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The Charlemont Forum has been presenting thought-provoking forum events since 2010. Over the years we've covered a very diverse range of topics, with a description of each provided below.



Speaker:  David Little, Professor, retired Professor of the Practice in Religion, Ethnicity, and International Conflict at Harvard Divinity School, and an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

Topic: The influence of Reinhold Niebuhr on Barack Obama


The use and misuse of religion in american political life

I  Speakers:  Stephen Prothero, Professor in the Department of Religion, Boston University and Kathryn Lofton, assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University

Topic:  Religions in America: Source of Healing or Sower of Discord?

II  Speaker: David Wills, Professor of American History and American Studies, Amherst College

Topic: Has it Always Been Like This?  Religious Division and Political Partisanship in the American Past

III  Speaker: Gustav Niebuhr, Associate Professor Religion and Media at Syracuse University and respondent Richie Davis, Senior Writer, The Recorder

Topic: The Role of Media in Understanding Religion in American Political Life


Preserving democracy: problems of polarization in American politics and religion

I   A Conversation between David Little (above) and David Gergen, senior political analyst for CNN and Professor of public service and Director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School

Topic: Preserving Democracy: Problems of polarization in American Politics and Religion

II   Speaker: John Bonifaz, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Free Speech for People, Amherst

Topic: Reclaiming our Democracy.   In light of the current polarized political climate in the USA are electoral reforms desirable?  Is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision possible?  


Prophetic voices: economic inequality on trial

I  Speaker: Barry Shelley, political economist, who serves as the Global Agriculture and Climate Change Advisor for Oxfam America.   Advisor, Graduate Programs in Sustainable International Development (SID) at Brandeis University

Interlocutor:  David Specht, Director of Research and Organizational History Services for Seeing Things Whole, member of faculty, Program on Mediation and Applied Conflict Studies in the Woodbury Institute at Champlain College. 

Topic:  Debt, Austerity, and Sabbath Economics

 II Speaker: John Fox, professor of U.S. tax policy and poverty in the United States, Mount Holyoke College. 

Interlocutor: Fred McGinnis, Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College.

Topic: Winners  and Losers: Social Injustice and U.S. Income Tax  Policy: How our income tax  laws could help the poor in ways they help the rich.


The underpinnings of economic inequality in the united states

I Speaker: Gerald Friedman

Friedman, a political economist and professor at UMass Amherst , will examine the dramatic shift in American income levels as the middle class begins to disappear and an economic elite emerges to become the top one percent holding 35 percent of the country’s net worth and 42 percent of the nation’s wealth. 

II Speaker: Buz Eisenberg

A post-constitutional era: Have we arrived?

Attorney Eisenberg, a GCC professor of law and government, will draw on his experience representing Guantanamo detainees since 2004.  Witnessing what he describes as an assault on the ‘rule of law’ since 9/11, he will explore the question as to whether America has entered a post constitutional era in which justice has been sacrificed in the name of security. 


Immigration: Proud past, troubled present

I  June 19, (moderator: Pam Porter)

 “First Families of Charlemont: Who, When and Why?”
Aaron Miller, archaeologist and Joseph Allen Skinner Assistant Curator at the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum, focused on the history of Charlemont, MA encompassing the earliest identified Native American occupation in the Archaic Period (approximately 6,000 years ago) up to the arrival of Anglo-European settlers in the mid-18th century.  He also discussed a display of early artifacts.

The Melting Pot: Who’s Getting Burned?

II  July 8, (moderator: Peter Stevens)

First speaker: David Hernández, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Latina/o & Latin American Studies at Mt. Holyoke College offered a brief historical overview of the waves of immigration in this country, and then focused on a discussion of current detention/deportation proceedings. 

Second speaker: The Honorable William P. Joyce, former immigration judge and currently Managing Director of Joyce and Associates P.C. in Boston, shared his expertise on the bench of the Immigration Court of Boston on the interpretation of immigration law.

