In the midst of war, a La Jolla man and his wife have joined a national effort to create a federal Department of Peace.
Attorney John McNeil and his wife, Christine Elliot, are senior coordinators in Southern California for Americans For the Department of Peace (AFDOP). Most are surprised to learn there is a bill pending in Congress that would establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace through citizen education, grassroots activism and spiritual commitment.
McNeil and Elliot date their involvement to an inspiring conference they attended on the bill in 2003. “It grabbed us because it was such a concrete, real thing to do,” said John McNeil. “We thought we could get some other people involved and start to try and persuade our members of Congress this is what we want to see done.”
John McNeil noted there is an increase in violence across the board in American society - bullying in schools, gang violence, hatred against women and minorities like gays and lesbians. “By funding existing programs that go to the root of violence,” he said, “we can end the violence and the root cause. With domestic abuse, for example, there are programs in the community with families to prevent domestic abuse.”
“This is a public health issue,” pointed out Christine Elliot. “If the number of injuries and deaths that are the result of violence each year was associated with some sort of outbreak of a virus, we’d all be mobilized to do something about it. But violence is sort of like the wallpaper: We don’t see the link between the bullying and gangs and domestic abuse and war. Our culture has accepted violence as a way of life. But it’s a public health issue, and we can mobilize the resources to address it.”
A Department of Peace would have jurisdiction internationally and domestically. Abroad, it would provide the President with a full array of options for non-violent resolution of conflict and highly sophisticated peacemaking strategies for post-war stabilization now lacking in the war with Iraq. In the United States, the Department of Peace would have jurisdiction to address drug and gang violence, school bullying, prison reform and domestic abuse.
With a Department of Peace, government agencies addressing these social problems, currently scattered among various departments, would be coordinated under one umbrella to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
Patterned after military academies, the Department of Peace would establish a Peace Academy where students would learn peaceful conflict resolution skills and, after graduation, would serve in peace-related postings domestically or abroad.
John McNeil said passage of the bill, last introduced in 2001, to create a federal Department of Peace would require passage by a simple majority, 218 of the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives. He added the concept is nothing new. “It goes all the way back to the founding fathers’ era,” he said. “A Department of Peace has been introduced in Congress several times in the history of our country.”
Christine Elliot said the goal of enacting legislation to create a peace department is lofty, but attainable. “There are active groups supporting this bill in all 50 states,” she said. “Currently there are 67 members of Congress of the 118 we need who support this. We’re on our way.”
Backers of creation of a Department of Peace note current policy-making is geared toward reactive, not proactive, approaches to violence reduction. They concur the United States should be as effective in addressing the sources of violence as we are effective in addressing its symptoms. They point to the need for creation of such a department, noting how criminal and domestic violence place intense financial pressure on city-, county- and state-government budgets. In Detroit, for example, 80 percent of all police calls are responses to domestic violence. On the international scene, the proliferation of nuclear arsenals and their possible susceptibility to terrorist attack/theft reflects the need for all of mankind to take steps to curb violence at all levels.
Giving the interests of peace a full cabinet position would make it a national priority, say peace bill proponents. Peace would then become a national goal. All domestic and foreign policy could be analyzed in light of the dictates of such legislation. While the President and Congress would remain the ultimate arbiters of laws, with the Department of Peace, they would have a higher level of consultation regarding nonviolent options to brute force.
“Of course, all the activity boils down to persuading our local members of Congress to support this bill,” said John McNeil. “Two of the five (San Diego) members - Bob Filner and Susan Davis - are already co-sponsors.”
A benefit concert to promote the bill supporting creation of a national Department of Peace will be held Friday, Aug. 10 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Unity Center at 8999 Activity Road in San Diego. Four bands will perform and there will be a silent auction. Tickets cost $20 a piece.
For more information visit www.the peacealliance.org or www.afdop.org.