During the week of International Day of Peace (IDoP) (9/21/16), Peace Alliance volunteers traveled to Capitol Hill to discuss peacebuilding legislation, including the Department of Peacebuilding Act (DoP/ HR 1111) and the Youth PROMISE Act (HR 2197). Over the years, the Peace Alliance has advocated for both. While in DC, portions of Youth PROMISE Act passed in the House as part of the Support Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963).
While we were in Washington and shortly after, we learned more about initiatives and other legislation relating to peacebuilding and governance. We talked about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and about initiatives and bills by some members of Congress we visited, including Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA-4), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA-5), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL-3), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3).
Department of Peacebuilding Committee member, Pat Simon, was not able to travel to Washington, but was present (via photo and in spirit) at the meeting with her Representative, Katherine Clark (D-MA-5). (See photo #1) (Photo #2 is at the office of Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT); #3 is at the office of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30); #4 is at the office of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10).)
I. UN Sustainable Development Goals
The theme of this year’s IDoP was the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said those goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world's leaders and the people. “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.” (See www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment)
The Sustainable Development Goals include: 1) end poverty in all its forms everywhere; 2) end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; 3) ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; 4) ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; and 5) achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Others include: 6) ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; 7) ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; 8) promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; 9) build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; 10) reduce inequality within and among countries; and 11) make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Others are: 12) ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; 13) take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; 14) conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; 15) protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; 16) promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and 17) strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.
II. Initiatives and Legislation
During this 114thCongress (2015-2016) over 6,500 bills have been introduced. At almost every office we visited, we learned about initiatives and legislation that are underway, including (in alphabetical order):
- ‘A Better Way’ Initiative – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) and the Republicans are working on “A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America,” which encompasses six areas (the Constitution, the economy, health care, national security, poverty, and tax reform) and which the GOP plans to turn in to multiple pieces of legislation starting in 2017. Speaker Ryan has already worked with Republican members of the committees of jurisdiction for some months and now has strong member buy-in for the program. Next the appropriate committees will develop the specific bills to address the needs of these programs as part of the 2017 House agenda. (See better.gop)
- ‘A World of Women for World Peace’ Initiative – Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) started this initiative shortly after 9/11/2001. It ‘brings greater visibility to those who are victims of war and conflict and to raise awareness of women who are promoting non-violent conflict resolution within their communities.’ Rep. Johnson wrote, ‘I was horrified by a picture of boy-soldiers from Liberia, ages 12 and 14, on the front page of Newsweek magazine … I knew that every soldier I saw had a mother, a sister, and aunt, or a grandmother. These women in their lives were uniquely positioned to influence these soldiers, no matter where they are in the world …’ This organization, which includes women of many faiths, holds two events every year – one in Dallas and one in Washington DC.
- Establishing a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress (H.Con.Res. 169) - Within days after we left Washington, 27 Republicans and 11 Democrats came together to cosponsor Rep. Darin LaHood’s (R-IL-18) H.Con.Res.169. According to a statement from Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL-3), a cosponsor, the Concurrent Resolution “would create a Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress that would examine the dysfunction of the institution, take recommendations from experts and the public, and then recommend reforms that would make Congress work better for the American people.”
- Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative Act (HR 5847) – This bill by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA-5), a DoP cosponsor, institutes three international programs to promote exchanges, training, and discussions which apply the philosophies of nonviolence to current human rights, civil rights, democracy, and conflict resolution challenges.
- Half in Ten Act (HR 258) and Pathways Out of Poverty (HR 2721) – In January 2015, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13) introduced the Half in Ten Act (HR 258) to establish a Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty which will create and carry out a national plan to cut poverty in America in half in ten years. In June 2015, Rep. Lee introduced HR 2721, which proposes to strengthen and expand proven anti-poverty programs and initiatives in the areas of education, housing, nutrition, employment and re-employment. According to HR 2721 findings, there is a link between poverty and violence prevention. Children who grow up in poverty experience higher crime rates, decreased productivity and higher health costs over their lives. Children who live in families who fall into poverty for even short periods of time are at greater risk of a lifetime of lower earnings, lower educational attainment and increased reliance on public services and increased rates of incarceration. As of 10/18/16, 47 Democratic cosponsor HR 2721.
- ‘Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis’ Act (HR 2646) – Two members who are among the few mental health providers serving in Congress -- Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) – collaborated for three years on this bill which passed in the House on 7/6/16 by 422-2. Both Rep. Johnson and Rep. Murphy have “always been focused on the need of the severely mentally ill. While the homeless and prison populations are particularly vulnerable to mental illness, they are the individuals that get the least amount of attention and access to mental health services…” According to the Congressional summary, “This bill creates the position of Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders to take over the responsibilities of the Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Mental health programs are extended and training regarding mental health is expanded.”
- Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act (HR 5735) - This is sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH-1) and supported by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA-5). HR 5735 authorizes the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to support access to primary and secondary education for displaced children. According to the bill’s findings, the number of people displaced by conflict is almost 60 million, with half of those being under 18. One out of every four such children does not receive either a primary of secondary education. “Education offers socioeconomic opportunities, psychological stability and physical protection for displaced people ...”
- Securing American Families by Educating and Training You (SAFETY) through Nonviolence Act (HR 5846) – This legislation by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA-5) establishes a national initiative to teach the principles and philosophy of nonviolence to develop innovative, integrated, community-based, violence prevention training and programs. Its intention is to break the constant and seemingly increased prevalence of community-based violence and global war, by focusing policy initiatives on prevention, pathways to positive peace, and true reconciliation.
- Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (HR 1232) – On 3/04/2015, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA-4), a DoP cosponsor, introduced HR 1232 to place restrictions and transparency measures on the Department of Defense (DOD) Program that transfers excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. Under the Pentagon's excess property, or “1033,” program, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.2 billion in surplus military equipment – often from warzones overseas – to our streets without charge. Recently, dozens of small towns have been given tank-like Mine Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs). Others have received grenade launchers and high-caliber assault rifles. Even campus police are receiving advanced equipment and weaponry.
- Support Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963) – This bill is sponsored by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA-3), a DoP cosponsor. On 9/22/16, while we were on Capitol Hill, the House passed HR 5963, which had 11 Democratic and 9 Republican cosponsors and includes language based upon Rep. Scott’s Youth PROMISE Act (HR 2197). HR 5963 includes Youth Promise Incentive Grants to enable local communities to address the unmet needs of youth who are involved in, or are at risk of involvement in, juvenile delinquency or gang activity. The Peace Alliance has actively promoted passage of the Youth PROMISE Act and encourages the Senate to pass companion legislation to HR 5963.
For more information about recent Congressional visits by the Department of Peacebuilding Campaign, see “Reaching Across the Aisle: Building Peace into the National Conversation” and "Dennis Kucinich Speaks on Peace at the World Beyond War Conference in Washington, DC in September." Both articles are posted on www.peacealliance.org in the Movers and Shakers’ section.