GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 16, 2010

Building understanding

By Kendra Noyes
Staff Writer

It was September 2001, just a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Gloucester resident and international journalist Dan Connell had an idea.

He wanted to develop a program that would help educate Cape Ann residents about some of the global issues at work behind the global political climate — and he wanted, in perhaps some small way, to spark debate of those issues and help build better understanding.

So he launched a lecture program with a presentation called "Why Do They Hate Us?" — and drew 150 people to Gloucester's Unitarian Universalist Church.

With that, the Cape Ann Forum was born. The forum now kicks off its 10th year this Sunday at 7 p.m., with author and journalist Stephen Kinzer speaking at 7 p.m. in the Kyrouz Auditorium of Gloucester City Hall.

Kinzer's talk, titled "Facing Disaster in the Middle East: Is There a Way Out?," calls for a sweeping "reset" of American policy in the Middle East, according to the forum's web site.

Connell said he thought Kinzer was a perfect fit for this year's opening, because his new book "Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future" — released last spring — introduces ideas of how to think of the Middle East in new ways, according to Connell (see a "My View" column by Kinzer on today's Times Opinion page).

"The Middle East is an issue that engages the country so much," said Connell, relating to the presence of our Armed Forces involvement in the area.

Looking back on the forum's 2001 founding, Connell said he sensed "there was a hunger for people to understand better."

This need to know led Connell to another round of lectures encouraged by the residents. This time, the lectures were held in City Hall, where the Kyrouz Auditorium can handle up to 250 residents discussing these international issues, according to Connell.

After the success of the primary lectures, Connell formed the forum, and the program was granted formal, non-profit, tax-exempt status in 2002, according to the forum's web site. The forum is an all-volunteer organization which is supported solely by donations from people who participate in the activities. All of the lectures are free and open to the public.

Connell said the forum has evolved over the last nine years, but the singular mission to educate has been ongoing.

"They want to learn things," said Connell regarding the various levels of knowledge with which residents come into the lecture. "Speakers think that they have to dumb it down," he said.

That is not the case, he said. During the question-and-answer sessions over the years, people know a lot more than expected about the international issues at hand, according to Connell. And for those who might have only basic knowledge of a topic or issue, everyone can learn something, said Connell.

Over the years, the forum also broadened its focus to include what ongoing international issues are covered.

For example, environmental issues such as Arctic warming have been covered in addition to the original coverage on crisis and terrorism, according to Connell.

"I think that people are looking to know what's going on," said Connell. "They are frustrated by the disasters, but they don't get why."

"I look forward to a vigorous debate on these issues," said Connell, regarding Sunday's lecture. He also invites those who disagree with Kinzer to be just as outspoken as those who agree with him.

Upcoming forums that are already verified are "The Gulf Oil Spill and the Transformation of Our Oceans," by Deborah Cramer on Oct. 17, and a lecture titled "Chaplains Under Fire" to be presented by Lee Lawrence and Terry Nickelson on Nov. 21.

All the lectures are set for Sundays at 7 p.m. at Gloucester Town Hall.

Kendra Noyes can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or gt_reporter@gloucestertimes.com.

Cape Ann Forum 2010

What: Cape Ann Forum, free non-profit lecture series.

Who: Guest speaker, journalist and author Stephen Kinzer.

Where: Kyrouz Auditorium, Gloucester City Hall

When: Sunday, 7 p.m.