“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” - Jane Goodall
We take peacebuilding to Washington each year because, as one San Diego high school student said, “We have never known peace in our lives.” In fact, as a country, the United States has been at peace only 21 entire years since its birth during the Revolutionary War. (Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2017/ HR 1111, Finding 3.)
We take peacebuilding to our legislators for our children and the generations to come. They deserve a different world than one of bullying, domestic violence, violence in our communities, a divisive/ hate-promoting and dysfunctional culture and endless wars. Our children are asking us to ‘stay woke’ and to be the peace. We want a nation that treasures all who live here. A San Diego student wrote that the Department of Peacebuilding is about putting the humanity back into being human. Peacebuilding is a solution.
I. OVERVIEW: SOMETHING’S HAPPENIN’ HERE
In October, shortly after Gandhi’s birthday (10/2), a small group of long-time Department of Peacebuilding (DoP/ HR 1111) supporters went to Washington, D.C. to advocate for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding and other peace-related legislation. This resulted in approximately 53 new cosponsors and connections with the offices of 128+ members of Congress and Senators.
The 2017 DoP advocacy team included Anne Creter (NJ), Karen Johnson (IL), Doug Merritt (CA), Nancy Merritt (CA), Kendra Mon (CA), Sister Maryann Mueller (CT), Debra Poss (GA) and Cetta Smart (IL). For some meetings, Sharon Hill (GA) participated by phone.
We did not go alone. We took the support of DoP advocates who AMPLIFIED our voices by phoning/ writing from their home districts to members of Congress urging them to cosponsor DoP legislation.
We also delivered heartfelt letters from the San Diego, CA community, including students, San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole, e3 Civic High School CEO Helen Griffith, All In San Diego Founder Lan E. Jefferson, Bishop George D. McKinney, Grandmother Cynthia Gilliam, and Daniel Horton. In letter after letter, this community urged Congress to make peace the priority and policy of this nation and to establish a DoP. While we were in DC, some of these same San Diego students and community leaders also visited Congress, went to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and participated – along with others – in the “Million Youth Peace March” from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial on 10/7/17. For more information and photos, see separate article entitled Letters to DC: San Diego Community Implores Legislators to Make Peace a National Priority. (https://peacealliance.kontribune.com/articles/8465)
We went to Washington, D.C. for many reasons. “A poster from the UN Refugee Agency says the only thing stronger than fear is hope. I took peacebuilding to Washington to work for hope over fear. I went to Washington to say our nation is about compassion, not cruelty,” said Nancy Merritt. “I went to Lobby Days to increase the number of co-sponsors on the DoP bill, the Limited Nuclear Strike bill, the No Bail bill and the Atrocities Prevention bill. I also went to D. C. to connect with Congressional staff,” said Debra Poss. “I always look for an opportunity to advocate for peace. After what happened in Las Vegas the Sunday evening before I was so glad to be doing something to try to increase peace in our world,” said Maryann Mueller. Karen Johnson said, “I feel a responsibility to do all I can each year to advocate for peacebuilding in America and the world, now that I know world peace is possible, yet it will take a lot of people working toward it to achieve it.” Kendra Mon said she went to lend her weight on the scales of government and to help create a culture of peace.
Our overall accomplishments were about connection and advancing peacebuilding legislation. Maryann Mueller valued meeting the people from Peace Alliance and meeting the legislative aides, especially in her home district. “I felt most people were happy to discuss peacebuilding—again it could have been that so many people felt crushed by what had happened in Las Vegas. Peacebuilding could have seemed like “a breath of fresh air” for some.
“We are staying the course, advocating for peacebuilding -- no small thing. Each year we make new friends, learn more, and spread more information. My mother used to spend her birthday every year, attending the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting and advocating for a change in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that would eliminate homosexuality as a mental illness. Ultimately, she and her allies were successful. I think we need to stay the course for our own well-being and the well-being of our country,” said Kendra Mon.
II. ACCOMPLISHMENTS & THE NUMBERS
During our advocacy for 7 peace-related initiatives, 53 legislators signed on as new cosponsors. We visited office relating to approximately 40 of those new cosponsors/ sponsors.
Leading up to and following Advocacy Days, 6 members of Congress signed on as DoP cosponsors: Rep. Karen Bass (CA), Rep. William Lacy Clay (MO), Rep. Dwight Evans (PA), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX) and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY). As of 11/10/17 there are 37 DoP cosponsors. Highlights of Advocacy Days include:
Contacts & Legislative Visits
- A team of 8 individuals from 5 states visited at least 128 legislative offices in Washington DC, including 116 members of Congress and 12 Senators
- The 128 DC visits included 115 Democrats and 13 Republicans
- While we visited Congressional offices, individuals from such states as CA FL and MA contacted legislators asking them to cosponsor HR 1111 and other peace-related bills
Deliveries, Messages & Connections
- We delivered heartfelt letters urging peace and a Department of Peacebuilding from San Diego, CA students and community to over 100 Congressional offices,
- We delivered to many members of Congress 683 petition signatures urging co-sponsorship of HR 1111, almost all from CA
Legislation & New Cosponsors
- We advocated for legislation to create a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding and for six other bills, including restrictions on first use of nuclear weapons, prevention of genocide and other atrocities, and reforms to the criminal justice system of money bail, which penalizes poverty.
