On September 11, 2005, 11 Minnesota Peace Alliance members met in the U.S. Senate dining room with Sen. Mark Dayton to ask him to sponsor legislation to create a Department of Peace. On September 22, Dayton did just that, introducing S. 1756, the Department of Peace and Nonviolence Act.
“Our members had been lobbying Senator Dayton,” says Matthew Albracht, managing director of the Peace Alliance. “He had concerns about introducing another level of bureaucracy. After the September 11 meeting, he told his staff he'd made up his mind to sponsor it.”
Dayton's bill, the counterpart to Rep. Dennis Kucinich's H.R. 3760, marks the first time this proposal has been before the Senate. Kucinich first introduced Department of Peace legislation in the House in 2001, and reintroduced it September 14 of this year. Sixty representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the House bill.
The 11 Minnesotans who met with Dayton were in Washington, D.C., along with hundreds of other people from across the U.S., to attend a conference on the proposed Department of Peace. Walter Cronkite, who, along with Kucinich, is a prominent advocate for a Department of Peace, urged the citizen activists to spread the word “among the people, so it becomes a more popular thing to be counted as one of the pilgrims, trying to lead us to this promised land of peace.”
The conference was organized by the Peace Alliance, which has been working since 2004 to promote creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace. The organization coordinates grassroots lobbying activity and provides on-site training for activists; its website contains a broad range of resources including flyers, action guides, and tips on generating media attention. It has members in all 50 states.
The message of the Alliance—delivered by the Minnesota lobbying group that included a first-grader, a grandmother, two nurses, two union members, a sculptor, and a teacher—evidently resonated with Senator Dayton. Speaking from the Senate floor, he said, “If we are to remain the world's leader, and if we are to lead the world into a more secure and more prosperous future, we must become better known and more respected for our peacemaking successes than for our military forces.”
The legislation Dayton and Kucinich introduced calls for the Department of Peace to “research, articulate and facilitate nonviolent solutions to domestic and international conflict,” and prescribes a budget of at least 2 percent of the Defense Department budget—approximately $8 billion at current spending levels.
”There is currently no overall organized approach by the U.S. government that aims at creating peaceful solutions to the problems we face domestically and internationally,” according to the Peace Alliance. While some federal programs address aspects of peace work, none “offer any overall structure to a broad-based approach to making the work of peace a national calling.”
Peace should have a cabinet position, says Albracht, “because it needs a seat at the president's table. Principles of peace and nonviolence should have a voice equal to the departments of Justice and Defense in the search for solutions to violence, domestically and abroad.”
Leslie Elliel is a freelance writer and designer. Doug Pibel is managing editor of YES!
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