New group takes fight out of foreign affairs

Monthly Camas meeting will tackle world issues with non-political, informed talks

Contributed photo courtesy of Foreign Policy Association The 2018 Great Decisions foreign policy discussion briefing book includes magazine-style articles by experts in world affairs. The book guides the monthly Great Decisions groups that will begin meeting at the Camas Library on the last Wednesday of the month, starting Jan. 31, through June.

Tired of fighting about politics? Want to learn more about what’s really going on in the world — and maybe make some like-minded friends while you’re at it? You may want to check out the newly formed Camas chapter of the national Great Decisions foreign policy discussion group.

“Our focus is always nonpartisan,” says group founder Sandra Gangle, a retired Oregon attorney who recently moved to Camas to be closer to her daughter and young granddaughter. “The goal is knowing the real story about what’s going on in the world and figuring out, ‘How do we promote good foreign policy?'”

The group will follow the 2018 edition of the national Great Decisions book, a publication produced by the Foreign Policy Association, and meet monthly at the Camas Public Library to to discuss this year’s eight chosen topics, which include subjects such as Russia’s foreign policy, global health issues, media and foreign policy, South Africa’s fragile democracy and China’s geopolitics.

The first meeting is scheduled for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31, in the library’s upstairs conference room, at 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas. Monthly meetings will follow, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. every last Wednesday of the month, through June.

Gangle, 75, says the group is a wonderful break from the partisan fighting going on in today’s political discussions.

“We don’t even know who is a Democrat and who is a Republican,” she says about the Great Discussion groups. “We do try to be nonpartisan and we don’t get into political disagreements. Really, I think people are just confused about what is really going on when it comes to foreign policy issues … and that’s what this group is about — figuring out what’s really happening in the world.”

Foreign affairs is something dear to Gangle’s heart. A former French professor at Oregon State University, who returned to school in her mid-30s to earn her law degree, Gangle’s love of learning, especially learning about new and different cultures, is apparent. She and her husband, Gene, have traveled the world, bouncing from Europe to China to Costa Rica — bringing back stories of the people they met, the languages they heard and the historic places they saw.

A lifelong lover of world cultures, Gangle says it wasn’t until the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington D.C. that she realized how little she actually knew about her own country’s foreign affairs and place in the world.

“My friends were all educated people, but none of us really knew too much about the Middle East, so the crisis in 2001 made us wonder, ‘How is the U.S. dealing with these issues?'” she says.

Gangle and a few of her Salem-area friends formed a foreign policy study group in 2001 to learn more about Afghanistan and Iraq and about the U.S. dealings in the Middle East. No one in the group was a foreign policy expert, but they found books and articles by people working in foreign policy and met once a month at a local country club to have dinner and discuss world affairs.

When she moved to Camas in September of 2017, Gangle missed her foreign affairs group, and found herself driving to Salem to meet up with them on Saturdays. As the weather grew worse, and Gangle had surgery to replace a joint in her knee, that plan seemed unlikely to last in the long-term. Instead, Gangle decided to form a new group in her new community and the Camas chapter of the Great Decisions discussion group was born.

Formed in Portland, Oregon, in the mid-1950s, the Great Decisions group was meant to be a way for people to gather, face-to-face, to discuss foreign affairs in a guided but informal way. The program caught on and, today, there are tens of thousands of Great Decisions participants. The 100-year-old nonpartisan Foreign Policy Association (FPA) encourages people to participate in the foreign policy process and develop a greater understanding of global issues through balanced, researched and nonpartisan publications. The association develops a briefing book used in the Great Decisions discussion groups. Filled with facts, expert opinion and magazine-style articles and photos, the briefing book is the centerpiece of the Great Decisions groups.

Each year, experts decide the eight Great Decisions topics for that year. Last year’s topics included the future of Europe, nuclear security and Saudi Arabia in transition. After the groups have met for eight months, the FPA polls members for their opinions on the eight topics. Those results are then compiled for the annual National Opinion Ballot Report, which is given to members of Congress, the White House, the State Department and the Department of Defense.

Gangle, a longtime member of the League of Women Voters, says she’s excited to see who will come to the new Camas discussion group. She suspects most participants will be retirees like herself, since the group is meeting on a weekday afternoon, but doesn’t count out younger people who might have flexible schedules.

“Sometimes we get some really interesting viewpoints.” Gangle says, recalling one participant in her Salem group who worked with Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group with the mission of protecting people from the dangers of nuclear proliferation, climate change and environmental toxins. “Really, this is a way for people to learn about current issues without having any anger or debate related to politics getting in the way.”

To learn more about the Great Decisions foreign policy discussion program, visit www.fpa.org. To join the Camas group, call Gangle at 503-508-0659 or email her at sandragangle@gmail.com. To order the 2018 edition of the Great Decisions briefing book online for $30, visit www.fpa.org/great_decisions/?act+gd_materials.