What do Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? They were guest speakers at the Commonwealth Club of California.
With the motto, "the place where you're in the know," the club strives to inform and entertain listeners with politically and ideologically diverse speakers and programs. In existence since the early nineteenth century, the Club was created for knowledgeable and influential men (women weren't allowed to join until the 1970s) to meet and discuss politics and other important issues of the day.
The club continues that mission today. Thanks to a weekly broadcast on National Public Radio, You Tube videos and podcasts, the group's distinctive programming is available to everyone for free.
According to its website, the club hosts 400 events each year. Based in the San Francisco area, it describes itself as a "nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization." Past guests have included politicians, writers, news commentators, economists, business leaders, environmentalists, and the list goes on and on. There is something for everyone, and listeners have the opportunity to stretch their beliefs and learn from someone who may not share their opinion.
Guests are invited to speak unencumbered by interruptions or hostile counter commentary; a nice change from some other news shows. Whether they agree with the person or not, listeners are able to hear the speaker's views. Each event takes place before a live audience and includes a question and answer period at the end.
The extensive archives provides free access to most recent programs and many interesting past programs. The website states the club is working to digitize its programming back to the 1940s.
In August 2010, the Club hosted the "Ascent of Women Series." Throughout the month speakers from the world of politics, arts and business came together to discuss issues of concern to women, and how those issues have changed over time. It was a fascinating and informative series that is still available online. Included in the series was Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, violinist Ruth Felt and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
Although not in that series, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) visited the Club in September amidst a brutal reelection campaign. She spoke passionately about national concerns and potential solutions.
While the Club does present many progressive and liberal speakers, it is nonpartisan. Besides a speech from former Governor Schwarzenegger, visitors will find presentations from conservative guests, including a You Tube video featuring Condoleezza Rice and a podcast by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.
The Club also publishes a magazine that is available to nonmembers. The magazine covers "important issues of day" and includes many of the topics discussed at the forums. It profiles speakers and other influential people in the fields of "health care, science, foreign policy, business, youth culture, and religion."
Engaging young people also seems to be a priority. The Club created a group targeting twenty and thirty-year-olds with a separate webpage and member forum.
No matter what your age or political persuasion, the programs offered by Commonwealth Club will challenge you to consider new ideas and opinions. It is well worth a visit.
Find the Commonwealth Club through your local NPR station or commonwealthclub.org.