Three members of Congress cosponsored Department of Peacebuilding (DoP/ HR 1111) legislation during the Season for Nonviolence (SNV) 2018 as volunteers honored proponents of nonviolence by advocating for a cabinet-level DoP. Nanette Barragan (CA-44), Robin Kelly (IL-2) and Bennie Thompson (MS-2) signed on to Rep. Barbara Lee’s (CA-13) bill, bringing the total to 40 cosponsors as of 6/15/18. SNV -- January 30 to April 4 -- is the period spanning the memorial anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
During SNV 2018, the National Department of Peacebuilding Campaign educated itself, volunteers and legislators that, as Dr. King said, "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence."
SNV is a worldwide annual 64-day campaign, co-founded in 1998 by Dr. Arun Gandhi – grandson of Mahatma Gandhi -- and the Association for Global New Thought (AGNT), as an educational, media and grassroots awareness campaign to focus on the philosophy of attaining peace through nonviolent actionas demonstrated by legendary leaders Mohandas K. Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar E. Chavez, Nelson Mandela and His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. (See www.agnt.org)
For a number of years, the National DoP Campaign has observed and participated in SNV by seeking Congressional cosponsors of HR 1111. To honor proponents of nonviolence:
- SNV 2018 DoP volunteers contacted approximately 45 members of Congress and Senators from 27 states via in-person conversations, phone calls to these DC offices and emails to congressional staffers.
- Individuals from 18 states responded to our call for volunteers– some with questions, some committing to contact legislators. Respondents were from AL, AZ, CA, CT, DE, GA, IL, IN, MA, MO, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, RI, TX, and VA and included two students from George Mason University (Fairfax, VA). We conducted several training/ coaching and/or informational call and connected with volunteers throughout SNV via email. Some individuals signed online petitions to their legislators. On one of our group calls, Bonnie Wasniewski, Franciscan Renewal Center (Scottsdale, AZ) talked with us about the Center’s SNV observance and its certificate program in facilitating nonviolence dialogue and action as “nonviolence leadership in the way of St. Francis.”
- The CA DoP group distributed hundreds of SNV flyers at the CA Democratic Party Convention in San Diego in 2/18 and spoke with many attendees who agreed to contact nine CA congressmembers. Others took this request to their local groups and Democratic clubs.
- Pat Simon (MA) involved multiple MA DoP activists in SNV.
During SNV 2018:
- 17 students and adults were killed in a shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This mass shooting is among the ten deadliest in modern US history and reignited calls for gun violence prevention.
- There were continuing shootings of people of color on America’s streets by law enforcement officials.
- There were numerous stories about sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination within the government, the entertainment industry, the military, schools and on college campuses.
- Bullying, hate crimes, and racism continued.
SNV advocates told legislators that peacebuilding means evaluating the root causes of violence and acting upon the root causes of peace. Throughout his life, Dr. Martin King advocated for nonviolence. In 1967 he named as the three problems plaguing western civilization militarism, poverty and racism.
The DoP embodies the principles fundamental to peacefully resolving conflicts in all areas of society. A DoP will provide tools and education to help us all work together to create a culture of peace. Peacebuilding saves lives and money and improves quality of life, freeing up resources for schools, infrastructure, healthcare, housing and more.
“The 2017 Global Peace Index ranked the United States 114 among 163 nations, between Rwanda and El Salvador, thus lowering our rank 11 steps since last year,” wrote Kendra Mon (CA) to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2).
Our nation is too divided – there is too much distrust, hatred, disrespect and fear – to leave peacebuilding to chance or to dump it in the trash heap of futility and despair. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our children’s children to act out of hope to create a world where all thrive. We can, and must, work to reduce and prevent violence in the nation. We know violence is learned behavior. We know peace is learned behavior. The choice is ours. Do we default to a culture of hatred and fear, or do we work to create a culture of peace? Creating a DoP is about making peace and peacebuilding a national priority.
“I Wonder Why We Never Talked in Schools about How to Be Peaceful?
During SNV 2018, 25-year-old Jon Mayer wrote to Senator Ed Markey (MA), asking him to sponsor a DoP bill in the Senate. Senator Markey was a DoP cosponsor when he served in Congress (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013).
Jon wrote, “I think we all agree that we want a peaceful country, and a peaceful world. We know that this is a chaotic, difficult time in our history. There are many dangers which threaten to tear the fabric of our nation apart. There are deep divides between our people, between one another. Most everyone, regardless of ideology, thinks they are doing the right thing. I truly believe that most people want to make the world a better place. Yet we get lost in fighting about the how without clarifying where we are trying to get to. If we acknowledge that peace is our goal, how do we get there?
“The activist A.J. Muste said, "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." How do we become peace? How do we follow the way of peace? It seems like a very difficult problem. Luckily, wisdom spanning the ages, across all the major religions and traditions and up through modern science and social science, has been contemplating and discovering how to be peace. There are many dedicated people learning, teaching, and practicing peace today across our country. I have been lucky enough to encounter some of these teachings, and they've transformed my life. But I had to really acknowledge that what I wanted was to become more peaceful, to own that totally, before I could benefit from this path.
