FCNL Contact Holds Congressional Candidate Forum
All photos by Sonia Katchian, Photo Shuttle
On Monday, April 21, 2008, over 80 individuals gathered at the Carolina Friends School in Durham, NC, to hear North Carolina U.S. Senate candidates or their representatives talk about their views on how best to achieve peace. The event was the culmination of months of work that began when Tom Munk, an FCNL Contact from Chapel Hill Meeting, decided that the candidates were not going to make peace a priority in their campaigns unless voters stood up, took action, and started a dialogue about the best way to move the country away from a path of war and onto one of diplomacy, conflict prevention, and compassion.
At the beginning of the 2008 primary season, Tom was concerned that the debate about Iraq was limited to two sides – “Stay there” or “Withdraw” – with little discussion of broader issues like diplomacy and development. When Renee Prillaman expressed a similar concern during meeting, Tom approached her about working to inject peace issues into the political debate.
Tom and Renee decided to organize a nonpartisan peace forum with the three senatorial candidates. Tom selected six questions from FCNL’s “Questions for Candidates” guide that he thought would help structure dialogue. The questions touched on Iraq, Iran, nuclear weapons, torture, cluster bombs, diplomacy, and development. Tom believed that the forum would be most successful if it were framed, not as a debate, but as a space for dialogue, one that would allow the candidates learn the views of people in their state and the voters to better understand the candidates’ positions.
The initial phone calls inviting the candidates to participate in the forum met with little enthusiasm. The senatorial campaigns were reluctant to commit to a small event hosted by a Quaker meeting. Despite the rejections, Tom didn’t give up. He built a wider base of support for the event and tried again.
Tom asked members of Chapel Hill Meeting to reach out to other organizations with which they were affiliated and encourage them to cosponsor the candidate forum. Eventually 23 diverse organizations sponsored the event. The groups ranged from local NAACP chapters to Jewish and Baptist organizations to a very active group of retirees called “Elders for Peace.” With all 23 organizations reaching out to candidates’ offices, every campaign eventually committed to sending either the candidate or a representative.
Driven by focused and substantive dialogue, the forum was declared a great success by both the campaigns and the attendees. Each candidate or representative spoke for 20 minutes, touching on each of FCNL’s six questions. They then answered questions from the audience for 20 minutes.
Lindsey Neas, the top military advisor for incumbent Senator Elizabeth Dole, said he was extremely impressed with the forum and grateful for the opportunity to have such an informed, insightful, and respectful dialogue with a large group of peace activists. Most important, all three campaigns were able to speak to the issues outlined by FCNL’s six questions and educate attendees on their positions. Afterward Tom told FCNL, “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done as an activist.”
Host a Candidate Forum in Your Town
If you’re interested in holding a candidate forum in your town, now is the time to start! Tom began organizing the event in January and spent over three months making it work. Candidates will be touring your state vigorously in August and September, so it’s best to book them now before their schedules fill up! If you’re looking to get involved, Tom and the FCNL field team would be happy to provide advice or support; feel free to send any questions you might have to email@example.com.