The United States has been at peace for only 21 entire years since its birth during the Revolutionary War. Many of our citizens today have never known a peaceful year in their lifetimes. In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution. More people have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in United States history.
Those are some of the reasons our nation needs to prioritize peace by creating a cabinet-level Department of Peacebuilding. Those are also some of the findings contributed by Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) advocates to the Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2017 (DoP or HR 1111), which was introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) on February 16, 2017 on behalf of herself and 27 original cosponsors.
During the fall 2016, Peace Alliance/ Department of Peacebuilding advocates worked with Rep. Lee’s office on updates and revisions to the DoP Act of 2015. Since 1/1/17, DoP advocates amplified Rep. Lee’s efforts to secure original cosponsors of the bill by initiating and following up on approximately 315+ contacts urging with select members of Congress to sign on as original cosponsors. To learn more about advocating with members of Congress and the updated DoP 2017 language, see below.
(To learn more about our communications with Congress, see the separate article: “Our Messages to Congress: Imagine a Nation Where Peacebuilding has a Substantial & Ongoing Voice in National Policy” at www.peacealliance.org in the Movers & Shakers section.)
I. The Process
DoP advocacy is a team effort. At its core, DoP legislation is about learning to understand each other and working together in a way that respects all. In our work to establish a DoP, we have been cultivating relationships with members of Congress and their staffs since 2004. During the week of International Day of Peace in September 2016, DoP supporters visited the offices of 90 members of Congress in Washington, D.C. to inform them the DOP bill would be re-introduced in early 2017. We asked 2015 cosponsors and others to be original cosponsors of the 2017 legislation. Some, including Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ-12), agreed early on to do that.
In January and February 2017, DoP advocates linked promotion of HR 1111 with the Season for Nonviolence (SNV) -- the period between January 30th and March 4th commemorating the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez.
In our messages to members of Congress, we said that during this season, the world community honors the message of nonviolence and that this is a time when the DoP campaign puts into action that message of nonviolence by seeking cosponsors for DoP legislation. “Now, more than ever, we need to call in compassion and love and call out hate and violence. A Department of Peacebuilding prioritizes violence prevention. It is a major step in ensuring that this nation stand for all people. It is a path to building what Dr. King termed the beloved community. Dr. King said ‘Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.’"
The DoP advocacy team contacted the 33 returning cosponsors of DoP 2015 legislation. This included emails and phone calls to DC and local offices, an in-District visit to Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s office, and a town hall thank you to Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. Brooklyn, NY supporters also sent postcards to Rep. Velazquez. Nancy Merritt wrote letters to the 33 members of Congress, which DC advocates Laurie Russo and Bob Schlehuber hand delivered.
After her visit to Congressional offices, Laurie Russo reported that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson’s staffer wanted to make sure Laurie let the DoP team know that the Congresswoman signed on as an original cosponsor. Staffers with Rep. Pingree and Rep. Al Green said were going through the process and that their bosses should be signing on again soon (which they did). Laurie said, “I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such awesome individuals committed to peace.” Bob Schlehuber said his letter deliveries were “super enjoyable and love getting the chance to talk to such great offices. It was also an important time as I was able to juxtapose the Department of Peacebuilding efficacy in relation to the recent efforts of the DC City Council to pass a $63.8-million-dollar bill to retain and hire more police in the community.”
One of the earliest to contact Rep. Lee in January was the office of Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), followed shortly after by Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Peter DeFazio (OR-4), John Lewis (GA-5) and others. Rep. Hank Johnson’s (GA-04) staffer asked for more information on the differences between the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a Department of Peacebuilding. Several members of Congress thanked us for flagging the DoP legislation and at least one asked us to keep her abreast on any other legislative priorities.
II. The Numbers
Securing original cosponsors was a substantial team effort by approximately 17 DoP advocates and a collaboration with the office of bill sponsor Barbara Lee (CA-13).
Congressional Cosponsor numbers include:
- Congresswoman Lee introduced the Act on behalf of herself and 27 original cosponsors.
- The 27 original cosponsors included 26 of 33 returning cosponsors of the Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2015.
- The original cosponsors also included one freshman member of Congress – Representative Darren Soto (D-FL-09).
- The 27 original cosponsors are from 17 states, including 6 from CA; 3 from IL; 2 each from FL, NJ, TX; and 1 each from AZ, CO, DC, GA, ME, MA, MI, MN, OH, OR, VA and WI.