Third Speaker: Sofia Campos, an undocumented immigrant, presented her views on the complex issues surrounding the immigration debate from her personal experience.  

Immigration and Politics: Dilemmas and Solutions

III  August 6, (Moderator: David Little)  

First speaker: Alex Morse, Mayor of Holyoke, shared his experience as mayor of a city with a significant immigrant population. 

Second speaker: David A. Martin, Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law and Joel B. Piassick Research Professor of Law at the University of Virginia, is a leading scholar in immigration, constitutional law and international law.  His focus was on political policy as well as the ethical/moral considerations relating to immigration.  

Third Speaker: Marise Lyra, originally from Brazil, presented her views on the complex issues surrounding the immigration debate from her personal experience.


Migration, Resistance or reform: Cuba’s uncertain future 

Speaker: Carlos Eire is T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History & Religious Studies, Yale University and author of Waiting for Snow in Havana (National Book Award in Nonfiction in the United States - 2003) and Learning to Die in Miami (2010).   He spoke about his personal immigration experience and addressed, in light of the recent normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba, issues surrounding Cuba’s uncertain future.

Millennials, Boomers and the next America

Speaker: Paul Taylor, former Executive Vice President of the Pew Research Center and author of The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown, spoke to us about these two generational groups, especially the millennials, - young adults ages 18 to 35 – who are now the largest generation in the electorate.  Without their votes, Mitt Romney would be running for president this year as the incumbent, and Bernie Sanders would still be an obscure senator from Vermont. But their generation has also often been missing in action on Election Day -- "more throat than vote." What will they do this November? And what do their political, social and economic values tell us about the America of the 21st century?


“What to the slave is the fourth of July?”: a community reading of Frederick Douglass’ speech, Delivered 5 July 1852

A multi-media presentation, in collaboration with the Double Edge Theater of Ashfield, including singing of spirituals with Alice Parker and an exhibit of icons of the civil rights movement by Louise Minks, was followed by a facilitated discussion.

Democracy: What is it and why is it worth fighting for?

Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College, stated that today, some believe that the rule of law and democracy are under attack.  But could it be this is as much a symptom as a cause of our current crisis? Does America face an erosion of public faith in long taken-for-granted aspects of our political life?  This lecture explored the current crisis and focused in particular on discussing the meaning and advantages of the rule of law and democratic governance.

Questions included: What do voters need to know before they enter the voting booth?   To what extent do our founders’ democratic impulses still inform our government’s priorities?


Public Discourse: Bridging Political and Religious Divides 

Democracy thrives on deliberation, the practice of weighing and considering various points of view. That practice can only occur in an atmosphere that values reason over partisanship, generosity over paranoia, and respect over the urge to shame. When public discourse is just about establishing dominance, not finding the better solution, then democracy itself is corrupted. 

Our speakers, Amer Latif and Meg Mott, professors at Marlboro College, asked our Forum audience: “How do we turn this around?”

For the last five years, professors Amer Latif and Meg Mott have pondered this dilemma on their daily commute between Putney Mountain and Marlboro College, a small liberal arts college that operates as a self-governing community. While their conversations may have been prompted by current events, the wisdom they draw on is both modern and pre-modern. What rituals are needed to move from distrust to curiosity? Which metaphors improve understanding and which create unhelpful antagonisms? What sort of self-reflection is necessary to enhance democratic capacities?  Using core texts from the humanities and cognitive science, Latif and Mott provided for our audience some practical and imaginative suggestions to restore our habits of deliberation. 

Reclaiming American Democracy  

American politics in 2018 is defined by political polarization, gridlock and dysfunction. The most pressing issues — such as climate, taxation, education and health care — are ignored or made worse by legislators who are too often in the pocket of campaign contributors. Our system of elections ensures a two party duopoly that fosters extremism, depresses voter participation, and gives us a limited diversity of candidates and political debate.  Political system failure — in the form of broken campaign finance, ethics and election laws — is the primary reason for the current political crisis. 

