1996-1997 indexDistributed February 12, 1997
1,800 in eight states cast their citizen ballot
Participants in public policy program favor an American foreign policy that emphasizes international cooperation in a post-Cold War world
Participants in the Choices for the 21st Century public policy discussion series, held in libraries in eight states, deliberated the question "What is America and what do we want it to be?" then cast a "citizen ballot" for the foreign policy role they would like to see the United States play. Fifty-four percent favored a strategy of international cooperation, "even if we have to sacrifice some of our sovereignty."
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- U.S. foreign policy should emphasize global solutions to global problems, even if that means the United States must sacrifice some of its sovereignty.
That is the choice preferred by 54 percent of participants in a series of public policy discussions held in eight states. Their challenge was to explore and deliberate America's role in the post-Cold War world through a program called Choices for the 21st Century, a non-partisan, four-part discussion series that encourages deliberation on the question "What is America and what do we want it to be?"
The project is a partnership among Brown University's Choices for the 21st Century Education Project, state library systems and humanities councils, and local public libraries. Support comes from a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"People really enjoyed these discussions," said Susan Graseck, director for the Choices for the 21st Century Project. "There is a yearning among the American public for something more meaningful than sound bites and political snipes. This is the hard work of democracy: wrestling collectively with an issue so intangible, yet so contentious, as our nation's future in the changing international environment."
The heart of the Choices series is an exploration of four distinct visions, or "futures," that represent contrasting foreign policy objectives. Participants weighed the pros and cons of these futures and evaluated them in light of current foreign policy challenges. At the conclusion of the four-part series, each participant was invited to cast a "citizen ballot" for the foreign policy role they would like to see the United States play, and to construct a fifth "future" that expressed his or her own considered foreign policy priorities and objectives.
A six-page report and analysis of 1996 citizen ballots, including data on public attitudes toward the environment, United Nations, military operations, immigration and trade, is being sent to elected officials.
Among the four futures, a slight majority (54 percent) favored a strategy of international cooperation to address common problems, "even if we (the United States) have to sacrifice some of our sovereignty (for example, giving up the right to use military force abroad without U.N. approval)."
The second-choice future, preferred by 19 percent of participants, favored "protecting U.S. interests abroad, even if this means supporting governments that are undemocratic and do not support human rights." The third-ranked future, preferred by 16 percent, calls for the United States to give top priority to "promoting human rights and democracy worldwide" by supporting democratic states and opposing dictators and abusers of human rights "even if this antagonizes governments with which we have friendly relations." The lowest-ranked future, preferred by only 11 percent, calls for the United States to "greatly reduce its involvement overseas and focus on problems at home, even if we have to turn a blind eye to war and aggression outside of North America."
The ballot also asked participants to identify the three greatest foreign policy concerns (from a list of 11) that the United States faces over the next decade. The chief concern among the participants was that "damage to the global environment will become irreparable" (59 percent), followed by a concern that "the gulf between the developed and developing worlds will widen, making it increasingly difficult to address common problems" (53 percent), and that "aggressive nationalism will fuel conflict and instability in the developing world" (41 percent).
Editors: Copies of the six-page report and analysis of 1996 citizen ballots, including data on public attitudes toward the environment, United Nations, military operations, immigration and trade, are available from the Brown University News Bureau. More information about the Choices project is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.brown.edu/Research/Choices/.
About 1,800 people in eight states - Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia - participated in the 1996 Choices discussion series. The 88 host libraries were located in a variety of communities: urban, rural and suburban; industrial and agricultural; border towns and state capitals.
About 42 percent of the participants were men. Participants ranged in age from high school students to senior citizens. All educational levels were represented, from those with less than a high school diploma to those with graduate education.
In 1997-98, the program will be offered in 175 communities in 14 states - Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Most participants (96 percent) said the Choices experience would lead them to look for similar discussions, to read more, and or to be more involved in civic affairs.