Giving Peace Another Chance

Conference, Concert Mark Reintroduction of Peace Bill

Posted February 2, 2007 at 3:53pm

It is a piece of legislation that was first introduced to Congress in the 1960s and has since been transformed and reintroduced in recent years. But the crux of the measure and idea behind it remains unchanged — to create a United States Department of Peace that would provide practical and nonviolent solutions to domestic and international conflicts.

Today, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is on his second presidential bid, will reintroduce legislation to create the department to the 110th Congress. Meanwhile, a three-day annual conference in support of the legislation also will include a grand finale event tonight with appearances by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and actor Joaquin Phoenix at The George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium.

Members of Congress supporting the legislation, including Democratic Reps. Bob Filner (Calif.), John Conyers (Mich.) and Keith Ellison (Minn.), also will make appearances and speak about the bill.

The conference, sponsored by the Peace Alliance Campaign to establish a Department of Peace, is part of a lobbying effort for the bill. The three-day event was set to feature workshops and training led by experts in conflict resolutions and peace building and others who support the creation of a Department of Peace. About 700 people from various organizations were slated to attend the conference.

The grand finale, hosted by author Marianne Williamson, founder of the Peace Alliance, will feature Members and a special appearance by Phoenix. Tyler also is expected to perform. The event is open to the public.

“It’s an effort that goes back to the beginning of the country,” said Patty Kuderer, communications co-director for the Peace Alliance.

While previous measures to create the department were more internationally focused, Kuderer said, the current proposal would include an expanded domestic component. She said the Department of Peace would act as a clearinghouse for existing programs currently dealing with the issue of violence. The department also would take programs statistically proven to reduce crime and implement them in cities across the country.

“A Department of Peace would create a comprehensive, cohesive approach in creating a peace culture,” Kuderer said.

The new legislation also would emphasize a partnership with the Department of Education, Kuderer said. The two departments would work together to create K-12 programs that teach children nonviolent resolutions.

The bill also would create a peace academy that would be on par with military academies, Kuderer said.

“The idea is to have options available and allow that voice at the table when the president is making decisions to go to war,” she said.

While some may doubt the necessity of creating another Cabinet-level department specifically for peace efforts, Kuderer said doing so would show the government’s commitment to working against violence.

“Elevating it to Cabinet position would make [peace] a national priority,” Kuderer said. Politicians always say “America is committed to peace; [a department] would demonstrate that.”

Kucinich first introduced the bill in Congress in 2001. A statement released by his office said that the department would “serve to promote non-violence as an organizing principle in our society, and help to create the conditions for a more peaceful world.” The legislation currently has 36 co-sponsors.

Kucinich also will hold a press conference Feb. 6 to talk about the need for the department and for nonviolence in today’s society. Other speakers at the press conference will include Williamson, Denise Brown of the Nicole Brown Charitable Foundation, and actors Frances Fisher, Amy Smart and Phoenix.

The former bill received support from 75 Representatives and two Senators, Kuderer said. But there is growing support among the public, she said.

“We’re not getting the same kind of reaction where [our efforts] would be trivialized,” Kuderer said. “People really see it for what it is: a proactive, sophisticated and scientific approach to dealing with a public health issue — violence.”