For the past two years (actually the past 32 years), I’ve struggled to create ways to increase understanding and decrease misunderstanding between the two nuclear superpowers: the U.S. and Russia. Why?––to offset the odds of a global nuclear war. We thought our work at CCI was finished in the mid-2000s! But politically these two nations are back at it again in 2015: building new missile systems, posting them on the others’ borders, flying supersonic jets equipped with megatons of destruction every day––by false alarm, accident or intention, the entire world is going through an extremely dangerous era at present. And these facts are getting very little exposure in American mainstream media.
What can we concerned and intelligent citizens do, if anything?
CCI’s single most effective program over the years was SMMA (Soviets Meet Middle America!), a two-year, first-ever venture that brought many hundreds of Soviet citizens to 264 American cities where they were home hosted and participated in talks with Americans in Rotary Clubs, schools, universities, libraries, book clubs, businesses, churches, synagogues, TV stations, radio talk shows and newspaper offices. They even had evening discussion opportunities in homes. The Soviets slept in American bedrooms, ate breakfast over kitchen tables, discussed their countries, differences and similarities, in addition to local and international politics. Both shared their dreams and hopes for their futures and committed to work in their countries to dispel erroneous misconceptions and to build human bridges between them. And they did! Russians went home and became purveyors of positive stories and warm information about America.
Today Russian and American SMMA participants still reminisce about what that exposure has meant to them throughout the past 28 years. Russians say they could never be propagandized about American people again. They may disagree with current government leaders in one or both countries, but they know American citizens have hearts of gold. Americans felt the same about their new Russian friends; they were so relieved to discuss issues and find that they held the same values and hopes. SMMA softened the political environment between the U.S. and the USSR in the late 1980s — and a similar program can do the same again today between these two countries.
In the 1990s and 2000s those same Americans and Russians became the backbone of CCI’s rapidly developing business training programs. We relied on them to vet Russian candidates coming for extensive management training in American companies (and homes). We still have networks in both countries that will provide fresh new candidates for the new program. I discussed this possibility with gatherings of CCI’s Russian alumni on my recent trips––they are ready to publicize this program to their colleagues, young business and professional contacts––and their adult sons and daughters.
SMMA needs to happen again––and it needs a new name!
How about one of the following for a program name?
American-Russian Meetups! (ARMU)––or Russian-American Meetups! (RAMU) – or Russians Meet Middle America (RMMA)
The title is still debatable––we are looking for a better one. Maybe you have suggestions?
Whatever the name, it will work in the following manner:
- Four English-speaking Russian citizens from four different Russian cities will comprise one Team.
- One team will be two men and two women (making it easy for overnight accommodations in homes)
- They will be selected and vetted by CCI and will not be bureaucrats or party affiliated.
- They will be entrepreneurs in the fields of private medicine, schools, construction, food products, services, etc.
- They will all be educated, knowledgeable and average professional citizens of today’s Russia.
- They will pay their own international transportation and spending money.
- They will visit four cities for three days to have direct interactions with American counterparts.
- The American team will provide pro bono housing, food and transport for the Russians for three days.
- American host committees will put together numerous opportunities for presentations and discussions.
- CCI will prepare colorful professional materials to assist with planning and program development.
- CCI will fundraise to pay for internal USA airfare and insurance for ARMU Russians.
- CCI will raise funds to hire staff to run this program. I can work free but young staff cannot.
- CCI will be responsible for PR.
One such group would make very little difference to the scope of challenges faced by today’s US-Russia standoff.
But four such groups over many months for two years would create an avalanche of activity, media attention and PR across America! Coupled with the fact that some groups will go to Washington to meet with Congress members and think tanks, this effort could stimulate a vast amount of interactions, education and goodwill in a short amount of time.
If four groups travel to four cities each month for two years and meet 100 people, they will reach 38,000 Americans.
If they meet with or are heard by 250 Americans the total impact will be 96,000.
If they meet or are heard by 500 Americans it will be 192,000 people.
If the groups meet and are carried by any type of media and are heard by 1000 people, the total will be 384,000.
Should even one group be carried on ABC, CNN, or NBC it will immediately jump to millions of listeners.
The SMMA program in 1988/89 generated more than a thousand newspaper articles, radio interviews and TV news spots. With today’s technology and social media, it could go viral and create a windfall of education and goodwill!
If you have read this far and are interested, please use our contact form and let me know the following:
- Could you host or co-host a group of four Russians for three days in your city/town?
- If not, do you know of anyone in your city you could recommend for this role?
- Could you be a home host for two Russian citizens for three days?
- Could you put together a local team of 4 to 10 Americans to help organize their three day stay?
- Could you find sufficient transport to and from airports and meetings?
- Would you be interested in taking the first experimental delegation?
Please feel free to use our contact form if you have any questions.
Thanks so much for helping this citizen-to-citizen initiative to leap into reality!
President and Founder
Center for Citizen Initiatives