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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Thursday, October 01, 2015

No axe to grind for Wood

No axe to grind for Wood

In less than a couple of weeks, the speaker on our stage will be someone who has publicly expressed a degree of skepticism regarding climate science and anthropogenic climate change. We've received a fair bit of pushback from members of The City Club and the broader community about this. It's a great opportunity to explain a bit about what we do, how we do it, and why.

In this specific case, the speaker is Peter Wood, the President of the National Association of Scholars and a former associate provost and anthropology professor at Boston University. You can evaluate his claims on the environment and climate science for yourself, and he'll be talking about the impact of the sustainability movement on higher education. It seems to come out of this work.

Objection has come from a few different places--some worried about his thesis, others about his past positions. Much of the back and forth happened on Twitter.

So how and why does a guy like Peter Wood (or anyone with a strong point of view, for that matter) make it to a City Club forum? In this case, the suggestion came through a community member, a professor at one of our higher education institutions, who had secured funding to bring Wood in for a speech and thought it might be useful to offer him to us, so that others might hear him beyond the academy's ivory tower. Being generally interested in thought-provoking points of view from across the spectrum, particularly when they are offered by leaders of national organizations who are publishing in places as diverse as the Chronicle of Higher Education and Huffington Post, and particularly when they are people who are obviously influencing the national conversation on important issues, we're inclined to see if we can make it work.

Speakers also come from other places. Sometimes they come out of the work of our Program Committee, or some of our member-led committees (we have one on education, another on world affairs, one that's emerging on urban planning and transportation, and, of course, we would welcome the formation of one on the environment). Sometimes we get pitched by publishers and others. Sometimes we collaborate with local community organizations.

In every case, there are always calendars to align, and considerations to be made in order to achieve a broad sense of balance on perspectives offered over the course of a given period of time. So for every Peter Wood, there's a David Orr; and for every Rex Tillerson, there's a Majora Carter or Mark Tercek. On other topics, it works the same way: for every Jason Riley, there's a Ta-Nehisi Coates, for every Senator Portman, there's a Senator Brown, for every Noura Erakat, there's an Ari Shavit.

The most important part of all of this for the City Club is the opportunity for engagement. There is a lot of convening that happens in our community, and a lot of organizations that have a strong point of view. Here at the City Club, we strive to put our own points of view aside in favor of providing that necessary neutral space at the center of the community, so that an informed and engaged democracy can thrive. Ralph Hayes had my job in 1916, and among the legacies he left us is the Creed of the City Club of Cleveland, a copy of which hangs on my wall and the wall of our library. The line that resonates most strongly with this conversation is this:

I have no axe to grind, no logs to roll. My abode shall be the rendezvous of strong but open-minded men and my watchword shall be “information” not “reformation.” 

In other words, as an institution, we are issue agnostic and outcome agnostic, but we know a conversation worth having when we see it, and we are fierce advocates of engagement.

Moments like this test our commitment and the commitment of our members. But what our members and the community get from The City Club is an opportunity unlike that at any other venue. After all, The City Club forum is the only place in our community where an environmental advocate can ask one of the nation's most powerful oil men why his company has played both sides of the climate change debate, where a voter can directly ask a sitting U.S. President about the false intelligence that led to the Iraq War, or where a supporter of Israel can ask a leading Palestinian American scholar to explain the actions of Hezbollah.

We think there's unique value in that. That's why we choose to work here, and why we work so hard to bring so many important dialogues to the community.

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