Residents discuss options to combat terrorism

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 23, 2003

Fifteen Austin residents met for a public dialogue on terrorism Wednesday. The event, which was sponsored by the Star Tribune and Twin Cities Public Television, was set up to give the community the opportunity to talk about "choices we have for responding to the threat of terrorism."

"I am very proud of the fact that a small town … can be a proactive community and willing to come out and talk," said Jeanne Poppe, a former Austin City Council member who was one of the facilitators of the 2 1/2-hour long event at Riverland Community College in Austin.

Poppe, along with Julie Tufte, also a facilitator, attended a seminar at the Star Tribune on how to conduct such public dialogues.

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Some 700 people were meeting in cities across the state for the same reasons, Poppe said.

The evening began by attendees introducing themselves and elaborating on the reason on why they were there.

"I am worried about our nation … I like to have my voice be heard,"

said Dwight Ault, of Austin.

The group was given a list of four options with definitions on how to address terrorism.

Option one: An expanded assault on terrorism

Option two: Support United Nations leadership to fight terrorism

Option three: Defend our homeland

Option four: Address the underling causes of terrorism

A presentation on Channel 2 featured experts advocating each of the four positions.

The experts included Tom Heffelfinger, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, on the position for the country to move forward with a worldwide offensive; Nick Hayes, St John's University professor in support of the UN leadership; Mancel Mitchell, Minnesota acting commissioner of Public Safety on advocating focus on homeland defense; and Dr. Fatma Reda of the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Park Nicollet physician, on advocating concentrating on the underlying causes.

"My greatest concern, it's really the reason why

I am here," said Liliana Silvestry-Neilon, who was the first one to respond after the group was asked on their concerns.

Silvestry-Neilon talked about the treatment of the immigrant and refugee community since the Sept. 11 attacks. She explained that with the new regulations, many of the immigrants are treated unfairly.

"It is my strong belief that we are rejecting people of color and we are going to have division. Friction tends to divide people. We need to start working with ourselves in the our community." Silvestry-Neilon said.

"I fear that our country is losing it … I worry about the erosion of the democratic process and sometimes I feel that both parties are more worried about their well being than the country," Ault said.

Concerns opened the dialogue to issues of broadcast media, perceptions of America, immigration, attitudes, previous wars, political leaders, the consequences of a war, conceptions of democracy and working to improve the situation at a local level.

Most of those at the meeting favored looking at options two and four, but ultimately agreed that something could be taken from each of the options to make a better approach to terrorism.

"It (public dialogue) didn't decrease my optimism. Being a better human being is the best way going about to fight terrorism," said Austin's Betty Benner.

A consensus on the importance of being proactive at the local level seemed to surface by the end of the meeting.

"I see the seeds of something that will take a bit of root. For people to have a sense of understanding and speak among each other in this circle arrangement. I wish it could continue later on," said Austin's John Hagen.

Roxana Orellana can be reached at 434-2214 or