Monday, Jul. 22, 2019

Our Messages to Congress: Imagine a Nation Where Peacebuilding has a Substantial & Ongoing Voice in National Policy

By Nancy Merritt · March 14, 2017

Make Peace a Priority <span>&copy; Designed by Carol Hillson </span>

Make Peace a Priority


Imagine a nation where peacebuilding has a seat at the table of government and a substantial and ongoing voice in national policy.  This was part of the message of Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) advocates prior to the introduction Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s (CA-13) Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2017 (DoP or HR 1111).  

A team of DoP advocates called, wrote, e-mailed and visited members of Congress during January and February 2017 urging them to sign on as original cosponsors of HR 1111.  By the time that legislation was introduced on February 16, 2017, advocates made over 315 contacts and 27 members of Congress became original cosponsors.  For more on our messages to members of Congress, why we advocate for a DoP and a compelling case for a DoP, see below.

(For more information about our process of advocating for cosponsors and updated language in HR 1111, see “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2017 Introduced” at www.peace.alliance.org in the Movers & Shakers section.)

I.  Our Message and Why We Advocate for a DoP

During the early part of this year’s Season for Nonviolence (SNV) (January 30 – April 4), we conveyed to members of Congress our sense of urgency for creating a culture of peace.  This means assessing the root causes of violence and working to create and sustain the root conditions of peace.  Establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peacebuilding in the United States and cabinets/ ministries in other nations is a step in this process.  Elisabeth Kucinich has said a U.S. DoP is a way to make practical our dreams for peace.

In her SNV communications with Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Kendra Mon (CA) wrote, “In these troubling times, it is even more important to carry forward the work of Dr. King and further peace and peaceful dialogue in our nation.  How can we possibly deal with important issues, such as climate change, unless we provide the impetus and tools to change the climate of civil and political discourse?  We need a United States Department of Peacebuilding.”  In her email to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Kendra said of a DoP, “… A great Valentine’s gift to the country!”  She quoted Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan, “If we want to reap the harvest of peace and justice in the future we will have to sow seeds of nonviolence, here and now, in the present.” 

Many have advocated for peace and a Department of Peacebuilding for a long time.  We continue and build upon this advocacy.  Our Peace Alliance/ Campaign for a DoP is a long haul effort – peacebuilding has no beginning and no end.  It is an idea always rooted in the now.  It is an idea that never grows old.  It is an idea which requires constant attention and vigilance.  It is a tool. It has many facets – personal peace, teaching peacebuilding in schools, community peacebuilding and humanizing the criminal justice system, and international peacebuilding.  Peacebuilding is an idea whose time has always come. 

We continue our advocacy because, as Anne Creter (NJ) said, “Historically … every time DoP legislation rose in political prominence, it eventually fizzled out due to lack of political will … Now humanity has reached a crisis point of greatest peril, where we face choosing between nonviolence and nonexistence…”  “We are working to sustain and build upon the political will for ours to be a nation of peacebuilding and part of the world community culture of peace.  Transitioning from a culture of violence to a culture of peace is more likely to occur once Departments of Peace (DoP) are created worldwide … comprehensive, coordinated, proactive, supportive ‘nonviolence’ structures of DoPs promote and strengthen a culture of peace.”

In the midst of our campaign for original cosponsors, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I wish there were a way I could wave a magic wand and put it back when people were respectful of each other, and (government) was working for the good of the country, and not just along party lines.”  Karen Johnson (IL) wrote to thank the Justice, “I share the wish for more civility and citizen-focused work in our Congress and all aspects of our governmentMany of us have been advocating for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding (H.R. 1111), being reintroduced very soon, which includes working with government employees with conflict resolution, diplomacy and collaboration best practices.  This is how we return the government to the people.”

One constituent of Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), Jeff Peer, wrote, ““I am a constituent, an English teacher, very excited about Rep. Lee’s resolution and the possibility of taking steps to make the cultivation of peace (both domestically and internationally) a strategic policy objective.”  Another constituent, Jason Merritt, said, “I write today to urge you to continue to speak out on behalf of peace, peacebuilding, and policy that creates a more just and harmonious society… your original co-sponsorship [of DoP legislation] would speak loudly on behalf of Brooklyn and all of its beautiful diversity.”  

