Call it a forum or an exchange, just don’t call it a peace rally

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The midvalley residents who are organizing a forum about Iraq tonight are carefully avoiding labels like “peace rally” for one simple reason. People who think Saddam Hussein should be bombed to kingdom come are welcome, too.

The idea of the forum isn’t to promote one philosophy, said Dave Reed, one of the organizers. It’s to encourage an exchange of ideas and perspectives.

“The forum is whatever people want to make of it,” he said.

He and other organizers feared that peace promoters might feel the forum was too “wishy-washy.” On the flip side, they feared residents who support aggressive action against Hussein and Iraq may feel the gathering is a thinly cloaked peace rally.

But now, Reed said, he is convinced that this neutral type of forum has the potential to draw an audience. He senses many people have taken a “middle ground” on the Iraq issue and haven’t decided yet if military intervention is necessary.

The forum, he said, may help them sort through the issue. The free “Community Forum on Iraq” will be held at the Basalt Middle School tonight from 6:30 to 8:30.

Instead of a debate, rally or even mass discussion, the participants will break into small groups featuring a topic of special interest. The small groups will each have a moderator to assist discussion.

One group will feature the perspectives of families of soldiers who have been called to Iraq or could be called to service. Another group will discuss the religion of Islam. Helping that discussion will be Ibrahim Kazerooni, an official with the Islamic Center of Denver.

As could be expected, two groups will deal with the pivotal issue of the Iraq situation. One will discuss peaceful solutions while another will feature pro-regime change opinions, according to Reed.

A fifth small group, headed by a high school student, will discuss implications of a draft.

Participants will be able to pick what group or groups they participate in.

Reed and the other organizers believe the forum will be a success if participants are inspired enough to follow up with other gatherings in the future.

The emphasis will be on establishing a situation where people can express their ideas without fear of being criticized or shouted down, Reed said. He thinks it would be healthy for people to express their true feelings on the topic, something like therapy.

The idea for the forum was hatched when Reed approached the Basalt Town Council late last year and encouraged them to pass a resolution making some type of statement about the potential for conflict in Iraq. The council declined but encouraged Reed to organize some type of broader community discussion. He took them up on the offer, and the idea was embraced by local religious leaders.

The organizers stressed, however, that the forum isn’t meant to be a religious event.

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