Most Americans think there’s no way to fix the problem, but there are state and local reform efforts taking hold in dozens of locations around the nation — many using the citizen-driven ballot initiative process. Four states are advancing “redistricting reform” that would end gerrymandering. Several states are passing comprehensive campaign finance and ethics reforms. Three others are passing “automatic voter registration” laws that ensure everyone is registered to vote. The list goes on. 

At our 31 July Forum, Josh Silver discussed these efforts and how a growing coalition of nonpartisan organizations is bringing together grassroots conservatives and progressives to pass these reforms.  He discussed the emerging “post-partisan” movement to reclaim American democracy, and how members of our Forum audience might be part of it.   

 Josh Silver is the founder and director of Represent.Us, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is advancing comprehensive campaign finance and election reforms across the nation.    Represent.Us has built a large grassroots and social media community.  Josh is focused on how to leverage systemic change through mass movements that traverse diverse political ideologies. 

Race: Facing the Truth, Owning Our Past 

Race continues to be an issue for our country up to the present time.   Three speakers, all of whom were active in the civil rights movement in the south in the 60’s, came together to share their personal experiences from that time and to reflect on the current state of racial affairs in America.  

Josephine Bolling McCall, whose book “The Penalty for Success: My Father was Lynched in Lowndes County, Alabama”, addressed her family’s experience, one of the 4000 lynchings which took place in the South over a 75 year period.   McCall was interviewed in conjunction with the inauguration of the recently opened Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Karin Kunstler, daughter of renowned civil rights lawyer, William Kunstler, is Deputy Head of the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.    She spent a semester of her sophomore year at Tougaloo Southern Christian College, a historically black college in Mississippi.  She returned in 1964 to participate in the Freedom Summer voter registration project.  

Neal Goldman was a Yale Law School student when he witnessed the Selma marches with Martin Luther King.   After observing the events of ‘Bloody Sunday”, Goldman assisted the U. S. Justice Department in preparing a lawsuit that resulted in federal protection by the National Guard for the subsequent March to Montgomery.


The Poverty Precipice: Who’s on the Edge and Who’s over the Edge and Why 

Speaker: LIZ THEOHARIS is co-founder, together with William Barber, of the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival.  

In 2018 the Campaign organized a 40-day campaign with tens of thousands of individuals in 42 states across the country visiting their state capitals and engaging in what turned out to be the most expansive wave of non-violent civil disobedience in the 21st century.   The actions focused on issues of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and our war economy.  

The Poor People’s Campaign continues to reach out to communities throughout the United States to raise awareness and encourage constructive actions to combat the reality of poverty.  

We sponsored a luncheon on the day of the presentation and invited nine local leaders in poverty-related fields: homelessness, food insecurity, etc.  Those leaders shared with Liz the focus of their programs and later attended the Forum to enlighten our audience about the important work they are doing.  The guests  included:


Kirsten Levitt, Stone Soup Cafe and Free Harvest Supper

Peggy Vezina, The Recovery Project

Mary McClintock, Food Insecurity Chair, CAPV
Justin Costa, Center for Self-Reliance, CAPV  

Kate Stevens,  Franklin County Interfaith Council

Budge Litchfield, Good Neighbors

Sherrill Hogan,  Franklin County Racial Justice Rising

Grace Bird, Greenfield Recorder

Diane Szynal, Greenfield Chamber of Commerce


Since then, a local Poor People’s Campaign of Western Massachusetts has been formed and sponsored a second visit of Liz Theoharis in Greenfield for a rally on 5 February 2020. 

Farmer, Banker, Soldier, Spy - Why They Care About Climate Change

Speaker: PETER B. de MENOCAL is an oceanographer and paleo-climatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University where he is also Dean of Science and Thomas Alva Edison /Con Ed Professor.   He is the Founding Director of Center for Science and Life, a collaboration of science and business to accelerate the development of scientific understanding and sustainable energy solutions to climate impacts on the things that matter to us most:  Food, Water, Shelter, and Energy.


