48 Hours in Ohio
Dominic Martin was the featured speaker at ACWA's April 27, 2006, Global Scholars and Speaker Event, The UK and the US: Partners in Meeting the Challenges and Opportunities of Globalisation. He also participated in a Global Executives roundtable, state of Ohio issues luncheon, and met with Steve Hoffman and Laura Ofobike of the Akron Beacon Journal editorial staff.
Usually diplomats are sent to capital cities. But the problem with most capital cities is that the inhabitants tend to behave as if they live, if not quite at the Centre of the Universe, at least in a place of pre-eminent importance compared with everywhere else. One of the cardinal mistakes a diplomat can make is to assume that the views and opinions he or she encounters in “The Capital” are representative of the views of the country as a whole.
This is a universal rule. It applies to just about every country you can think of, with the possible exceptions of Luxembourg and Singapore. But in the United States the possibilities for error are multiplied exponentially. The Federal Government is so huge, the politics of D.C. so compelling, the Washington gossip so all-pervasive, that a diplomat could easily spend an entire posting in the United States solely talking to — and about — people in the Nation's Capital.
And what a huge mistake that would be. Because if you want to learn about what really motivates normal Americans, the last place you should look for the answer is in the think-tanks or lobbying firms of Washington. You have to get out of D.C. as often as possible.
Bearing this in mind, you can imagine the enthusiasm with which I seized the opportunity given me by the Akron Council on World Affairs to visit Northeast Ohio in April this year. In 48 hours in Cleveland and Akron, I learnt more about the issues that concern Ohioans than I would in a month of talking to pundits in D.C.
One of the highlights of my time in Akron was my encounter with a group of very bright and entertaining high school students as part of ACWA's Global Scholars Program. I learnt much from my conversations with the students from Buchtel, Firestone and Kenmore high schools in the Akron Public School system.
I was particularly struck by their very personal take on the ways in which globalisation has impacted on their families, on their city, and on their hopes for their futures. It is not surprising that, in a traditional manufacturing area like Northeast Ohio, this should be very much at the top of the minds of young people. But I was also encouraged that so many of the students were prepared to see the opportunities posed by modernisation and globalisation as well as the challenges.
I think the three schools concerned can be proud of the students they have sent to the Global Scholars programme. This was an ambitious and talented group. All had aspirations to go on to fine universities in Ohio and elsewhere. Many were interested in educational opportunities in Europe, and I hope that at least some of them will find the opportunity to study in Britain one day. I also hope that, as they go forward — some, no doubt, to work in government or public policy — they will remember my message about the importance of a strong partnership between the United States and Europe if we are successfully to tackle the complex international problems that face us today.
I came away with the strong view that — if the motivation and intellectual curiosity of this group is at all representative of the wider community of young people in Akron — this part of Northeast Ohio has a great future to go with its great past.
And that’s as good a reason for getting away from D.C. as I could possibly have hoped for.