This essay is written in the form of a dialogue among students at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, a Professor Andrews, and a Ms. Waynem. Waynem: As Professor Andrews mentioned in his introduction, I was chairperson of the Massachusetts League of Women Voters when the league sponsored a series of meetings known as ``the Dialogue.'' The Dialogue gathered people in cities across America to ask, ``How will peace come about between the United States and the Soviet Union?'' Following each dialogue, a Message to Washington and a Message to Moscow were sent to the major policymakers of the two superpowers.
Many believe that it was the mandate that was sent to American and Soviet leaders from these dialogues that catalyzed a dramatic change in the US-Soviet relationship.
The league, responding to the deepening rift in US-Soviet relations and an increasing fear in the American people about the heightened risk of war, decided to take on this very issue. . . . The pilot dialogue was run in 1985. On one day, in each of the seven cities -- Boston, San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, and Atlanta -- hundreds of people held a dialogue about how peace would come about . . . .
The cities were linked by slow-scan television. There was an effort made to include all parts of the American community, and an extraordinary mix of people was present: conservatively minded and liberally minded people, rich people and poor, blue bloods and recent immigrants, young and old. What was unusual about the Dialogue was not only that very different ends of the spectrum were present, but that everyone had an opportunity to speak.
There was a climate created that day that encouraged understanding. The purpose was to spark dialogue and to explore differences rather than force consensus. In this atmosphere, extremely divergent views about peace between the Soviets and Americans were expressed. However, a surprising amount of commonly shared beliefs were uncovered: (1) that nuclear war is not winnable; (2) we don't understand the Soviets and they don't understand us; and (3), given the current nuclear threat, we have to talk to the Soviets. There was the beginning of a belief that things could be different.
[These dialogues expanded in 1986 to each of the 50 states.]
Late in 1986 the Soviets began to take note. Contact was made with Soviet groups interested in the Dialogue through the Sister Cities Program (which already had 24 cities paired up by the early '80s. In 1987, the Dialogue was extended to our Soviet counterparts and held between eight Soviet and eight American cities.
Student: Given the intense control of information in the Soviet system and the Soviets' strong distrust of America in those days, how could their bureaucracy have allowed this to happen?
Waynem: Your concern is well placed. Americans were surprised at the time also. But because of the media, the Soviets were able to watch America talking about them, the Soviets. Americans showed they were deeply concerned about war. And they were saying that the way conflict will be resolved is through communication. From widely divergent camps, Americans were communicating with each other. Communicating with their leaders. People saw that human concerns for family and future generations reached across ideological differences. The Soviets saw, as did the world, that the Americans were trying to come up with a consistent and long-range approach to US-Soviet relations.
Student: What, then, was the reaction of the American leaders?
Waynem: At first, not much. From 1985 to 1987 very little changed in the Geneva process. In 1987 and 1988, however, statements by President Reagan began to reflect more and more the statements that were emerging from the dialogues.
In 1988, the comprehensive arms control talks that had begun in Geneva changed their name to the Common Security Talks and took on a new orientation.
Student: In 1989 President Reagan was leaving office. Is this when he announced the goal of ``Peace in the year 2000''?
Waynem: Yes. We believe, in fact, that the breakthroughs on measurement of destructive force and modified on-site inspection were only technical tools and that it was the commitment to peace he made with the bipartisan group ``Peace 2000'' that proved to be the true impetus to advancing the talks. Reagan set a tone that matched the mood of the country. Much like President Kennedy's commitment to put a person on the moon in 10 years, there was now a year by which people expected there would be peace between the two superpowers.
Student: So can you really say we have peace on earth now, in the year 2010? What about hunger, the environment, poverty, racism?
Waynem: We have cleared away the great threat, that our relationship with the Soviet Union could provoke nuclear war. . . . The kind of communication for the resolution of conflict that began in the Dialogue . . . serves us in the challenges of today.