- Thank you to the DoP 2017 original cosponsors: Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Judy Chu (CA-27), John Conyers (MI-13), Danny Davis (IL-07), Susan Davis (CA-53), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Al Green (TX-09), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Alcee Hasting (FL-20), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), John Lewis (GA-05), Ted Lieu (CA-33), James McGovern (MA-02), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Donald Payne (NJ-10), Chellie Pingree (ME-11), Jared Polis (CO-02), Bobby Rush (IL-01), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Bobby Scott (VA-03), Darren Soto (FL-09), Maxine Waters (CA-43), and Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ-12).
DoP Advocate numbers include:
- DoP campaign advocates initiated and followed up on approximately 315+ contacts with members of Congress and their staffs, including visits to a local Congressional office, phone calls, emails to and from staffers (in both local and DC offices), in-person contacts with members of Congress, letters and postcards.
- This averaged 9.5 contacts with each member of Congress by Peace Alliance/ Department of Peacebuilding advocates.
- Congresswoman Lee’s office also sent numerous “Dear Colleague” letters and otherwise contacted members of Congress.
- DoP advocates included 6 Californians; 2 from DC (1 CA transplant, 1 IL. transplant); 1 from Georgia; 5+ New Yorkers (4 transplanted Californians, 1 transplant from CT); and 1 each from Illinois, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
- The internal effort included approximately 50+ coordinating/ status group emails and phone calls with various teams, such as the National DoP Committee, the DoP Campaign, the CA DoP team and supporters, Colorado supporters, and New York supporters.
- Thank you to the DoP original cosponsor advocacy team: Anne Creter (NJ), Jo Ann Gaines (CA), Hannah Hakodesh (CA), Karen Johnson (IL), Maggi Koren (CA), Lily Marie (CA), Jason Merritt (NY), Nancy Merritt (CA), Kendra Mon (CA), Jeffrey Peer (NY), Myriah Pahl (NY) Debra Poss (GA), Jennie Romer (NY), Laurie Russo (DC), Kyra Scemama (NY), Bob Schlehuber (DC), and Pat Simon (MA).
III. The Legislation and 2017 Updates
In every Congress since 2001, a Representative has introduced legislation calling for a cabinet-level Department of Peace(building). This legislation recognizes there are root causes of violence and root conditions of peace, in both the domestic and international arenas. From 2001 – 2011, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (OH) was the sponsor of such legislation. In 2013 – 2017 Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) sponsored. With the evolution of the science of peacebuilding, each version of the bill was updated. In 2013 – 2017, DoP campaign advocates submitted bill update suggestions to Congresswoman Lee.
Starting in fall 2016, DoP advocates Maggi Koren (CA), Nancy Merritt (CA), Kendra Mon (CA) and Debra Poss (GA) drafted suggested updates for the DoP 2017 legislation. Congresswoman Lee’s office incorporated many of these suggestions into the final DoP 2017 legislation, including updates/revisions to the findings, domestic responsibilities, international responsibilities, the Office of Domestic Peacebuilding Activities, the Office of Peacebuilding Information and Research, the Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Peace, and consultations required.
DoP campaign advocates suggested the following underlined language, which Rep. Lee incorporated in DoP 2017. Rep. Lee’s new language is in brackets:
Section 2. Findings
(3) The United States has been at peace for only 21 entire years since its birth during the Revolutionary War. During the course of the 20th century, more than 100,000,000 people perished in wars. Many of our citizens today have never known a peaceful year in their lifetimes.
(4) Thus far in the 21st century, nearly 1,000,000 people have died in conflict and war. In 2015 alone, 65.3 million people, or one person in 113, were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution. The United States has been at war [over 15 years], with more than 6,800 members of the Armed Forces and hundreds of thousands of civilians estimated to have been killed in the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, [and territories occupied by ISIL.]
(5) Every year 300,000 people are killed by gun violence around the world. In the United States, 100,000 people are shot each year in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents, and police actions. Approximately 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide. Over [33,000] people die each year of gunshot wounds, 12,000 of whom are murdered. Every day, 50 children are shot, eight of whom are fatally shot, and each gun injury and fatality results in trauma to family members and loved ones. More people have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in United States history.
(6) A World Health Organization report estimates that interpersonal violence within the United States costs approximately $300 billion annually, not including war-related costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that an average of 34 people age 10 to 24 were murdered each day in the United States in 2014. The Pew Charitable Trust calculates that child abuse and neglect in the United States cost $103.8 billion in 2007.
