I am involved at various levels in a grassroots global phenomenon calling for ministries and departments of peace within governments. My particular passion has been to engage fellow Friends in our effort to advance the culture of peace by supporting legislation now pending in Congress for a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace (H.R. 808: Department of Peace and Nonviolence Act). A unique public awareness and lobbying campaign organized by the national Peace Alliance has coalesced to champion its passage. Many Friends have been drawn to this Alliance, sensing its spiritual groundedness coupled with powerful political action. They have formed the Quaker Coalition, representing Friends meetings from 13 states. Its purpose is to seek stronger Friends advocacy for the Department of Peace (DOP) because Quaker values are at the heart of this legislation.
With the historic and widely respected Quaker commitment to nonviolence, Friends have an unusual opportunity to empower this growing movement at the level of grassroots advocacy, particularly within Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Because the DOP reflects both the policies and priorities of FCNL, the Quaker Coalition hopes FCNL will endorse it. The DOP represents the embodiment of the Quaker Peace Testimony, and offers it as a vibrant and relevant practice in the 21st century. A DOP will give institutional heft to George Fox’s words that we should "live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all war."
Under the U.S. Constitution, government’s main purpose is to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare (i.e. to make peace). Because government is failing in this, it is our civic duty to correct it, recognizing that real change starts from the bottom up. Missing from government are infrastructures to support nonviolence. The DOP will provide them.
Imagine a Secretary of Peace at the cabinet level whose job is to provide nonviolent options to resolve conflicts peacefully wherever they arise. Imagine a National Peace Academy on par with military academies. Imagine the funding, research, and intentional, uniform implementation of programs that reduce and prevent violence. Imagine consolidating scattered governmental peace-building functions to create a coordinated, unified peace focus. Internationally, the DOP will stand equally with both the Departments of Defense and State, connecting and complementing ways and means to enhance their distinct peacemaking roles.
The DOP will enable a more sophisticated analysis and a better-resourced effort to wage peace in as full a way as we now know how to wage war. It will address the root causes of violence both domestically and internationally, promote peace education, encourage peace media, and address the nonviolent resolution of human security issues. More details may be found at http://www.thepeacealliance.org. Quaker peace visionary Elise Boulding is a proponent, as is renowned broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, who says, "It is not a matter of simply getting another department of government. You’re speaking of an entire philosophical revolution."
The DOP campaign is organized around congressional districts with coordinators in every state. In my two years as a state co-coordinator, I have been inspired by this dedicated network of volunteer peace-builders. We organize creative lobbying actions, such as our popular delivery of pies to Congress on Mother’s Day with the theme "Peace Wants a Piece of the Pie." Campaigners en masse flood Capitol Hill and their local Congressional district offices with pies and pie charts showing the little sliver in the national budget a DOP would cost compared to the humongous defense budget. Visits are synchronized to occur simultaneously nationwide. The Student Peace Alliance, with its emphasis on engaging youth, has also developed DOP chapters in many colleges and high schools.
Initially proposed in 1792 by Quaker reformers Benjamin Banneker and Benjamin Rush, a DOP has been suggested in legislation many times. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced an updated version in September 2001 just before 9/11 with 20 brave co-sponsors. Reintroduced most recently in February 2007, it now has 69 co-sponsors. A companion bill was also introduced in the 2006 Senate. Many prominent organizations, city councils, county boards of supervisors, and even one tribal council have endorsed the DOP. It has gained legitimacy because of the worldwide escalation of terrorism and increasing awareness that violence is out of control. Having just passed the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, people are more open to the profound wisdom in Martin Luther King Jr.’s remark, "It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence. It is nonviolence or nonexistence."
The global human family faces a crisis, an international public health and safety issue—violence. So say Peace Alliance leaders Dot Maver and Michael Abkin in their chapter "From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: The Case for Ministries and Departments of Peace" in Earthcare: The Dawning of a New Civilization in the 21st Century by Patrick Petit. Dot and Mike now head the newly evolving worldwide extension of the Peace Alliance called Peace Partnership International (see http://www.peacepartintl.org), where I am UN liaison. We presented a workshop at the UN on the concept of developing peace departments at last year’s NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Conference and are working to get a DOP Resolution in the UN General Assembly.
Peace Partnership International is part of a planetary civil society groundswell, known as The Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace, http://www.mfp-dop.org, which is present in 33 countries spread across all world regions. It conducts an annual Global Summit. The first was held in October 2005 in the United Kingdom, and each year since, the number of participating countries has steadily climbed. Among them are India, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, and Rwanda. Two already have budding Ministries of Peace: Nepal and the Solomon Islands.
I feel blessed to put my faith into practice in such a new way. It was the Peace Testimony that originally convinced me to become a Friend 30 years ago, after witnessing the courageous peace actions of Friends during the 1960s.
The peace movement and discipline of peace studies have matured since then, but so have lethal forms of violence. In 2008, as we enter the final lap of the UN- declared International Decade for a Culture of Peace (2001-2010), our planet is in grave peril. In 2005 the UN did a Mid-Decade Status Report (see http://decade-culture-of-peace.org) of the progress made in the first five years by surveying 700 NGOs worldwide who work for peace. Results showed most believed progress had been achieved but was still under the radar, the biggest obstacle being lack of resources. Creating and funding a DOP within our government at the highest level would set a compelling precedent and example for other nations to follow.
Marta Daniels, fellow DOP Quaker Coalition member from Hartford (Conn.) Meeting, longtime AFSC peace activist, and author of Peace is Everybody’s Business, calls the DOP a political tsunami. "It’s here, it’s growing, and it will take hold." Marta says "the DOP is fundamentally different from any other national effort we’ve ever experienced—both in its comprehensive nature and transformational possibilities—to challenge the paradigm of pervasive and structural violence that permeates every level of our culture. It has," she says, "a seductively freeing and welcoming effect on newcomers and offers a place for everyone. We have in the DOP movement a political ‘jaws of life’ prying open the crumbled hearts and minds of millions of people who have been in a series of terrible recurring accidents since the dawn of humankind. People are grateful to those who help pry us free from this life-threatening culture."
The Religious Society of Friends could play a critical role in assuring the DOP’s establishment by giving it the wholehearted support our Peace Testimony surely suggests.