The Charlemont Federated Church was filled to overflowing … extra folding chairs were brought out, and there were audience members in the back standing.  The presentation was received so positively that we have vowed to address the issue of climate change again in 2020.

Oh, Glory!

“Oh, Glory!” was a collaboration with the Mohawk Trail Concerts.   We enjoyed a musical concert by baritone James Dargan and pianist Mark Whitlock that featured gospel music and art song woven around the offerings over the years of such legendary black singers as Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Robert McFerrin Sr. 

Coming on the heels, as it did, of the Forum’s 2017 Frederick Douglass community reading of his speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July) program, (for which we collaborated with the Double Edge Theater) and our more recent October 2018 presentation, “Race: Facing the Truth, Owning our Past”, we were delighted to join forces with the MTC to present this program.  It was yet another adventure into the African American experience, this time through a musical lens. 


Our first speaker was Frits van Paasschen, author of “The Disruptors’ Feast”, who addressed the question, “How do we survive in a world where technology is disrupting so many aspects of our lives and our livelihoods?”   Van Paasschen offered complimentary copies of his book to interested attendees, and the Forum made them available to all the local libraries whose cultural councils had supported the program.   Of them, five local libraries requested books.   They included Charlemont, Shelburne Falls, Amherst, Plainfield and Ashfield. 

The second Forum highlighted Karenna Gore, Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, speaking about climate change, and drew considerable interest, both locally and nationally.   Peter de Menocal (Dean of Science at Columbia University and our speaker in 2019) was the moderator for her presentation.   Her focus was an examination of the existential threat of climate change seen today, in light of other crises we are currently confronting: a global pandemic and the uncovering of systemic injustice all around us.


Regenerative Agriculture and Food Justice

For the first Charlemont Forum presentation in 2021 (9 June, 7-9pm) we featured “Regenerative Agriculture and Food Justice”   The program tapped into traditional and innovative farming techniques which are building a better food system that can mitigate climate change, improve health and promote racial equity.   The  dynamic panel discussion  with soil specialist, Jeff Tkach, of the Rodale Institute, and Jessica O’Neill, Executive Director of Just Roots was moderated by Seattle-based Eco-Dietitian and Adjunct Professor at Bastyr University, Mary Purdy. They esplored topics from the importance of soil health, the necessity of equal access to land, and advocating for the right to grow one's own food, to how more ecologically friendly farming methods may be one path towards healing our planet and assuring positive nutritional health outcomes for us all.  

Nothing is Free: The Cost to Civil Society of Online Inequity, Disinformation, Hate, and Surveillance

Our second Charlemont Forum in the summer of 2021 (22 July, 7-9 pm) was titled “Nothing is Free: The Cost to Civil Society of Online Inequity, Disinformation, Hate, and Surveillance” presented by Jessica J. González, Co-CEO of Free Press, an organization dedicated to “saving net neutrality, achieving affordable internet access for all, uplifting the voices of people of color in the media, challenging old and new media gatekeepers to serve the public interest, ending unwarranted surveillance, defending press freedom and reimagining local journalism.”  González has worked extensively to inhibit online hate, confront anti-immigrant and racist media programming, and ensure equal access to communication for all, including testifying before Congress in support of Net Neutrality and affordable internet access.   As such, she brought us a comprehensive view of the online media ecosystem and its effect on civil discourse and society.


The Changing Nature of Gender in the 21st Century

On July 21, we hosted Genny Beemyn from the Stonewall Center at UMass who spoke on The Changing Nature of Gender in the 21st Century.  Using data from the common application and their experience growing up as a gender-questioning child, Genny spoke about the generational shift in our understanding of gender and about the increasing comfort younger people have with gender fluidity. 

US-China Relations in Difficult Times

On August 11, Professor Sara Newland from Smith College presented US-China Relations in Difficult Times. As an expert on Taiwan and its complex relationship with mainland China, Newland started with our diplomatic history with China and brought that to the present day, addressing questions around the motives for Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan and Taiwan’s ongoing tensions with mainland China. 

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