workplace will be forty years from now – so how would we decide what skills to teach now?
  • Some favored the idea of incorporating more technology and felt that this approach is a way of infusing what is learned inside the classroom with applicability to the real world – something that might help students stay focused and engaged.
  • Feelings on Approach 2 (preparing students to be thoughtful citizens) were mixed. While many expressed that they liked this model the best, they wrestled with how it could be implemented effectively into a curriculum without being too overt.
  • One very thoughtful comment was that teaching citizenship in schools doesn’t replace what is learned at home – but it does reinforce those ideas and shows kids other examples of respect and civic engagement in their teachers and peers.
  • When comments turned to the promises of presidential candidates, one participant relayed dismay that the refrain “the children are our future” has become nothing more than a good sound byte. Lightening the mood, another participant added that maybe can always just “drill baby drill” for more children. This exchange conveyed the frustration many people are feeling about a long presidential race and debates filled with unanswered questions.
  • Approach 3 (help students discover and develop individual talents) received mixed reviews – participants favored the notion of smaller class size and greater community involvement, but worried that public schools are not a place to specialize. Attendees suggested that it is important for a student to know what he or she is good at – but equally significant to know their weaknesses and learn to cope with more difficult subjects and concepts.

Two more successful forums for civic engagement! For those in Athens and the surrounding area, we hope to see you at the next public forum, “Making Ends Meet: Is There A Way to Help Working Americans?" this Thursday, October 16th at the Oconee County Public Library in Watkinsville. For more information please visit or call (706) 542-5788.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Standing Room Only!

Debate Watch 2008 at the Russell Library

Excitement was in the air last night as over 80 people
packed into every nook and cranny of the Russell Library’s auditorium to watch the second Presidential Debate. Dr. Paul Gurian, Professor of Political Science at UGA and an expert on campaign strategy, kicked off the program at 8:30 pm with a brief introduction to characteristics of the town hall style debate and an overview of the goals that he expected each candidate to set for their respective performances. Gurian also shared some statistics on the impact high-stakes presidential debates have made historically on potential voters. Just before 9:00pm everyone found a seat (in a chair, on the ground, or even in the lobby), grabbed drinks and snacks, and settled in for the night. Following the debate Dr. Gurian fielded general questions and comments from the crowd, many of whom suggested what sound bytes the media might focus on in the coming days.

Thanks to everyone who made this event such a success! We encourage you to tune in for the third Presidential debate, scheduled for next Wednesday, October 15th at 9:00pm (EST). And to all those in the Athens area, we hope to see you at the Russell’s next community forum, “Making Ends Meet: Is There a Way to Help Working Americans” on Thursday, October 16th from 7:00-9:00 PM at the Oconee Public Library, 1080 Experiment Station Road, Watkinsville, GA. This event is free and open to the public -- light snacks will be provided – thoughtful discussion expected!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Seeing Red in Black: A Lecture at Demosthenian Hall

On Sunday, October 5th the Russell Library hosted, “Seeing Red in Black: White Southern Leaders Fight Desegregation,” at the Demosthenian Hall on the UGA campus. Speakers at this event, the third in the Weaving the Threads of Justice program series, drew upon film, video, and documents from archival collections at the Russell Library to explore the tactics employed by key Georgia segregationists to discredit and undermine the Civil Rights Movement.

Demosthenian Hall, the fourth oldest building on the UGA campus (ca. 1824), provided a distinguished setting for this discussion of racial politics in the South. Jill Severn, head of access and outreach for the Russell Library, provided brief introductions to the topic and speaker and extended thanks to the audience of students and faculty for their attendance. Craig Breaden, head of Media and Oral History at the Russell Library, proceeded with a well-written talk in which he described they ways white segregationists used propaganda techniques to link the Civil Rights Movement to Communism, in the hopes of undermining the efforts of the former with the notorious reputation of the latter. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of was a film created by Ed Friend and produced by the Georgia Commission of Education, which depicts interracial activities at the Highlander Folk School on the occasion of the School’s 25th anniversary. Still images from this film were later used in the production of a broadside titled “Labor Day Weekend at Communist Training School, 1957,” which was disseminated to prominent politicians and citizens throughout the South. Breaden showed the silent film (a part of the Russell Library's permanent collection) and offered some commentary on the circumstances surrounding its creation and use.

The presentation concluded at 4:15, leaving ample time for attendees to partake of some delicious treats and reflective discussion in the downstairs hall. We look forward to seeing everyone at the next Weaving program, “The Untold Story of Women’s Leadership at the Highlander Research and Education Center on Sunday, October 19th at 3:00p.m. at the Demosthenian Hall. Thanks to the extra efforts of both Craig and one of our dedicated student workers, we were able to record the lecture and should have a podcast up on the website shortly!

Running Out of Steam: Considering the Energy Problem at the Carter Library

Thursday, October 2nd marked the second event in the Georgia Deliberations 2008 program series at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia. The topic of the afternoon’s deliberation, “The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future” brought out impassioned and informed commentary from an audience of nearly 40 attendees, as well as an appearance from the Carter Library’s Director, Jay Hakes. Jill Severn and Margaret Holt co-moderated this event, while Matt Garrett (Assistant Director, Emory University’s Center for Student Leadership and Engagement) recorded the happenings of the deliberation.