- In the process of our advocacy from 9/1/17 to 11/10/17, approximately 53 new cosponsors signed on to the 7 bills for which we lobbied
- We visited office relating to approximately 40 of those new cosponsors/ sponsors
Details About Bills & New Cosponsors During Our Advocacy (9/1/17 – 11/10/17)
- HR 1111/Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2017 - 6 signed on as new cosponsors. We visited 7 related offices, including all 6 new cosponsors and the office of the sponsor
- HR 669/ Restricting the First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017- 22 signed on as new cosponsors. We visited at least 18 related offices, including 17 cosponsors the office of the bill sponsor.
- S 200/ Restricting the First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 - 2 signed on as new cosponsors. We visited 2 related offices, including the office of 1 new cosponsor and the sponsor.
- HR 3030/ Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017- 19 signed on as new cosponsors. We visited at least 8 of these offices
- S 1158/ Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017- 2 signed on as new cosponsors. We visited 1 of these offices.
- HR 1437/No Money Bail Act of 2017 - 2 signed on as cosponsors. We visited 3 related offices, including those of the 2 new cosponsors and the sponsor.
- S 1593/ Pretrial Safety and Integrity Act of 2017 – there have been no new cosponsors since 9/1/17. We visited 1 office -- the bill’s sponsor
- We attended Congressional budget debates
- We strengthened our connections with each other
- We also joined with young people from San Diego and elsewhere for the Million Youth Peace March from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial
III. SIGNS OF THE TIMES
We arrived in Washington on the heels of Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, the unthinkable murder of 58 people and injury to more than 500 others in a Las Vegas shooting. Washington and the nation was also in the midst of daily man-made crises … voter suppression; suppression of the rights of women, immigrants, and minorities; degradations of environmental protections; multiple attempts to eliminate the Affordable Healthcare Act, and more. Investigations into Russian interference with US elections, election collusion, multiple sexual harassment revelations involving numerous sectors of the country were surfacing. The devastating CA fires were a few days in the future. There were discussions and inactions about common sense gun control. Congress was debating the national budget. All of this was reflected in the signs of the times.
At legislative offices were old and new signs. For a long time now, some members of Congress have posted photos of our fallen soldiers outside of their offices (Rep. Walter Jones of NC – Fallen Heroes/ Operation Iraqi Freedom for Eastern North Carolina and from Camp Lejeune/ Operation Enduring Freedom and Rep. Blake Farenthold of TX - Faces of Our Fallen).
By the office of Nevada Rep. Dina Titus was a sign of fallen Americans due to gun violence as the Elvis Presley cardboard cutout now wore a “Vegas Strong” sash. Also new was an ever-increasing number of signs posted by legislators in the halls and Congressional offices – signs reflecting frustrations with the DC political climate and myriad causes, some with sports references, some acknowledged that the House of Representatives is the people’s house:
- “Alternative Facts Free Zone” (Rep. Ted Lieu - CA)
- “HANDS OFF Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid” (Rep. Jan Schakowsky - IL)
- “Disarm Hate,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Refugees Welcome,” “Hands Off My Education,” “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” “Love Trumps Hate” (Rep. Barbara Lee - CA)
- “Refugees Welcome” and “We All Belong Here. We Will Defend Each Other” (Rep. Andre Carson - IN)
- “Disarm Hate” (Rep. Anna Eshoo - CA)
- “#HateFreeAmerica” (Rep. Pramila Jayapal - WA)
- “Friends of Coal” from a Senate office
- A large “LA” Dodgers sign and multicolored flag (Rep. Jimmy Gomez – CA)
- “House Divided” Michigan University/ Michigan State poster (Rep. Daniel Kildee – MI)
- “This Office Belongs to the People of Alabama’s First Congressional District” (Rep. Bradley Byrne – AL)
- “This Office Belongs to the People of Florida’s 13th Congressional District” (Rep. Charlie Crist - FL)
IV. STANDING FOR COMMON SENSE GUN CONTROL – AGAIN
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and even as we visited Congressional offices, many Representatives stood on the steps of the Capitol to once again to call for common sense gun control legislation. Speakers included former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), herself a victim of gun violence; Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), Chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force; and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL). Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), said this Congress has failed the American people and asked what is the blood price to finally enact gun control legislation. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFYyyNyNDTE&feature=youtu.be&t=1m48s
When we were at the Senate Hart Office Building, we ran into a man from Australian who was intrigued by legislation to create a Department of Peacebuilding. He said he was tired of Americans talking the successful elimination of guns in Australia and the resulting dramatic reduction in violence because all they do is talk about it.
