In the aftershock of the 2016 presidential election, the CA Democratic Party (CDP) held its pre-scheduled Executive Board (E-Board) meeting where Democratic Party officials and grassroots activists came together to assess who the Party is and wants to be. The CA Peace Alliance/ Campaign for a US Department of Peacebuilding (DoP/ HR 1111), together with the San Diego Kids for Peace, was there as voice for peace and peacebuilding, which were rarely mentioned in the 2016 elections. This meeting took place on November 18-20, 2016 – mere days after the election – and feelings were pretty raw … incredulity, anger, grief, blame, hopelessness, uncertainty.
At the E-Board and throughout our nation, we – as individuals, members of various groups, holders of myriad ideologies, residents of this nations, citizens of the world – are trying to figure out how to make this country work for all … in peacebuilding terminology, how to we bring together all stakeholders? In spiritual terminology, how do we operate out of compassion? In restorative terminology, how do we breakdown down the thinking of us/ them, of “the other”? Can we be/ should we be bipartisan/ non-partisan/ multi-partisan? How do we deal with unfairness or perceived unfairness? How do we bring about equality? How do we get out of the blame/ shame/ disdain game? How do we stop the hate and violence? How do we call out what is unacceptable and hold ourselves to acceptance of all of humanity? How do we move out of grief and the comfort of our own silos and on to inclusion? How do we stay true to our values of nonviolence and peace in these most trying and evocative of times? How do we move to reconciliation and peacebuilding?
One poignant comment was that we need to get over our stance that we (whichever “we”) have the best intellectual analysis of problems and get on with connecting to the feelings of others. One picture circulating on the internet is a photo of a child, with closed eyes, one hand on a tree, the other on the heart and the caption: “See with your heart
In the center of our booth we placed words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
At the E-Board, we went back to basics: our children, respect, kindness, compassion and hope. One of the most important faces we put on peacebuilding was bringing to the CDP forum the San Diego Kids for Peace, who have been leading the way in building peace and community in SE San Diego since 2007 and who have been supported in their work by the San Diego Department of Peacebuilding group (Americans for a Department of Peace(building) or AFDoP). The kids, in all of their glitter glory, spread messages of kindness and were a breath of fresh air in our hope for a future where all are our best selves.
Our actions included: 1) partnering with San Diego Kids for Peace through on-site art poster and banner projects and conversations about the “Great Kindness Challenge”; 2) asking people to sign three petitions (for DoP cosponsor, for civil political discourse, in support of anti-bullying); 3) asking people to call for a vote in the Senate on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) by contacting Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); 4) presenting to the Chair and the Veterans Caucus a certificate of appreciation for their support of the DoP legislation and for testifying before the CDP legislation committee on our behalf, which resulted in the Party endorsing DoP as one of its five endorsed pieces of federal legislation; and 5) connecting and dialoguing about our collective future as Americans.
We also had many conversation and attended caucus and standing committee meetings.
The CDP adopted a resolution submitted by Jerilyn Stapleton, So. CA Peace Alliance State Coordinator and President of CA NOW, “Resolution for an Executive Order Directing the California Attorney General to Investigate, Manage, Interpret, Prosecute or Inquire About Matters Relating to Sexual Misconduct of Law Enforcement Officers.” The CDP also adopted a resolution defending California’s accomplishments against policies that would increase inequality and embolden bigotry and misogyny in our communities and schools.
Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is a cosponsor of the legislation to create a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding, was a keynote speaker. He is running to Chair the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He is also the first Muslim American member of Congress and chair of the Congressional Progressive caucus. One of our DoP leads asked the Congressman to put peacebuilding in the national party agenda.
Thank you to Northern and Southern CA Peace Alliance/ Department of Peacebuilding committee members and those who donated ideas, time and money, including folks from the National Department of Peacebuilding Committee. Thank you to the San Diego Peace Alliance and San Diego Kids (and adults) for Peace. You all made this happen.
B. ACTING FOR PEACE
To deal with the swirl of emotions at the E-Board, we had to dig deep to bring hope and action to the forefront. If only for the sake of our children, we have to walk a path of hope and compassion. We do not get to give in to hate, despair, depression, paralysis and hopelessness. Christopher Reeve said, “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” At the E-Board we worked at peacebuilding through several actions.
1. Partnering with Kids for Peace & the Great Kindness Challenge
Gratitude to San Diego Kids (and adults) for Peace, AFDOP and the San Diego peace/ justice stakeholders who have been working together for several years to build a caring community. This group joined our CA Peace Alliance tabling outreach. In a move which was unusual for this normally adult-oriented event, we set up an art table, pulled out crayons, marker pens, stickers, glue and glitter. The Kids for Peace posted photographs, a quilt and a plaque from the City of San Diego proclaiming a peace week. The kids made a peace banner and both kids and adults joined in creation of a Kids for Peace/ Great Kindness Challenge poster.
