While the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nominee hearings dominated national attention, Department of Peacebuilding (DoP/ H.R. 1111) advocates injected violence prevention and peacebuilding into conversations at the offices of legislators during our annual D.C. Advocacy Days in September 2018. As we promoted establishment of a cabinet-level DoP, we experienced both the quirky and serious sides of Washington, DC. (See also Someday. With Liberty & Justice for All - DC Advocacy Days, Part I.)
I. CONGRESSIONAL VISITS OVERVIEW
A small group of DoP advocates visited 140+ offices representing every geographic area of this country. We visited at least 121 House members and 19 Senate offices, including the offices of :
- some of Congress’ most progressive members (Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) for example)
- some more conservative legislators (Sen. Johnny Isaksen (R-GA) and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) for example)
- all current DoP cosponsors
- 13 of the 60 members of the House Armed Services Committee
We visited the office of Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA), the Congressman whose district includes the longest US/ Mexico border and the office of Rep. Frederika Wilson (D-FL), whose district includes a large Haitian population. Two of our meetings included constituents attending via phone with MA constituent Pat Simon also “appearing” in a life-size photo of her face, which we carried with us (aka “Pat-on-a-stick”).
“I have never seen the halls of Congress so crowded with groups and advocates: 800 high school vocational program students, a cancer research group, individuals and small groups representing other causes, DoP advocates, proponents of Brett Kavanaugh and many, many more advocating against him,” said DoP Advocate Nancy Merritt (CA).
Not all was contentious and serious as we encountered some DC and American quirkiness. The Longworth Congressional Office cafeteria now offers a new “Foot-Longworth All Beef Hot Dog Grilled & Topped with Coney Sauce, Cole Slaw, Cheese and Onions.” Guam Rep. Maeline Bordallo welcomed visitors with a “Hafa Adai” (Greetings/ “How are you friend”) doormat. The American Horse Council was in town to “Put More Horsepower In Congress.” Preparing for a meeting in the office of Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), we learned there is a Cut Flower Congressional caucus. At least one staffer brought her dog to work in the office of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
II. LEGISLATOR PORTRAITS
We learned about legislators through office décor (and don’t forget about sports) and through in-person conversations.
A. Portraits of Legislators Through Décor
Congress office décor included:
- “Will Work for Your Vote” sign in the office of Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)
- A photograph of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) with the Dalai Lama
- Pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy in the office of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA)
- Rubber duckies lined up across the front of his desk and a rainbow banner on the door of Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-CA) office
- UC San Diego surfboard and beach scenes in the office of Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA)
- “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “Refugees Welcome,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “Hands Off My Education,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Disarm Hate” door signs at the office of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
- A photo of Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) with Nelson Mandala
- A photo of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) with the Pope
- “No Ban. No Wall. No Hate. Sanctuary for All! You Are Welcome Here” butterfly poster in the conference room of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
- “Julian Bond, January 14, 1940 - August 15, 2015” photo on the door of Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
- Origami peace cranes folded by the Congresswoman were displayed in the office of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)
- “New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - 2015” poster and Mardi Gras beads dangling from the chandelier in Rep. Cedric Richmond's (D-LA) office
- “We Love Houston” photo in the office of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)
- Large Colorado flag and posters of Boulder and Colorado in the office of Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
- Beautiful Indian blanket and Southwest paintings in the office of Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM)
- “Dodgers #42” baseball shirt in the office of Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
- “You’re In Seahawks Territory” giant door banner in the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
- “At Last! Eagles Finally Win the Super Bowl” framed Philadelphia Inquirer news article in the office of Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA)
B. Portraits of Legislators Through Conversation
We learned more about legislators from our conversations with their staff members.
“A surprising, heart-warming connection occurred in Rep. Dwight Evans' (D-PA) office when I asked the receptionist if we could present our packet to the legislative director to thank the Congressman for being a H.R. 1111 cosponsor. Legislative Council Darrell Rico Doss received us and in the course of our brief conversation when saying how committed to peace Rep. Evans was, he mentioned Philadelphia Quakers, to which I responded that I am a Philadelphia Quaker.” He responded that he had worked for peace himself as a youth with the famous Philadelphia American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), then disappeared in his office for a few minutes to locate a dusty old AFSC magazine featuring him, which he proudly showed us. “Needless to say, I was deeply impressed with the peace consciousness of both Rep. Evans and his staff,” said DoP Advocate Anne Creter (NJ).
