PACIFICA - To Clark Natwick, the idea of creating a U.S. Department of Peace isn't retro — it's the only reasonable solution to the world's escalating conflicts.
Natwick and fellow members of Pacifica Peace People, a local grassroots group founded in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have asked the Pacifica City Council to adopt a resolution endorsing a House bill that would create a national Department of Peace and Nonviolence.
Originally introduced by Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) months before the events of Sept. 11, the bill has 75 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and two in the Senate. Sixteen cities have endorsed the legislation, including Minneapolis, Cleveland and Detroit; in the Bay Area, Palo Alto, Oakland and San Jose also officially support the bill.
Although most of the bill's co-sponsors, such as Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, are known for their leftist politics, supporters say a cabinet-level department to address the root causes of violence around the world has mainstream appeal.
"I'm 74 years old and I've seen wars throughout my lifetime. I'd like to see a different model presented as a possibility," said Natwick, who hopes an endorsement by Pacifica will provoke a chain reaction across San Mateo County and persuade Congressman Tom Lantos to add his name to the list of co-sponsors.
As described in the bill, the Department of Peace would create offices to focus on the sources of conflict at home and abroad, be it gang violence, human rights abuses, drug abuse or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. An Academy of Peace, modeled after West Point Military Academy, would research and teach techniques for diplomacy and non-violent communication. American university students, including members of the Peace Corps, would form the basis for a multinational post conflict resolution force in war-torn countries. Natwick said it was important to keep momentum going on the legislation, even though he acknowledged it wasn't too likely to go anywhere under the current administration.
"We want to keep it around until it's finally passed," he said.
For his part, Congressman Lantos declined to support the bill when a delegation of Pacifica Peace People visited his office in April.
"He explained to the group that creating a cabinet-level department is not easy," said Lynne Weil, a spokesperson for Lantos. "Even if a Department of Peace were created, we don't know what it would look like but we know it would be used politically."
Besides which, she added, the United States Institute of Peace was founded by Congress as a peace building think tank for decades. Supporters of the bill counter that the Institute of Peace is underfunded and has no power of enforcement.
Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre said she supports the idea of a Department of Peace, but would have to read through the text of the House bill to "make sure that whatever we do does not appear to offend the men or women who choose to put on the uniform" before considering whether to add it to the agenda for a future City Council meeting.
Like many grassroots groups across the country, the Pacifica Peace People have been supported in their lobbying efforts by a national nonprofit called The Peace Alliance. Founded in 2004, the group now has volunteers in 300 congressional districts across all 50 states, and regularly holds training sessions for peace activists.
"We're at a place now where people know enough about conflict resolution and management that people can work toward establishing peace on earth," said Matthew Albracht, the Oakland-based General Manager of the Peace Alliance.
A Department of Peace would have helped with post-war planning in Iraq by giving soldiers a better understanding of Iraqi culture, said Albracht. It would also save the U.S. money by defusing conflicts before they turn into wars.
"We spend over $300 billion a year on the effects of violence," he said, citing a 2004 report from the World Health Organization. "This is a critical problem, and yet we spend pennies on reducing violence.
"Cities are the ones who see the impact of violence. They're the ones who understand that governments have got to start organizing around these solutions," added Albracht.
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