The kids also distributed postcards about the Great Kindness Challenge, January 23-27, 2017, urging people to join millions of students, parents, teachers and others world-wide for the 2017 Great Kindness Challenge.
In the midst of introspection about the election, the Great Kindness Challenge resonated with many. The most chosen act of kindness at the CDP Executive Board meeting was to make a wish for a child in another country. Other acts of kindness chosen by both kids and adults at the E-Board were greetings, smiles, and hugs; saying thank you and giving compliments; and making friends:
- Say “Good Morning” to 5 people
- Smile at 25 people
- Hug your sibling or friend
- Say “Thank you” to a police officer
- Thank an elected official for their service
- Compliment 5 people
- Make a new friend
More selected acts related to self-kindness, helping others and creating your own acts:
- Be kind to yourself and eat a healthy snack
- Do a household chore without being asked
- Read a book to a younger child
- Deliver a special gift to a child in the hospital
- Help an elder cross the street
- Draw a heart in the sand or dirt
- Pick up trash at the water’s edge
- Create your own kind deed
Kids for Peace volunteers included grade, middle and high schoolers — Cierra Cloud (9th grade), her friend Sadie Sosae (6th grade), Chris Ibarra (7th grade), and Gianna Garcia (5th grade). Cierra is a veteran peace activist and the others were volunteering for the first time. Cierra and Sadie talked with E-Board attendees and handed out “Great Kindness Challenge” postcards as attendees entered the exhibitor booth and general sessions area.
Among the kid visitors to booth was a little girl who came back at least once and Adam Beverly, the grandson of Saundra Andrews, a long time staffer of Congressman Barbara Lee. He was a master of glitter, glue and marker pens.
Cynthia Gilliam (Cierra’s grandmother and Kids for Peace Community organizer), Brian Gibbs (AFDoP, supporter of Kids for Peace, and CA DoP Committee member), and Hannah HaKodesh (mother of Chris and Gianna and San Diego Peace Alliance Action Team lead) helped spread the word about peacebuilding. As Cynthia says, “Team work makes the dream work.”
Later in the day when Cierra and Sadie were outside, they saw a woman climbing rocks near the water. When the woman fell, they rushed over to help her and to make sure she was okay, acting upon the Kids for Peace Pledge: “I pledge to use my words to speak in a kind way. I pledge to help others as I go throughout my day. I pledge to care for our earth with my healing heart and hands. I pledge to respect people in each and every land. I pledge to join together as we unite the big and small. I pledge to do my part to create PEACE for one and all.”
2. Petitioning for Peacebuilding
We asked people to sign petitions in support of a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding, for civil political discourse, and in support of anti-bullying. On the latter two, we quoted Republicans. Most agreed with those messages and signed, some were unwilling to sign a petitions quoting Meliana Trump and Macro Rubio. We had respectful conversations about the pros and cons of those petitions.
a. Department of Peacebuilding Petition
We collected signatures on a “Support a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding (HR 1111)” petition requesting and urging CA legislators, elected & appointed officials and public servants to support establishment of a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding (H.R. 1111), a cabinet-level department with a Secretary of Peacebuilding. Reducing overall violence in the U.S. by 3% will pay for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding, which will:
- Develop and fund cost effective domestic and international programs to foster a culture of peace with 85% going toward domestic violence reduction and prevention
- Gather and coordinate proven peacebuilding and violence-reduction programs, including reduction of domestic and street/gang violence and bullying and teach peacebuilding skills in schools
- Address the root causes of violence, providing the President and Congress with expert resources to nonviolently defuse international conflicts and reduce nuclear weapons
- Be a voice in our government to proactively advocate for and utilize mediation, restorative justice, reconciliation, diplomacy, negotiation and other peacebuilding practices and focus on addressing the root causes of violence and terrorism rather than reacting to the symptoms of violence
b. Anti-Bullying Petition
We also collected signatures on an “End Bullying and Harassment” petition requesting and urging CA legislators, elected and appointed officials and public servants to “do all in your power to end bullying and harassment.” Shortly before the presidential election on 11/8/16, Melania Trump said she would work to combat online bullying and harassment. She called for a gentler and kinder America where children can spend time on social media without fear of harassment. She said, “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough, especially to children and teenagers … It is never OK when a 12-year-old girl or boy is mocked, bullied or attacked. It is terrible when that happens on the playground and it is absolutely unacceptable when it’s done by someone with no name hiding on the internet.” It is time for our public servants to work toward ending bullying and harassment.
c. Civil and Respectful Political Discourse Petition
Third, we also collected signatures on a “Support Civil and Respectful Political Discourse” petition requesting and urging CA legislators, elected & appointed officials and public servants to set a good example of political discourse in this nation. In his election night speech on 11/8/16, Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R) said that while we can disagree on issues, we cannot share a country where people hate each other because of our political affiliations. “We cannot move forward as a nation if we cannot have polite debates about tough issues. You can disagree with someone without hating them. You can disagree without delegitimizing their point of view. I hope that I and my colleagues as we return to work in Washington D.C. can set a better example of how political discourse should exist in this country.” It is time for our public servants to set an example of civility and respect as we relate to all peoples.