V. LEGISLATIVE VISITS
During our visits to the offices 128+ legislators, we learned about their connections to the community, their legislative priorities and the backgrounds of heir staffers. We took with us the intent to connect and materials relating to peacebuilding and peacebuilding legislation.
A. Offices We Visited
We visited all current cosponsors of HR 1111 and many former cosponsors. We visited 45 CA members of Congress, including all 39 Democrats and 5 of its 14 Republicans. We visited Representatives or potential Democratic House cosponsors from at least 19 states, including AL, CA, CT, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, LA, MA, MN, MO, MS, NC, NY, OH, TN, VA, and WA and Representatives or potential Republican House cosponsors from CA, GA, NJ, SD, and WV. On the Senate side, we visited Democrats and Republican from AZ, CA, CT, IL, MA, and WV. We also visited some members of the Congressional Oversight and Government Reform Committee to which HR 1111 is assigned.
During the conversations, staffers told about their backgrounds. We met with staffers who had majored in International Studies or Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS). The mentor of one staffer had worked with former child soldiers (office of Rep. David McKinley – R-WV). One staffer was a War College graduate and at least 2 were military fellows (offices of Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)). There are currently approximately 22 Navy Fellows and a total of 85 military fellows serving in the offices of Representatives who are on the Armed Services Committee or make military-related decisions. We hope for the day Peace Fellows work in legislative offices throughout Capitol Hill.
We visited a number of offices where the Representative and/or staffers were from hurricane-impacted areas in Puerto Rico, Dominica, Florida and Houston. We visited offices where Representatives were working on budget issues, gun control, disaster relief, reversing mass incarceration, veterans’ issues and the Suicide Prevention for Veterans Act, education, and environmental issues. Rep. Karen Bass talked about her advocacy on behalf of this nation’s 400,000 foster youth. One staffer told us they are working as hard as they can to guard progress that had been made prior to the current administration.
C. Connection Practices
Before going into each legislative office, we focused on circle guidelines and connection practices, and some of us applied those guidelines during the office visits:
- Speak from you heart: your truth, your experiences, your perspectives
- Listen from the heart: Let go of stories that make it hard to hear each other
- Trust that you will know what to say: no need to rehearse
- Say just enough: Without feeling rushed, be concise and considerate of the time of others
We took with us the message to go for the connection, not the convincing. “Before we entered each office, we focused on connecting. Even when we visited office where the legislator likely does not agree with the need to create a DoP, focusing on connecting made me keep in mind that each legislator has his or her own needs, style and strengths. I know some are focused on a different idea of security than I have, but I went to each office hoping that someday we will all understand what it means to have a culture of peace. I let them know we are working for peace for the long haul and that we want to connect on that,” said Doug Merritt.
For some visits, rather than focusing on the DoP legislation, we focused on the bill(s) that particular member of Congress would most likely be willing to cosponsor, "emphasizing the reason that the Representative might be willing to cosponsor. We made a very strong connection in the office of a GA Republican regarding the Limited First Nuclear Strike Act (HR 669). While keeping that as a focus, at the end of the meeting we explained the DoP bill and the staffer replied 'that makes perfect sense!' The meetings in all three GA Republican offices went very well using the 'most likely bill' method," said Debra Poss.
VI. MESSAGES FROM SAN DIEGO & MILLION YOUTH PEACE MARCH
In addition to delivering letters from the San Diego community, we participated with San Diego students and community leaders in the Million Youth Peace March from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial on 10/7/17. Singer/actress Kitra Williams organized this march. Young people and community and spiritual leaders, and others from CA, DC, GA, PA, VA and other areas attended the march and participated in the program.
Advocates from CA, FL, MA AMPLIFID our visits by calling from home to urge their own Representatives and others to cosponsor the DoP legislation.
During her calls, Maggi Koren (CA) urged staffers and Representative to just read the DoP legislation and promised they would be inspired. Pat Simon (MA) wrote to Rep. Katherine Clark (MA), “A Government structure to support best practices and programs for violence prevention and intervention, will be a counterweight to the Department of Defense, will inspire attitude and thinking-change in the country, and hope in the world!”
Nancy Kivette (FL) wrote to Rep. Charlie Christ (D-FL), “Last weekend, we saw members of hate groups emboldened to march unmasked in public, unafraid to threaten our personal safety and transgress patriotic values of respect, diversity, and inclusion. One of them murdered Heather D. Heyer.” "If we allow a hateful fringe to fray our foundation of liberty and justice for all, we can expect no less than an absolute unraveling of the glorious tapestry that is our nation." Calling for a DoP, Nancy Kivette urged: “… Now is the time to build a resilient, everlasting peace one concrete step at a time. Let’s mark this moment in U.S. history as racism’s final gasp forever.”
