Peace is a chant, a vibration, a leap of the human spirit into the 21st century and beyond. It's also HR 808 -- radical common sense crafted into a bill and introduced this week into the new Congress by Dennis Kucinich.
Let me describe for you, as best I can in this brief space, the heave of emotion this piece of legislation and the campaign to support it have set off in me the past few days. For this I thank and blame the Peace Alliance, which held a conference in D.C. over the weekend in support of the bill -- well, it was half conference, fact-dense and nitty-gritty, brimming with info on bullying and suicide and war; and half revival, alive with music and global religion, full of God and Buddha and the spirit of the Founding Fathers and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Jane Addams and Susan B. Anthony and many others.
By the time the Rev. Michael Beckwith -- this was on Sunday morning, a day and a half into it -- invoked the idea of "a world that works for everybody," I felt an unbearable cry from the private depths of my heart: I believe! I believe! The cry pushed ferociously against an almost equal disbelief and I felt split in two -- but maybe giving birth is always like that.
That morning, the main headline in the Washington Post read: "At Least 125 Killed in Blast at Baghdad Market." This is so clearly not a world that works for everybody, and it's so clearly getting worse. "A suicide bomber detonated more than a ton of explosives in a market in central Baghdad late Saturday afternoon. . . . 'It's like a slaughterhouse. You can see blood everywhere. It's an unbelievable sight.'"
Peace is not a lull between bomb blasts. But to envision the world that Beckwith and others at the conference invoked -- to compress hope into a rending certainty that such a world is possible as well as necessary -- peels away the numbness and cynicism that lets us live in this one. No wonder so few people are embracing it.
And yet that's not true at all. A yearning for peace is at everyone's core, and the recognition of our complex, planetary interdependence is hardly controversial. Peace studies and nonviolent conflict resolution -- the technology of peace -- are gaining prominence in universities around the world.
"There are new ideas on the world's horizon, as different from the twentieth-century worldview as the twentieth century was different from the nineteenth century," writes Marianne Williamson, founder of the Peace Alliance, in her book Healing the Soul of America. "We are ready to apply principles of healing and recovery, not just to our bodies, not just to our relationships, but to every aspect of life."
Kucinich's legislation, which calls for the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace, funded at 2 percent of the Defense Department's budget, is just a step in the process. It's not a fabrication out of whole cloth. It would fund and coordinate programs already in existence, in schools, prisons and elsewhere; link the concepts of domestic and international violence; and give the U.S. government access to the latest thought and research on everything from safe schools to international arms control.
Its implementation would acknowledge and further an awareness, a rationality, already taking hold. For instance: "It's a fraction of the cost to prevent a war than prosecute a war," Williamson pointed out at the conference. Somewhere in the corridors of power, a voice should be sounding, and advocating for, such common sense.
Similarly, while the state of California, Williamson noted, spends $150,000 per year per juvenile delinquent, violence-prevention programs are funded at the level of $150 per youth. It's nuts -- such an allocation of resources is as foolish and wasteful and wrongheaded as a suicide bomber in the marketplace. "Nothing is so dangerous for our security," Williamson said, "as large groups of desperate people."
Yet the rationality of peace tends to just sit there -- ho hum, what else is new? -- while the headlines go off in our faces. Are we doomed to a violent politics, with all its news drama and illusion of instant transformation? Powerful interests, even government itself, seem locked into the mechanisms of war and human violence, however suicidal in the long, and now middle-distance, run.
The creation of a Department of Peace would by no means extricate us from our dilemma, but it would signal our collective interest in making a start. Yet the bill faces enormous obstacles just to come up for debate. In the last session of Congress, it had 74 co-sponsors; with its reintroduction, 41 legislators are so far back on board. Its advocates will need enormous passion to keep the interest in it growing.
This brings me back to that moment in the conference when a just, fair world -- a world that works for everybody -- flickered in my heart as more than an abstraction, and I felt myself clot with tears. Perhaps you'd cry too if you sensed how close we are to such a world, and how close we are to blowing it forever.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
© 2007 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.