By Nancy Merritt
Twenty-two members of Congress signed on as cosponsors of two key Peace Alliance backed bills during the Season for Nonviolence (SNV) 2014, with other possible co-sponsorships pending.
A small task force of determined Peace Alliance volunteers made a big difference when it focused on increasing the number of congressional cosponsors of the Department of Peacebuilding Act (HR 808/ DoP) and the Youth PROMISE Act (HR 1318/ YPA).
The SNV task force – 14 Peace Alliance volunteers from throughout the country, working with the Peace Alliance Department of Peacebuilding legislative committee – contacted approximately 125 members of Congress and/or their staff members. In a concerted and persistent campaign to increase co-sponsorship of both DoP and YPA, the SNV task force made multiple contacts – by letter, phone, email, phone again, follow-up email, and sometimes in person – with former DoP cosponsors, CA Democratic members of Congress, members of the Congressional Progressive caucus and select other members of Congress.
During the SNV, the task force, working with constituents when possible, made approximately 500 contacts with Congressional staffers and members of Congress. In addition to seeking new cosponsors, volunteers contacted all current DoP cosponsors to thank them.
I. Season for Nonviolence
The Season for Nonviolence is the 64-day period from January 30th to April 4th memorializing the dates Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated by focusing on their legacy of nonviolence. During the Season, the United Nations, citizen groups and churches in more than 900 cities, all 50 states and 67 countries host programs designed to increase the understanding and use of nonviolent principles to heal, transform, and empower our lives and communities.
To commemorate the SNV, the Peace Alliance task force not only reflected on nonviolence, but also acted to build peace by expanding awareness and Congressional support of peacebuilding legislation. All 8 Congress members who signed on as DoP cosponsors during the SNV were on the task force’s contact list, as were 9 of 14 Congress members cosponsored YPA during this period. Some signed on within days of our contacts. For others, it took longer or we are continuing to follow-up. During SNV, cosponsors signed on from coast to coast, including from CA, CT, FL, IL, MA, ME, MN, MO, OR, PA, RI, TX, WA and WI.
II. The SNV Task Force
The SNV task force, 14 volunteers from 8 states, includes: Betty Cooper (MO), Anne Creter (NJ), Patty Duncan (NM), Jo Ann Gaines (CA), Brian Gibbs (CA), Peggy Hanna (OH), Dan Kahn (FL), Maggi Koren (CA), Lily Marie (CA), Nancy Merritt (CA), Kendra Mon (CA), Lorrie Norby (CA), Debra Poss (GA), and Pat Simon (MA).
III. Cosponsors of the Department of Peacebuilding Act (HR 808)
As of 4/18/14, the DoP legislation, which is sponsored by CA Congresswoman Barbara Lee, has 26 cosponsors, including the following 8 who signed on leading up to and during the SNV: William Lacy Clay (MO), Emanuel Cleaver (MO), Peter DeFazio (OR), Keith Ellison (NM), Alcee Hastings (FL), Sheila Lee Jackson (TX), Jim McDermott (WA), and Janice Schkowsky (IL).
Other current DoP cosponsors, some of whom signed on as initial cosponsors in 02/13, and some who signed on later in 2013, are: Robert Andrews (NJ), Yvette Clarke (NY), John Conyers (MI), Donna Edwards (MD), Sam Farr (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), Janice Hahn (CA), Rush Holt (NJ), Mike Honda (CA), Hank Johnson JR. (GA), John Lewis (GA), Edward Markey (MA), James McGovern (MA), George Miller (CA), Gwen Moore (WI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Chellie Pingree (ME), and Jared Polis (CO).
IV. Cosponsors of the Youth PROMISE Act (HR 1318)
As of 4/18/14, the YPA legislation, which is sponsored by VA Congressman Bobby Scott, has 112 cosponsors, including the following 14 who signed on leading up to and during the SNV: David Cicilline (RI), Kathrine Clark (MA), Joe Courtney (CT), Michael Doyle (PA), Hakeen Jeffries (NY), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Chellie Pingree (ME), Thomas Petri (WI), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), Raul Ruiz (CA), Linda Sanchez (CA), Loretta Sanchez (CA), Kurt Schrader (OR), and Steve Stockman (TX).
To read the legislation and to see a complete list of current cosponsors of both DoP and YPA, go to www.thomas.gov.
V. The Work
Sometimes the task force’s efforts were encouraging, some days it was hard work with little encouragement. Sometimes things seemed to stall, other times there were bursts of enthusiasm and good news. On the list of almost every task force volunteer, there were ‘veteran’ and new cosponsors to thank.
Some Congressional offices did not accept calls or emails from non-constituents. Some recognized that violence is a national problem and that peacebuilding needs to be a national priority, and readily accepted the task force’s messages. Some staffers were polite and non-committal. Some were conversant and happy to hear about DoP and YPA. Prior to our contacts, some knew about these bills. Others did not.
In connecting with Congress members, the task force tied the SNV to the importance of DoP and YPA, and forwarded key highlights of DoP and YPA, news about inclusion of DoP and peacebuilding principles in CA Democratic Party resolutions and platform planks, and announcements about the 10th anniversary of the Peace Alliance.
With each contact, the task force educated itself and members of Congress. Every letter, every email, every call made a difference and planted another seed for peacebuilding.
VI. Make a Difference
Please urge your member of Congress to cosponsor DoP and YPA. Call the member’s DC office, get the name and email address of the legislative aide, email or write that person, send them information about the two bills. Check www.peacealliance.org for flyers and other information. Send that information to your member of Congress. Call again to make sure he/ she received the information. Connect violence situations in your area with the importance of establishing a U. S. Department of Peacebuilding and with the need for YPA and PROMISE councils to promote violence reduction and prevention.
If you connect with your member of Congress or if you want to be a part of the SNV task force now or in the future, please contact Nancy at [email protected]
Thank you to the SNV task force, to constituent helpers on this project, and to those who make future contacts with members of Congress about cosponsoring DoP and YPA.
Nancy Merritt, Kendra Mon, Pat Simon, and Jerilyn Stapleton
On behalf of the Peace Alliance/
Department of Peacebuilding Legislative Committee