(7) On April 4, 2012, the Institute for Economics and Peace released the United States Peace Index, which assesses peacefulness at the State and city levels and analyzes the costs associated with violence and the socio-economic measures associated with peace. While violence within the United States has declined since the year , violence and violence containment still cost the average taxpayer [$6,417] per year. The total cost of violence to the United States—including lost productivity from violence—is conservatively calculated to be over $460 billion.
(9) Violence prevention is cost effective. For every dollar spent on violence prevention and peacebuilding, thousands of lives and dollars are saved. Research indicates that investing early to prevent conflicts from escalating into violent crises is, on average, 60 times more cost effective than intervening after violence erupts. The philosophy and techniques of nonviolence and the science of peacebuilding provide tools and techniques that can be applied not only at the levels of individual and community growth, but also within the Federal Government and at national and international levels.
(10) The United Nations recognizes that promotion of peace is vital for the full enjoyment of all human rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace mandates that preservation of the right to peace is a fundamental obligation of each country. In 1999, the United Nations adopted a Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, stating that a culture of peace is an integral approach to preventing violence and violent conflicts, an alternative to the culture of war and violence, and is based on education for peace, the promotion of sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights, equality between women and men, democratic participation, tolerance, and the free flow of information and disarmament. The United Nations declared the years 2001 through 2010 an International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, and the United Nations supports a culture of peace. In 2015, the UN adopted 17 sustainable development goals, including promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
Section 102(b). Domestic Responsibilities
(4) analyzing existing policies, employing successful, field-tested programs, and developing new approaches for dealing with the tools of violence, including handguns and assault weapons, especially among youth;
(5) developing new and expanding effective programs that address and ameliorate societal challenges such as school violence, gangs, hate crimes, economic injustice, human trafficking,
(8) providing counseling and advocacy on behalf of individuals victimized by violence;
(10) supporting local community initiatives that draw on neighborhood resources to create peace projects that facilitate the development of conflict resolution and healing of societal wounds such as patriarchy, racism, war, manifest destiny, and economic injustice to thereby inform and inspire national policy.
Section 102(c). International Responsibilities
(5) counsel and advocate on behalf of victims of human trafficking both domestically and internationally and work to end the trafficking of human beings;
(10) in consultation with the Secretary of State, bring together all stakeholders who are impacted by a conflict by facilitating peace summits where such stakeholders may gather under carefully prepared conditions to promote nonviolent communication and mutually beneficial solutions;
Section 105. Office of Domestic Peacebuilding Activities
(3) develop new policies and build upon existing proven programs to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline by promoting restorative and conflict resolution practices at pre-kindergarten, elementary, secondary, university, and post graduate levels and in police academies, with funding for teacher training in nonviolence, restorative practices, and conflict resolution;
(4) develop new policies and build on existing proven programs—
(A) to assist in the prevention of crime, including the development of community policing strategies, mindfulness and conflict de-escalation training, and other peaceful settlement skills among police and other public safety officers;
(G) to encourage and facilitate formation of locally run and administered citizen’s boards [to recommend any appropriate training as needed for working compassionately and effectively with local populations] and to review and hold accountable actions of all local police departments in [the United States];
Section 108. Office of Arms Control and Disarmament
b(7) address and support nuclear waste cleanup at Superfund Sites of former and present military bases in the United States and abroad.
Section 109. Office of Peacebuilding Information and Research
1) commission or compile studies on the impact of war and other types of violence, especially on the physical and mental condition of children (using the 10-point anti-war agenda in the United Nations Children’s Fund report, State of the World’s Children 1996, as a guide) that shall include the study of the effect of war on the environment and public health;
4) commission or compile research on the effects of gun violence in the United States, and make such reports available to Congress annually;
Section 111. Intergovernmental Advisory Council on Peace
(2) promote better intergovernmental relations and offer professional mediation services to ameliorate and resolve intergovernmental and intragovernmental conflict as needed, including elimination of inflammatory rhetoric; and
Section. 114. Consultations Required
(1) IN GENERAL.—In any case in which a conflict between the United States and any other government or entity is foreseeable, imminent, or occurring, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State shall consult with the Secretary of Peacebuilding concerning violence prevention, nonviolent means of conflict resolution, and peacebuilding.
To read the full bill, see https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1111/BILLS-115hr1111ih.pdf
Peace Alliance Leadership Council
National Department of Peacebuilding Committee
CA State Coordinator, Northern CA