Anne Creter reported that when she dropped by Rep. John Larson's (CT) office, the receptionist said they had already received phone calls about DoP.
VIII. CONNECTIONS & MOMENTS OF HOPE
While we experienced a few disappointments, we made many hopeful connections. Unlike in 2016 when we met with his chief of staff, the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not respond to our request for a meeting. In a couple of offices, staffers were not welcoming – we, and they, could have been more sensitive to the needs of each other. Kendra Mon summed up our lessons learned: To continue to work harder to be the peace in all our interactions while lobbying and at home.
We ran into several legislators: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA). Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), came out of her office as DoP advocates were taking photos.
Some of our moments of hope and connection included:
- When Rep. Karen Bass walked into the office, we mentioned seeing her recently at the CA Democratic Party Executive Board meeting and asked if she would cosponsor HR 1111. She turned to her staffer and said to put her on the bill.
- Kendra Mon said, “When we went into Rep. Andre Carson's office (D-IN), he greeted us warmly, which was a surprise as our appointment was with his aide, Nathan Bennett. Nancy said: It's an honor. Rep. Carson said: The honor is mine. It turned out our understanding that Rep. Carson had signed onto HR 1111 was some sort of computer glitch, but at the time we were very excited and upbeat. Rep. Carson referred to Bennett as Nate the Great and ushered us toward his office. Nate told us he had been following the DoP legislation and saw that the language had become less aggressive.”
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) staffers were open to looking at HR 1111.
- Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee’s (D-TX) staffer said her boss would likely sign on to HR 1111, which she did during our Advocacy Day visits. She is the founder of the Children’s Caucus.
- Rep. Ro Khanna’s (D-CA) legislative director, Geo Saba, was very helpful and interested in the legislation. Rep. Khanna’s grandfather’s was active in the Gandhi Independence Movement and served several years in jail for promoting human rights.
- Prior to our first meeting and as we took photos outside of Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) office, someone came along and offered to take photos of the entire group. This turned out to be Rep. Lee’s Legislative Assistant Maria Elena Pino, with whom we were scheduled to meet. We had a great meeting with Elena Pino and appreciated her time, input and hospitality.
- As Debra Poss waited in the lobby, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) walked out of his office and recognized her. “Rep. John Lewis humbly reached down to pick up my bag as it fell off the chair,” she said.
- We visited the office of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to deliver a thank you note for his recent vote which resulted in retention of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “The staff appreciated the note and I felt we had a good heart connection on what the Senator will do with the time he has left,” said Karen Johnson.
- At an open meeting with a staffer of Rep. Betty McCullom (D-MN), we heard about the Representative’s humanitarian work and how it resonates with so much of what HR 1111 will do.
- At Rep. David B. McKinley's (R-WV) office, Kendra Mon met Eleanor Weaver. “It was her first day on staff. She didn't even have business cards yet. As I was talking about peacebuilding, she was nodding, expressing agreement and expanding what I was saying.” The staffer has a background in International Security and Peace and Conflict Studies. “She said: Thanks for stopping in. You made my day,” said Kendra Mon.
- Maryann Mueller was encouraged when Rep. Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) aide said they planned to sign on to the supplementary bills we recommended.
- Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) appeared at the front desk of his office when Kendra Mon and Debra Poss delivered a packet. “Rep. Polis thought we were constituents and was so happy to see us and he seemed a bit disappointed we weren’t,” Debra Poss said. They thanked Rep. Polis for being a long-time DoP cosponsor.
- We had a very cordial meeting with staffer Jacob Hochberg from the office Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). He told us it was not if, but when his boss would cosponsor HR 1111, which she did within days of our visit. Rep. Velazquez, who is from Puerto Rico, lost a home there due to Hurricane Maria and was working for relief for that island.
- Watching Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) talk about the budget on the evening of 10/4/17, we saw him hug a Republican member of Congress he had just debated.
During the meetings and in post Advocacy Days e-mails, many thanked us for our work.
Karen Johnson talked about our trips to Washington, D.C. to advocate for peacebuilding. It is “good to remember, no matter how small the progress may seem from year to year, we are doing something that makes a difference. Certainly, in the way we present ourselves and our case for a DoP, but also how many pieces of the DoP are in various stages of implementation locally and nationally since the Department was mind-mapped in the 2001 bill and even back to the 1790s when Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Banneker drafted A Plan for Peace that included a Secretary of Peace...”
The Dalai Lama said, “All problems on this earth seem to be manmade. If we can create them, we can use our efforts to solve them.”