As the United Nations sets its development agenda priorities, to be finalized in 2015, it is taking a “My World” survey on the road internationally and making it available online and in print. That includes 11 “Millennium Development Goal” consultation events in the United States, held from September through December this year.
One of those was in Tampa, Florida, on Tuesday evening, with approximately 180 attendees at the Glazer Children’s Museum — and the next will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday. The UN Tampa Bay chapter president, Sara McMillan, described it as “voices in Tampa Bay . . . shaping the world we want . . . a gathering of Tampa Bay citizens who are concerned about vital issues that affect us all.”
Participants received a survey in advance (pictured) that asked them to identify their top six priorities out of a list of 16 economic and political considerations — from job opportunities to political freedoms. Organizers then assigned people into discussion groups capped at 11 individuals and in line with their interests.
Each breakout group had a coordinator, with starter questions, and a note-taker for about 90 minutes of discussion. While the note-taker recorded basic responses, he or she did not record each individual’s name, so participant input could remain anonymous. A representative from each group then shared summary notes with all attendees, followed by concluding remarks from McMillan.
The survey data is available as it comes in, and the discussion input will go along with this data to the UN High Level Panel for Post-2015. It will then “feed into their final report and recommendations for a new development framework in May 2013” and be an underlying resource through to the next development agenda in 2015.
While the notes from the discussion leaders were varied, education appeared to be the buzzword of the evening, along with the potential afforded by technological innovation.
“One theme that was under education . . . a subtopic that was interesting,” McMillan shared, was “getting more students involved in international affairs, in actual high schools . . . in the world, outside of what they know.”
Perhaps testament to the openness of the format, these discussions also came with their share of ironies and disagreements. The gender equality breakout of 11 individuals, for example, did not feature any men — presumably because none sought to participate — and the breakout for political freedoms included defenders of “benevolent dictatorships.”
Nicole Ford, a PhD student in political science with a focus on Russia at the University of South Florida, was in the political freedoms breakout and reported back to all attendees. The goal, she says, “is that the United Nations will get this . . . and hopefully something can be learned. My own concern was whether or not people have an ability to express what they want politically and how change can be affected in that regard for those who feel disenfranchised.”
Ford also advocates for an alternative to the United Nations, the World Social Forum, as a counterbalance. She highlights WSF’s lack of organization.
“They don’t really have a leader . . . There is no head of the World Social Forum. And in a way, things get done in that regard. They’re able to train people to act on their own behalf in their own countries . . . and unlike the United Nations . . . there is less holdup . . . with less bureaucracy getting in the way.”
Each attendee received a promotional packet, with an explanation of the United Nations organizational structure (see here) and a ready-made advocacy postcard (pictured) for the US Congress. The postcard calls for engagement and “full funding” for the UN and UN peacekeeping operations.
“The UN is a vital global forum for diplomacy, discussion, and action to resolve the pressing issues of the world,” it reads. “The UN will not succeed without strong U.S. commitment . . .”
As this postcard notes, the United Nations has considerable support in the United States, consistent with sentiments in other countries. Pew Research, for example, has found that 58 percent of people in the United States have a favorable view of its purpose, equal to the international average. However, according to Gallup, only 35 percent say the United Nations is doing a good job at addressing its stated goals.
On the other hand, a firm minority continues to strongly oppose the United Nations’ presence in the United States — notably, traditionalist, libertarian, and paleoconservative organizations such as Eagle Forum, the Future of Freedom Foundation, and the John Birch Society.
“The United Nations has demonstrated time and again that it does not respect the sovereignty of the United States, nor of any nation,” says Bill Hahn of JBS. “The fundamental flaw is that through all of its conventions, charters, treaties and other publications the UN believes that it can grant rights to citizens through government. This is quite the opposite of what the American founders believed.”
Read Bill Hahn’s full response on The Canal.