- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2003

In Massachusetts, high school students will square off against senior citizens. In Denver, ex-U.S. senators will exchange verbal jabs.

All over the country, people are sharpening their rhetorical skills as they prepare to join in an ambitious plan to get Americans talking about the nation’s role in the world.

An unlikely collection of liberal and conservative groups are working together on “The People Speak” — which is aiming to spur a nationwide, town-by-town debate on foreign policy and the United Nations. The groups have helped organize more than 1,000 debates in 49 states starting Monday and playing out over the next several weeks.

The world is changing rapidly, organizers say, and people need to talk without sound bites or slogans.

“We’ve got everyone from the right wing to the left wing. Everyone is agreeing it’s time to discuss and debate these issues,” said Tim Averill, a Massachusetts high school teacher whose students are taking part. “One thing that’s clear, as I was telling my class this morning, is that America has embarked on a significant shift in its foreign policy.”

His students will hold a weekend debate tournament focused on foreign policy, with their top two champions to debate in late October with the best from Brooksby Village, a senior center in Peabody, Mass.

Elsewhere, there will be noon debates at the skywalk in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 30; ex-governors and an arms-control analyst arguing in New Mexico on Oct. 6; and a living room showdown in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., by month’s end.

The biggest gatherings will bring top think-tank theorists, former ambassadors, politicians and activists to 14 larger cities.

“This is the kind of debate that’s really long overdue,” said Tom Donnelly, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Having a debate amongst Americans about what kind of world we want to make is really quite timely.”

The past two years have brought sweeping developments: the September 11 attacks and the war on terrorism; the Bush administration’s announcement that pre-emptive attacks may be necessary; the arguments at the United Nations over Iraq; nuclear worries in Iran and North Korea.

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