3. Calling for Criminal Justice Reform Action
For several years, the Peace Alliance has worked for passage of the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunity Mentoring Intervention Support and Education Act) to provide support and resources to our young people to avert the school to prison pipeline.
On September 22, 2016, the House passed HR 5963, which a companion bill to S. 1169. HR 5963 reauthorizes for the first time since 2002 the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974 to help states and local communities better serve at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. This legislation also includes language based on Congressman Bobby Scott’s Youth PROMISE Act (H.R. 2197) which restructures JJDPA’s Local Delinquency Prevention Grants to encourage communities to plan and implement evidence-based prevention and intervention programs specifically designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and gang involvement.
Specifically, Title III of H.R. 5963 includes Youth Promise Incentive Grants to enable local communities to address the unmet needs of youth who are involved in, or are at risk of involvement in, juvenile delinquency or gang activity, through a continuum of delinquency prevention programs for juveniles who have had contact with the juvenile justice system or who are likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system
At the time of the E-Board meeting, it was up to the Senate to align its companion bill, S. 1169, with HR 5963 and to bring it to a vote in this Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein is a cosponsor of the bipartisan S. 1169 and an influential member of the Judiciary Committee, where this bill resides. We advocated for people to “call for criminal justice reform” by asking Senator Feinstein to do all in her power to conform S. 1169 with HR 5963 and to bring this to a vote in the Senate before the end of the year.
While the powers that be may or may not allow for such a vote, the work of peacebuilding goes on.
4. Honoring the Veterans Caucus
The CDP Veterans Caucus, and Chair Shawn Terris, unanimously support legislation to create a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding. Shawn played an instrumental role when she testified in 2015 before the CDP Legislation Committee about the importance of peacebuilding and asked them to support the Department of Peacebuilding Act of 2015. The Legislation Committee’s action resulted in endorsement by the entire CDP of DoP 2013 and DoP 2015 legislation.
We asked for time on the Veteran Caucus program to surprise them with a certificate of appreciation. Since most speakers are candidates, I told the group that I was not running for anything except peace and peacebuilding and I had been working since 2004 on establishment of a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peacebuilding. I updated the caucus on our continuing work for a DoP and told them the bill will be introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee in early 2017. “When our national Department of Peacebuilding Committee visited the offices of approximately 90 members of Congress in September 2016, one of the key items we took with us to many offices – including that of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who is a veteran, was the letter of unanimous endorsement by the Veterans caucus of the DoP.”
We asked the caucus officials to stand and Doug Merritt, No. CA DoP volunteer, read the following on behalf of the CA Peace Alliance: “We deeply honor Shawn Terris and the CDP Veterans Caucus for their courage, vision and leadership recognizing that peacebuilding is vital to American’s national security and our hope for the future.” Further, “peace does not mean an absence of conflict; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means, through dialogue, education, knowledge, and through humane ways,” Dalai Lama XIV.
Thank you to San Diego volunteers, including the San Diego DoP group (Brian Gibbs, Sue Trisler), the San Diego Peace Alliance action team (Hannah HaKodesh), and other San Diego volunteers (Nina a Ladbon Khatibi) and San Diego Kids for Peace (Cynthia Gilliam, Cierra Cloud, Sadie Sosae, Chris Ibarra and Gianna Garcia (Hannah’s kids). Thanks to volunteers from Los Angeles (Jerilyn Stapleton) and No. CA (Doug Merritt, Nancy Merritt). Thank you to the remainder of the CA Peace Alliance Democratic Endorsement team (Maggi Koren, Lily Marie, and Josh Roebuck) and to others from the CA and National Department of Peacebuilding groups for donations [Brian Gibbs (San Diego), Nancy Merritt (San Francisco Bay Area), Kendra Mon (Petaluma) and Pat Simon (Waltham, MA)].
For more information, and to see a photo of the CDP Veterans caucus, see also the separate article entitled Defending CA’s Accomplishments: Issues and Advocacy at the CA Democratic E-Board.
Walk in peace.
CA Peace Alliance/ Campaign for a U.S. Department of Peacebuilding
CA State Coordinator/ Northern CA
National Department of Peacebuilding Committee