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Popcorn For Peace 

by Cara Gardner

A rock concert is scheduled for mid-June in Farragut State Park in North Idaho. Revelers are coming from as far as Texas, Alabama and Southern California. But before marking your calendars, you might want to note that this is a skinhead concert, co-hosted by the infamous Richard Butler. He's coming back to the Northwest, as he says, "to show our enemies that we have not left North Idaho."

Despite the Aryan Nation's right to congregate here, leaders and locals from the Inland Northwest have worked hard to change the area's reputation as a hub for hate groups. In addition to celebrating the bankruptcy of Butler's Aryan Nation's compound, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations formed the Human Rights Education Foundation (HREF) in 1998. The foundation is planning to open a human rights education center in Coeur d'Alene, possibly in the old cultural center by the city park. Though fund raising hasn't begun, there is hope that upcoming events will galvanize the process.

The HREF has declared that March is Human Rights Month in the Inland Northwest and is sponsoring numerous events, including the 33rd annual Popcorn Forum, a weeklong convention at North Idaho College dedicated to the study of hate, starting Saturday and continuing until March 29.

The Popcorn Forum, Confronting Hate: Humanity's Biggest Challenge, is attracting academic experts, activists and religious leaders from all over the United States, including speakers from Harvard's Gregory Carr Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which are co-sponsoring the event.

Mary Lou Reed, an HREF board member, says the Popcorn Forum has evolved considerably since it started in 1970 at NIC.

"[NIC] had assemblies all the time, and then they'd have a week-long event, on different issues. They wanted to get kids there, so they served popcorn," Reed recalls.

Tony Stewart, board president for HREF, says the forum will be 10 times the size of the skinheads' concert.

"The last two years we've had between 4,000 and 6,000 people for the week," he says. Stewart expects even more this year, he says, because the HREF is one of 13 organizations and colleges that are co-sponsoring the event. "All the colleges and universities [in our area] are involved; they represent 65,000 students. I am just so energized and elated at this kind of collaborative effort."

Activities include keynote speakers, panel discussions, films, workshops for educators and the public, a theater production, concert, dance performance and more. All events are free and open to the public.

Don't plan on hearing lengthy debates about the war or terrorism, though.

"This is not a conference dealing with a specific issues, like in international politics," Stewart says of the Forum. "Hate can take so many forms. Rather than put it in a context of one arena, we are trying to identify it. It's not our purpose to take a position; it's more of an in-depth look at the concept [of hate] in general.

Reed says one key focus will be encouraging educators to learn strategies that discourage hateful behavior in schools.

"Our effort has been to produce programs for students. But when we get together with teachers they say, 'We don't have enough resources, enough training.' They say, 'There isn't enough in Idaho, like multiculturalism and diversity.' So this component is aimed at helping teachers gain more tools and inspirations," she says.

Kathy Canfield-Davis, HREF education committee coordinator and a presenter at the Popcorn Forum, says they've tried to get the word out to educators.

"We distributed the flyer to every school from St. Maries, north to Boundary County and over to Shoshone County. We designed the workshops thinking of educators in mind. We put most of them starting at 4 pm or 4:30 pm. We also added the incentive of credit, and both the U of I and Gonzaga are offering professional development credit for educators," Canfield-Davis says.

The Popcorn Forum will explore broad notions of hate, such as 'hate-chat' on the Internet and bullying in schools, but Stewart hopes the skinheads' concert won't be far from people's minds.

"Anyone who takes the position that there's nothing more to worry about -- well, I think it's a grave mistake," he says. "We should pause and take in the victories that have happened recently. But no matter where anyone lives in the world, there is hate, there are prejudices. The work will have to go on, and the number one priority in that category is education."

For a detailed schedule of speakers and events during the 33rd annual Popcorn Forum at North Idaho College, visit, then click on "Events" and "Popcorn Forum."

Publication date: 03/20/03
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