The deliberation got off to a fast start when moderators asked the crowd what came to into the mind of an average American when someone mentioned the “energy crisis”. High gas prices seemed to resonate with most people, though the majority of this group seemed far more concerned with the environmental impacts of drilling and the increased risks posed by global warming. Throughout the afternoon’s discussion, the audience voiced that although increasing costs are an important concern for all Americans, it is important to keep the big picture and long-term impact of our dependence on oil in the forefront of this discussion.

Notable Comments from this discussion:

  • Where is the breaking point? Several attendees mentioned that we don’t yet know what it will take to decrease oil consumption in the US. As prices continue to climb, people are cutting back, but what will it take for people to stop relying on gas?
  • The crowd found numerous problems with Approach 1 – which suggested a focus on reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. Most attendees agreed that even if the US tapped its oil reserves, this supply would go into a global market and could be exported to a higher bidder overseas – leaving Americans high and dry.
  • In discussion of Approach 2 – investigating alternative fuel sources – the point was made that there is no truly benign energy source available. Many took issue with the suggestion that nuclear power is a viable alternative and discussed the negative impacts of this energy source.
  • Partisan speech played a role in discussing Approach 3 – reducing energy consumption with government regulation. Some attendees looked forward, mentioning the proposed energy platforms of the current Presidential candidates. Others made frequent references to the policy decisions of the Cater and Reagan administrations. It seemed that no politicians have (or had) all the answers.
  • One great (and hopeful) comparison was drawn in a brief discussion of the drought in Georgia. Since residents have been forced to restrict their water usage during this period they have managed by employing various conservation measures. Now, people brag about the ways they save on water. If similar restrictions were placed on energy, might we see a similar result?
  • The final point made in the deliberation was this: when people are pushed to the edge, they will revert back to the basics to survive. But, as a culture we have to think more about each other and our environment and less about our own preferences and energy needs. We need to consider how we got to this place in our history and use that analysis as a starting point to make changes for the future.

The turnout in Atlanta was great – and the final comments from Director Hakes were a nice way to bring all the comments of the afternoon full circle. Our next forum, News Media and Society: How to Restore the Public Trust, will be held on this Thursday, October 9 from 7:00-9:00pm at the Tifton Welcome Station (Business Development Meeting Room, 502 Main Street, Tifton, GA). For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library homepage or call (706) 542-5788.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Future Ain't What It Used to Be: Discussing Community Prosperity in Tifton

On Tuesday, September 30th the Russell Library hosted the first of three public forums in the community of Tifton, Georgia – a town located less than 200 miles south of Athens, Georgia. The topic, “Pathways to Prosperity: Choosing a Future for Your Community,” brought out 25 attendees, including several candidates for public office and individuals engaged in a diverse range of professions in the surrounding area. The discussion was lively and established that attendees have many shared goals for the future of their community.

Dedicated volunteers Dr. Margaret Holt and Sharon Gibson served as co-moderators for the forum. Holt, a retired UGA professor, is a longtime associate of the National Issues Forums Institute and has moderated numerous forums in communities across the country. This fall, she has comoderated several forums as part of the Georgia Deliberations initiative by the Russell Library, the Jimmy Carter Library, and partners around the state.. Meanwhile Gibson, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension family and consumer science educator, brought a special connection to this deliberation – she is a former resident of Tifton. Both moderators directed a smooth and impartial discussion, guiding attendees through three approaches to achieving greater prosperity. Russell Library staff members Jill Severn and Jan Levinson were on hand to record and observe the deliberation.

The topic of this forum hit close to home, especially in light of this week’s news from Wall Street, and inspired some great discussion. In recent decades the South has been transformed by increased wealth and population, but the region is still grappling with how to manage that growth and what these changes mean for the future of individual communities.

Notable moments in the deliberation with Tifton residents:

  • Moderators began by asking the group what, if anything made the South a distinct place. Responses ranged from descriptions of small-town living to comments about poverty, rural life, and the high rate of illiteracy
  • The crowd largely criticized Approach 1. Comments suggested that before employing a “trickle-down” approach by bringing more jobs to the area, you have to combat poverty and illiteracy in the region. You have to create a strong work force before attracting the right kind of businesses.
  • One citizen astutely commented that before you can pick out a path to prosperity, you have to decide what prosperity means to your community. He noted that it isn’t always about money, but about the quality of life in a place.
  • The crowd seemed to favor Approach 2, investing in people first. The suggestion was made to establish more informal, community-based education opportunities rather than depending solely on the public school system.

  • Everyone favored taking a smart approach to managing growth, citing the results of poorly managed growth in nearby cities and recognizing that good zoning and public-private partnerships would most benefit Tifton.

The next public forum, The Energy Problem: Choices for an Uncertain Future,will be held on this Thursday, October 2nd from 3:00-5:00pm at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library For more information on this, and other upcoming public forums, please visit Russell Library homepage or call (706) 542-5788.