As a young man, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) was a Jesuit and worked with internally displaced individuals in El Salvador. Rep. Frederica Wilson(D-FL) is a former educator and led the awareness on the Boca Haram kidnapping of 200 school girls in West Africa.
III. STAFF PORTRAITS
We learned that many Congressional staffers have a background in law, political science, conflict resolution or international studies. At least one majored in philosophy. One is a State Department (DoS) Fellow who will return to the DoS after a year in the office of Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). One went to a small Jesuit law school in Nebraska. One served in AmeriCorps last year. At least one House staffer previously interned in the Senate.
Another was an advisor to the State Department, chose her law school based upon her interest in conflict resolution and now teaches alternative dispute resolution at Georgetown Law School. Her mother grew up in Nigeria and was impacted by the Biafra/ Nigerian Civil War. She had been a constituent of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and knew about the DoP legislation. She has a one-year-old son and is interested in enrolling him at Lafayette Elementary School in DC, where children are taught about peacebuilding.
Some had previously worked in the offices of other members of Congress. One Senate staffer said he started by answering phones in the senate office, was a legislative correspondent and is now a legislative aide. He was raised by his grandfather, who was a Marine and taught him to respect public service.
Some said they work in Congress because they believe in the value of problem solving and public service. Some said they are fascinated with how government works.
IV. OUR MEETINGS AND KAVANAUGH
News about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh spilled over into our Congressional visits. We visited the offices of several legislators who had direct ties to the Kavanaugh supreme court nominee hearings, including Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who is Dr. Ford’s Representative. We met with the offices of two Senate Judiciary Committee members -- Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) -- and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AL) staffer.
Instead of meeting in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, we met with her Judiciary Committee legislative aide in the offices of that committee, which was scheduled to hear Dr. Ford's testimony the day after our meeting (on 9/27/18). At our meeting, we talked about sexual assault prevention and other aspects of peacebuilding. The hearings brought up memories for many. One DoP advocate said, “I surprised myself by my voice breaking in Sen. Feinstein’s office when I tried to speak about my own sexual abuse” many, many years ago ... In our discussion about the DoP, we talked about elementary school students at one DC school who said they could teach adults about being peaceful through the CAT method (C for calm down, A for apologize and T for using your toolbox such as listening skills). We said it was too bad the staffer could not start the next Judiciary Committee hearing by teaching members of Congress the CAT method. He agreed.
While Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she was a key vote and subsequently did not vote for Kavanaugh. (She was one of only two Republicans who did not vote to confirm. Sen. Murkowski voted “present” and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) did not vote at all because he was attending his daughter’s wedding during the vote.) Sen. Murkowski's staffer said she was very happy to be able to discuss conflict prevention and to take a break from the Kavanaugh discussions.
During our meetings, we said violence impacts everyone whether they are Republicans or Democrats and that just as violence is learned behavior, so is peace. By taking peacebuilding to Congress, we AMPLIFIED the call to prioritize peace in this nation. Peace and nonviolence need a stronger voice in DC and a seat at the table of our government.
We delivered over 70 letters from San Diego high school students who talked about their fear of going home to domestic violence, of visiting local parks and public spaces where they experience almost daily racism, of going to school wondering which desk they should hide under when a shooter appeared at their school. They wrote that we need a Department of Peacebuilding to finally teach peacebuilding skills and to prevent violence so we, and they, can turn attention to curing cancer, preventing hunger and homelessness and solving other issues. (See Delivering Hope for a World Where Students Don’t Have to Worry About Where to Hide During a Mass Shooting.)
