There's always a theatrical aspect to these events. First off, The Progressive Forum takes place in a theater, with the speaker in the position of performer. I will never forget the feeling in the room before Moyers spoke last fall. Our tribe can get riled up in a crowd, especially before the patron saint of progressive level-headedness and overall brilliance is about to speak.
And then there was the performance.
"We are ready to build a world wide audience. We are the only civic speaker organization in the world that is offering videos in this format," says Randall Morton, Progressive Forum's founder.
Well now, you almost can. The Progressive Forum has just launched a new video series, where these outstanding speeches are broken into segments for you to enjoy.
Here's the thing, the kind of speakers you are likely to hear at The Progressive Forum are not your pop culture pundits, whose views evaporate as soon as they are released into the blabosphere. No, this is a more complicated operation that has brought speakers such as Jared Diamond, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and climate scientist James Hanson to Houston. These are experts engaged in the problems that confront our future, not easy topics, but worthy of a second viewing, which video offers.
"We got permission to video from the very beginning," says Randall Morton, Progressive Forum's president and founder. "We are ready to build a world wide audience. We are the only civic speaker organization in the world that is offering videos in this format."
Morton sees his organization as occupying a unique niche in Houston's cultural fabric. "We're the only city-based speaker organization innovating with the Internet in this way, reaching out to a worldwide audience as an educational site," he says. "Not only are we providing a perpetual source of enrichment for those seeking real answers around the world, but we're also providing a window into a segment of Houston's vibrant intellectual life."
The video project has been in the works for a while now. By early next year, Morton expects to have most speakers from the past seven years on video. Right this minute, in addition to Moyers, you can view Karen Armstrong, Sylvia Earle, Richard Dawkins, James Hansen, Jane Goodall, Eric Schlosser, John Paul Stevens, Arianna Huffington and Richard Leakey.
Perhaps you are more interested in topics than speakers. A handy search function lets you narrow your choices based on your interests.
Right this minute, in addition to Moyers, you can view Karen Armstrong, Sylvia Earle, Richard Dawkins, James Hansen, Jane Goodall, Eric Schlosser, John Paul Stevens, Arianna Huffington and Richard Leakey.
Unlike the overly packaged 18-minute TED talks, the only way to see a Progressive Forum video is right on the website on the speaker's discreet page, which comes with a bio, related links, updates and reading suggestions. That's right, no YouTube for these folks. "That way, you are seeing the material in context," adds Morton.
The videos are also streamlined, so the viewer doesn't have to wade through the introductory remarks and obligatory thank yous. "Some of my best jokes got eliminated," quips Morton.
Video segments range from 20-28 minutes, with handy labels that identify the content. Each speaker's performance is edited to highlight the most salient points.
"Many videos are longer than what you commonly find on the Internet. We don't edit to please short attention spans. However, we have made it convenient to digest full evening presentations by breaking them into roughly 20 minute segments. We hope to be attractive to scholars and high quality viewers, those seeking in-depth answers," says Morton.
"At the same time, our pages feature interesting short clips of two or three minutes on compelling questions. Religious historian Karen Armstrong comments on the after-life, paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey explains what he thinks makes us human, and premier oceanographer Sylvia Earle opines on what should have been different about the BP oil spill response."
The Progressive Forum season launches this season with Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness on Oct. 2, followed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on Nov. 5.
"He's one of the few speakers we have brought back," says Morton. Kennedy's return has even more significance; it was when Morton first heard Kennedy speak that he got the idea for The Progressive Forum.
You may be tempted to stay home and wait for the video. Don't, because nothing beats being in the room with flock of like-minded deep thinkers.