Maggie Koren (CA), who has advocated for Department of Peace(building) legislation since 2003, said, “Imagine: a nation where peacebuilding has a voice and a choice in the U.S. cabinet -- where key policy decisions are discussed and prioritized. Your support for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding is a declaration that you want a more peaceful, socially just nation. Shifting focus towards peacebuilding and a culture of peace is our collective choice. Now is the time to urge our elected officials to make peace and nonviolence initiatives a central part of our national agenda and our Federal Government!”

Maggi said, “Think about the violent culture we are currently experiencing. Not only is violence woven into our justice system affecting the lives of immigrants, people of colour and the poor, there is violence in our business and banking practices, and agribusinesses, which destroy the lands and watersheds, not to mention the violent treatment of domestic animals. There is continued violence against our public lands with mountaintop removal, unconstrained fracking, use of pesticides and GMOs poisoning our food.  We have too many unethical multinational corporations including Big Pharma and the insurance industry which covers healthcare.  And now public radio and public education are on the chopping block to make way for big merging business enterprises. The list is long and growing and our children, our elders and the infirm are always the first to suffer.”

HR 1111 is the only legislation that addresses the increasing violence in our culture and give us a concrete means toward violence cost containment (over trillion-dollar industry). The change begins with you and me. The institution and funding of Restorative Justice practices in all our institutions will change the way we think, what we say, what we do and how we manifest our goals with honour and integrity.”

II.  Compellings Reasons for a Department of Peacebuilding 

In our messages to members of Congress, we also talked about key reasons for supporting a DoP and offered more information.

            A.  Five Key Reasons for Supporting a Department of Peacebuilding

Five key reasons to support a Department of Peacebuilding:

  • Secretary of Peacebuilding positioned at the highest level of government.
  • Peacebuilding is cost effective: By promoting effective violence prevention policies and programs, we help decrease the federal deficit and channel funds toward positive change.
  • Root Cause: This bill addresses and corrects the underlying, systemic causes of violence and cultivates conditions for peace.
  • Violence is costly. A recent report from the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that in the U.S., annual violence containment costs around $2.16 trillion dollars, money that could go to schools, and myriad social justice initiatives.
  • History making: All great social change, from women’s suffrage to civil rights, although taking time and commitment, ultimately created sweeping, positive shifts benefiting all humanity.

            B.  More Information about a Department of Peacebuilding

A Department of Peacebuilding will address the root causes of peace and apply our peacebuilding capacity in an organized and systematic approach using the resources of our people and our government.  

Domestically, the Department of Peacebuilding will develop policies and allocate resources to effectively reduce the levels of domestic and gang violence, child abuse, and various other forms of societal discord.  Internationally, the Department will advise the President and Congress on the most sophisticated ideas and techniques regarding peace-creation among and within nations.

A DoP will:

  • Institute offices of Peacebuilding Education and Training, Domestic Peace Activities, International Peace Activities, Arms Control and Disarmament;
  • Work proactively and interactively with each branch of government on policy matters relating to conditions of peace;
  • Offer experience and expertise of the people of the United States and seek participation in the development of policy from private, public and non-governmental organizations;
  • Research effective violence reduction programs and promote and promulgate such programs within government and society;
  • Develop new policies and programs and expand on existing effective policies and programs to address personal and family violence, to reduce prison recidivism, to develop and expand peace education curriculum in schools, to promote nonviolent conflict resolution strategies and civilian peacekeepers where appropriate.

Violence is costly. A recent report from the Institute for Economics and Peace estimates that in the U.S., violence containment costs around 15% of Gross Domestic Product each year and is the largest discrete industry, costing around $2.16 trillion dollars. Violence cuts across age, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality. Responding to conflict with violence is a learned response, as is nonviolence and learning far more effective conflict resolution techniques.  

A U.S. Department of Peacebuilding is a multi-systems approach to violence prevention and intervention which will generate positive impact toward cultural nonviolence and set a strong precedent for the entire world. It is time to unlearn violence and to learn nonviolence.

Nancy Merritt

Peace Alliance Leadership Council
National Department of Peacebuilding Committee
CA State Coordinator/ Northern CA 

Learn more:  http://www.peacealliance.org/issues-advocacy/department-of-peace


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