During Advocacy Days, Peace Alliance Teach Peace Lead Jelena Popovic (SC) visited Lafayette Elementary School in DC where they have been teaching peace to students for many years. At our legislative meetings, Jelena said the kids told her they know how to be peaceful and can teach that to adults. (See Two Powerful Conflict Resolution Tools: Mindfulness & Neuroscience.) DoP Advocate Kendra Mon (CA) said she especially took to heart the kids’ message that they know how to resolve conflicts by taking five to calm down by breathing in and out slowly as they trace a finger of one hand around the sides of the widespread fingers of the other hand; apologizing; and using their toolbox of conflict resolution skills to reach resolution. “I used this illustration of peacebuilding in all my meetings and when I came home.”
At the office of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), we discussed the high rates of domestic violence and suicide in the Native American populations. According to the staffer, the Senator is interested in being proactive -- rather than reactive -- about violence prevention, e.g. helping Alaskans with suicide prevention. Senator Murkowski has also cosponsored the Stop School Violence Act. Additionally, Alaska has a high population of veterans and those who are impacted by seasonal depression and suicide.
Some staffers encouraged efforts to create a DoP. One said he very much wants to see a Department of Peace, but thinks the bill does not go far enough, “Who can disagree with peace?” “In times of conflict, a person calling for peace is ostracized. You can’t do that with a Department of Peacebuilding ... ” (Office of Rep. Alma Adams D-NC) Rep. Jackie Speier’s staffer said the Congresswoman has long advocated for peace, Violence Against Women Act improvements, sexual assault prevention, and is good at getting leaders to move forward. A Legislative Council in the office of Sen. Kamala Harris (CA) thanked us, said a Department of Peacebuilding is needed and knows it feels almost impossible. She said she deeply admires our efforts and will try to advance what we are doing. Rep. Barbara Lee’s staffer thanked us, told us to keep up the good work, and said we will win this one day.
VI. MAGA MANIA
We experienced the constant onslaught of "Make America Great Again" mania by the current administration. We worked to counter that by staying ‘woke,’ active and hopeful; promoting inclusion, diversity, peace and justice; and focusing on proactive and positive nonviolent solutions.
One staffer said every day is so different with the current president. "The office cannot chase all the craziness.” There are so many concerns from workers’ rights to immigrants to women’s issues to the wall to the global war on terror and more. (Office of Rep. John Lewis (GA-5)) Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has signs on his door: “Alternative Facts Free Zone” and “Truth Is Truth.” According to a staffer in the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), bipartisanship happens more than people think, but not enough. A staffer in the office of Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) advised us to focus on what we can do, “hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is coming soon.”
VII. OTHER ISSUES ON AMERICA’S MIND
Other issues included criminal justice reform, the economy and jobs, gun violence prevention, immigration, and the military/ defense/ war. In one office, food security was a major topic.
A. Criminal Justice/ Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is a priority, according to a staffer in the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Criminal justice reform, including sentencing and re-entry, is Rep. Cedric Richmond’s (D-LA) primary focus. His staffer said that in Louisiana, when a person leaves prison, he or she gets a bus ticket and $10 and is required to purchase a $12 ID -- they are already underwater.
B. Economy and Jobs
The economy and jobs were on signs in House and Senate office buildings:
- “Today Marks 2741 Days Without the Passage of a Jobs Bill. More Than 6 Million Americans Are Unemployed! Pass A Jobs Bill Now!!!” and “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” posters on the door of Rep. Frederika Wilson (D-FL)
- “Protect Worker’s Freedom” and “In Our America … Love Wins …” posters on the door of Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
C. Gun Violence Prevention
Many members of Congress met with survivors of the Parkland High School mass shooting when they went to DC. This included Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
According to a staffer in the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), he supports background checks and is happy with the current age limits on the arms. Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) does not support the assault weapons ban but has said that military grade weapons don’t need to be in the hands of civilians. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) has rural areas in his district, is concerned about the Second Amendment and supports expanded carry legislation. DoP Advocate Debra Poss (GA) told the staffer she hopes Rep. Bishop is able to find a balance between protecting Second Amendment rights and gun violence prevention.
Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) supports gun violence prevention bills. There were two mass shootings in his district in Jacksonville, FL in August 2018: 1) one person was killed and two injured in a shooting after a Raines High School football game; and 2) more than a dozen were shot and three died at video game conference there. In June 2016 a shooter killed 49 individuals and wounded 53 others at the Pulse Nightclub in shooting was nearby Orlando, FL. Rep. Juan Vargas’ (D-CA) staffer said to tell San Diego students the Congressman is working on gun violence prevention.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-AL) staffer said that in Alaska, guns are used for hunting. There is some use of AK-47s and some conflict in that state about gun use. There was a school shooting in Alaska in 1997. They talked about making gun triggers work only with the owner’s finger print. Sen. Murkowski believes in a multi-pronged approach to gun control, including dealing with the mental health aspects.
D. Food Security
A staffer in the office of Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) was passionate about food security, agriculture and nutrition and extremely knowledgeable about immigration. She said her work with Rep. Lawson is a good fit as one of Rep. Lawson’s assignments is the Agriculture Committee. She said students who go to school hungry cannot focus and that in some areas of South Florida, communities struggle with food insecurity and food deserts i.e. in South Tallahassee there are few fresh food venues.
Immigration was a major topic. Rep. Anna Eshoo’s (D-CA) staffer said the Congresswoman, with other Democratic Representatives, visited the US/ Mexico border in the midst of the US ripping children away from their parents. This brought up memories of herself temporarily being taken from her mother as they entered the US through Ellis Island many years ago. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) also went to the US/ Mexico border during the crisis when the US was taking children away from their parents who were seeking asylum in the US. Regarding taking children from their parents at the border, Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) yelled at Trump, “Don’t you have kids, too?” He has a poster on his door: “It’s time, justice for Dreamers.”
F. Military/Defense Spending/War
The defense industry has ties in every Congressional district in America and all -- or almost all -- DoP supporters who attended Advocacy Days have family members or friends who served in the military. Many legislators recognized those who have served in the military, such as Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) who has a poster outside of his office: “Tribute to New Mexico’s Fallen Heroes.” DoP advocate Ann Pestalozzi (CA) said, “If all people loved their neighbors as themselves we might not need the police nor the military. However, that is clearly not the case. A Department of Peacebuilding will not eliminate the need for police and the military.” At least not now.
On his website, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) wrote, “As a student of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, I have long believed that peace is a true way for change. In recent years, this belief has been further validated though studies which examine the economics of peace. Countries which are more peaceful internally and with their neighbors are often wealthier nations … If we prevent acts of violence on our streets, in our schools, there is no need to incarcerate. If we prevent war, there is no need to cut education and social insurance programs to cover the costs.”
Rep. Lewis’ staffer talked about the Congressman’s efforts to make the connection between the budget and war costs. His Cost of War legislation requires the Department of Defense to post on a public website the cost to each taxpayer of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, “The people have a right to know what they actually spend on these conflicts … It makes the cost of war plain, simple, and transparent so every American is aware of the sizeable sums we throw at the conflicts,” said Rep. Lewis. See www.bit.do/euAuE.
During the recent debates for tax cuts for wealthy Americans, Rep. Lewis introduced ten “Missed Opportunity” bills relating to the implications of those cuts on aviation, career and technical education, education, jobs, low income housing, public health and biomedical research, science and engineering research, student debt, transportation and veterans.
Each Advocacy Day attendee and AMPLIFIER from home added important pieces to the conversations with Congressional staffers. Thank you to those who attended and to those who AMPLIFIED, sent letters and followed-up on our DC visits. Attendees included: Anne Creter (NJ), Karen Johnson (IL), Doug Merritt (CA), Nancy Merritt (CA), Kendra Mon (CA), Ann Pestalozzi (CA), Jelena Popovic (SC), Debra Poss (GA), Chris Rilling (MD) Cetta Smart (IL), and Jerilyn Stapleton (CA). Those who supported us from the field came from many states, including California, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Texas.
Peace-ing it together,
On Behalf of the National Department of Peacebuilding Committee
And Department of Peacebuilding Advocates