“A Department of Peace (or Peacebuilding) would make this a national priority and serve to balance the anger and violence that pervade our country. It would help implement cost-effective programs to reduce violence in our country; violence which is always costly to the economy. We also might discover that learning peace not only reduces violence, our primary goal, but opens us all up to more joy, wonder, and freedom - to a better way of living. This is something I, as a 25-year-old, think about often. I wonder why we never talked in school about how to be peaceful, how to be kind to one another, how to be mindful and how to build a supportive community among ourselves. Looking back, it seems almost absurd that this wasn't a major point of our education. I know all my teachers meant well, but this simply wasn't a focus of school."
Rep. Nanette Barragan (CA) Cosponsors
Prior to her election and since she was sworn in as a member of Congress in 2017, DoP volunteers advocated with Rep. Nanette Barragan (CA-44) to cosponsor DoP legislation. Her predecessor, Rep. Janice Hahn, cosponsored throughout her tenure in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Jerilyn Stapleton (CA) spoke with Rep. Barragan in her Los Angeles-area district. In 8/17, Jerilyn and the Congresswoman were panelists at the CA Democratic Executive Board meeting in Anaheim in 8/17 in celebration of the 97th Anniversary of women securing the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920. Nancy Merritt (CA) sat next to the Congresswoman at that event and asked both her and her Legislative Director if she would cosponsor HR 1111. Nancy followed up by email and in 9/17, Nancy and others visited Rep. Barragan’s DC office with the same request. Nancy wrote more follow-up emails and sent holiday greetings. She continued email and phone contacts during SNV 2018. On 2/26/18, Rep. Barragan signed on as a DoP cosponsor.
Rep. Robin Kelly (IL) Cosponsors
Shortly before Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-2) hosted Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-14) at an IL brunch on 3/17/18, both Karen Johnson (IL) and Cetta Smart (IL) wrote to Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-2), who was sworn in in 2013, seeking her co-sponsorship of HR 1111.
Karen wrote, “I have accompanied Cetta on several visits to Rep. Kelly’s local and DC office visits over the past couple years and enjoyed hearing Rep. Kelly speak at the Will County Progressives meeting last summer. Every communication I have heard leads me to believe this bill (HR 1111) is in alignment with Rep. Kelly’s values and priorities as a leader.”
On 3/17/18, Cetta wrote, “Thank you for your strong support for Gun Safety Reform. We know you care deeply about stopping the senseless gun violence in Chicago and the rest of the country. We will be at the brunch Saturday, March 17, 2018 when Representative Barbara Lee is speaking. As you may know, she is the main sponsor of HR 1111, the US Department of Peacebuilding. As your constituents and US citizens, we have asked you to co-sponsor HR 1111 for the years you have been in this office. We feel like this bill is a very much needed GAME CHANGER! The US Department of Peacebuilding will begin to teach peacemaking in communities, nation and world and will give PEACE a bigger piece of the budgetary pie!” Cetta wrote on behalf of herself, Karen Johnson, Michael Anthony, Linda Daniels, Bobbie Richards, Kathy Stasser, and the many people, groups and organizations they are associated with, including the Catholic US Bishops. On 3/20/18, shortly after these contacts, Rep. Kelly cosponsored HR 1111.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (MI) Cosponsors
Rep. Bennie Thompson (MI-2) became a Congressman in 1993. Dennis Kucinich initially introduced Department of Peace legislation in 2001 and Rep. Thompson cosponsored that legislation in 2003 and 2005.
During subsequent years, DoP volunteers advocated for the Congressman to cosponsor DoP legislation again. Debra Poss (GA) visited his DC office in 2016 and 2017. Most recently, during 2017 DC Advocacy Days, Debra had an in-person conversation with the Congressman’s staffer and she followed up with a phone call. Debra was told Rep. Thompson was reviewing HR 1111. During SNV 2018, Debra communicated with the office seven times and Rep. Thompson cosponsored on 3/7/18.
On 2/1/18, Nancy Merritt (CA) hand delivered to Rep. James Clyburn (SC-6), a member of the House Democratic leadership, a letter and informational packet requesting him to cosponsor HR 1111. At that time, he was a guest speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland, CA. The MLK Center was founded by Rep. Barbara Lee. Rep. Clyburn addressed this year's lecture series theme, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” The Congressman said to contact his Legislative Director in DC and after some emails, “I spoke with the Congressman’s Legislative Director who was very cordial and interested in details about HR 1111. When I told her the number of cosponsors (37 at that time), she said that was pretty good and she said there is a higher bar for party leaders to cosponsor a bill. She also asked about funding – the bill provides that 85% of the funding is to go to domestic violence prevention. ”
Each contact yields more information and plants the seeds for future discussions. That is the case for ongoing contacts by Betty Cooper (MO) with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5) and with so many other contacts by SNV volunteers.
Thank you to SNV 2018 volunteers, legislative staff members and Rep. Barragan, Rep. Kelly and Rep. Thompson for cosponsoring DoP legislation.
Walk in peace.
Peace Alliance/ National Department of Peacebuilding Lead
National DoP Committee
California State Coordinator/ No. CA