News Analysis: Those Peaceniks Are At It Again! Kucinich Brings Department of Peace Bill Before Congress By Christopher Krohn Special to the Planet
Washington, D.C.—As an in-tractable and hopeless war in Iraq continues, a nightmare famine in Darfur lingers, and a post-hurricane catastrophe scenario plays itself out at home along comes a campaign to initiate a United States cabinet-level Department of Peace (DOP).
Tomorrow morning (Wednesday), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) will take to the floor of the 109th Congress and put forward a Department of Peace bill. It will be the third time this bill, H.R. 1673 (number from the 108th Congress) has been read. It has never gone to a committee and therefore has never actually been voted upon on the floor of Congress. But maybe, just maybe, this time the outcome will be different.
Never before in the bill’s existence have more than 1,800 Americans died in a foreign land, nor have hundreds of thousands been left homeless in a major American city, nor has the president ever had approval ratings lower than Richard Nixon had in 1974 at the height of Watergate. The mood of the country has changed since July 2001 when the bill was first introduced, and clearly the fervor and numbers of DOP activists supporting the bill has changed too.
The Department of Peace will address all of the above—war, homelessness, and poverty—and even more, according to Dorothy Maver, executive director of the Peace Alliance and former national coordinator of Rep. Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) long-shot 2004 run for the Presidency.
The Peace Alliance is based in Michigan, and under Maver’s leadership turned out more than 500 pro-DOP activists, post-new-agers, politicos and celebrities for this, the third Department of Peace Conference. Even as a bizarre contingent of Pentagon-organized, pro-Bushies paraded through this nation’s capitol on their way to hear country musician Clint Black’s Patriot’s Day (“Iraq and Roll”) post-march concert, the pro-DOPers’ patriotism was practiced in laborious sessions of honing their lobbying message.
Among the conference’s pro-peace contingent were Walter Cronkite, Dr. Patch Adams, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), writers Jonathan Schell and Marianne Williamson, former U.S. Ambassador John McDonald, and futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard. Clearly “love, understanding, and peace” were the themes, but organizing and training the activists to lobby their congressional representatives to support the Kucinich bill was the immediate task at hand. While California had the most representation with 84—Michigan was second with 48—the overall gathering hailed from some 46 states and 265 congressional districts, just three shy of a U.S. House of Representatives majority. But hold on! While all present held varying degrees of hope about when a DOP would become a reality and actually displace the current GOP war agenda, all of those interviewed did not see anything but a protracted, long-term campaign struggle.
Currently, 54 Congress members are signed on to the Kucinich bill proposing a Department of Peace. The list reads like a who’s who in what passes lately as the liberal-progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Of course Barbara Lee has signed it and so have the Bay Area’s George Miller, Lynn Woolsey and Fortney “Pete” Stark, but San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi and San Jose’s Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo are conspicuously absent from the bill’s co-sponsorship list. And these are precisely the types of Congressmembers which The Peace Alliance’s training of citizen-activists wants to target.
The crowded Grand Ball Room at L’Enfante Plaza Hotel saw a credible organizing strategy imparted throughout the sometimes grueling 2-day organizing conference—with sessions running past 10 p.m. each night—in an attempt to reach out and make the case to U.S. Representatives not already co-sponsoring the bill. The conference was presided over by the Peace Alliance’s co-founder and post-new age pragmatist and author Williamson.
Part cheerleader and part sermonizer, Williamson is noticeably skilled in cajoling, coddling, and politicking. With her head on a cloudy prayer wheel, (“Current policy does not reflect the better angels of our nature”) and both her feet planted firmly in Washington political lobbying reality, (“We will not prevail unless we become a serious political constituency”), she presided over sessions like, “Creating a New Priority for Congress—Tips on Talking About the Department of Peace with Your Congress member,” “Practicing Speaking About the Bill (with Burt Wides, Senior Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee),” and “Group Dialogue and Best Practices.”
She was at her best when quoting the poetry and prose of the Rev. Martin Luther King and the rational, get-it-done politics of Rep. Conyers from her home state of Michigan.
While this gathering was perhaps overly serious and extremely hopeful, it became at times a bit raucous, especially when Williamson invoked the uphill struggles of the Abolitionists and Suffragettes. “The first Abolitionists would have thought abolition not possible, the first women suffragettes too,” she said. Then she declared from the ballroom podium with an air of guarded optimism, “This (creation of a DOP) is doable within the next five years.”
There was a pervading message of optimism as well as an if-not-now-then-when attitude among conference participants. Many of the activists see the period the country finds itself in—post-hurricane Katrina—as a strategic time to organize for a Department of Peace (DOP) and to make right many of the social and political wrongs which the current administration in this town has wrought. Maver said the realization of a DOP would be, “a shift in consciousness that will bring forth the vision of our founding fathers.”
Yesterday following their conference preparation, the peace activists took to the streets to lobby their Congressmembers to vote tomorrow to send the DOP bill to committee. In the words of Executive Director Maver, the creation of the DOP is an institutionalized, serious, and “fiscally responsible effort to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness,” with the U.S. taking the lead at home and around the world.
Christopher Krohn is the former mayor of Santa Cruz.