Elder abuse. Domestic violence. Rape and gangs and homicide. Car bombings, kidnappings and more than 20 armed conflicts raging about the globe.

Knowledge about nonviolence already exists and is practiced throughout the world in schoolyards, workplaces and by not-for-profits in the Middle East, anyplace where people have been trained in nonviolent communication or similar applications. Yet it hasn’t manifested in politics at the local or national levels.

Fighters for an American Department of Peace like Gail Merrill want to change that. She became involved with the Department of Peace (DoP) campaign more than two years ago.

“I had reached a point of feeling hopeless and helpless about the culture of violence in our country and our involvement in the Iraq war,” she said.

Merrill is now promoting a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives (HR 808) that would create a department that would provide practical, nonviolent, problem-solving options in both domestic and international conflict.

Domestically, DoP would work to reduce levels of household and gang violence, child/elder abuse and many other forms of societal strife, she said. Internationally, it would advise the president and Congress on the most sophisticated ideas and techniques regarding the creation of peace among nations.

Merrill has joined forces with Christy Campoll, the local Peace Alliance district leader; Syndee Eartheart, local activist, counselor and founder of the Loving Heart Center; and Ingrid Skoog, a local mediator and instructor of nonviolent communication.

Through HR 808, those with expertise in national and global peace building would finally be given resources, plus a much-needed platform.

The DoP legislation calls for a secretary of peace, who would advise the president on strategies for use domestically and internationally, and the creation of a Peace Academy – a world-class faculty of peace-building experts serving as a sister organization to the military service academies.

The secretary and academy would analyze techniques at the highest level, advise other branches of government and facilitate the training of peace builders for service at home and abroad.

Through the springboard of the DoP, effective citizen and community-based programs would be identified, funded, expanded and made available to communities around the country.

City councils across the United States – including Chicago’s, San Francisco’s, Atlanta’s and Detroit’s – are acknowledging the practical impact a Department of Peace would have on reducing violence here and abroad. Twenty cities have endorsed the initiative’s efforts so far, representing more than 7 million people.

In Bloomington, proponents of the legislation have begun contacting city council members and additional representatives to pass a resolution in May as part of national DoP events.

They have also contacted national officials.

“I approached Baron Hill after a speech he gave at IU before his election to Congress,” Merrill said. “He told me that he could support the legislation.”

The secretary of peace would advise and inform the president on matters of international conflict. If the country is to adequately address and prevent conflict around the globe, peace-building experts need seats at the table of power.

“It seems that our government’s tendency towards engaging in wars has not changed in the past century,” Merrill said. “We work from a perspective where we judge what others are doing according to how it impacts our country and use threats of war and destruction to gain power.”

To change that mode of operation, a change in decision-making personnel is needed.

“We need a secretary of peace, who could be one of many experts in the field of peaceful conflict resolution, to offer the president and his cabinet new ways of thinking about prevention and de-escalation of conflicts,” Merrill said.

“A systemic change must occur here in order for our peacemaking efforts abroad to even be taken seriously,” she continued. “A secretary of peace sitting at the table of power is essential if we desire to change the way the U.S. relates to the world.”

Department of Peace proponents do not deny that terrorism is a real-world threat. But, they ask, who is working to prevent the root cause of terrorism?

“In Iraq, we knew how to destroy militarily the structures we opposed, however, we did not know how to proactively create harmonious civil society in the aftermath of shock and awe,” says the group’s site, www.thepeacealliance.org. “We have been tragically lacking in war-to-peace transition planning and expertise. A Department of Peace would provide this.”

For example, how about soldiers trained to help build civil societies, while remaining safe themselves, proponents ask. Expanding the best military technologies to include the best educational, humanitarian and psychological technologies is key.

Supporters of the new legislation maintain the existing U.S. Institute of Peace is a positive resource. However, it is less a “hands-on resource” than a new department would be. Plus, only a cabinet-level position will provide the peace-building community with “true institutional heft.”

And, like the State Department, the Peace Institutes’s focus is international, with no local emphasis.

Finally, while the State Department works only with heads of state, the Department of Peace would work with ethnic and religious groups within other countries.

A priority for the local campaign is understanding and transforming the roots of violence on a personal level.

To this end, the Peace Alliance is collaborating with the Center for Nonviolent Communication (www.NonviolentCommunication.com) to teach individuals ways to compassionately express themselves and resolve conflicts.

This means helping people build peace from the inside out.

“We can cultivate compassion for ourselves that we then extend to others in the midst of personal conflict,” Eartheart said.

Skoog elaborated.

“We then establish a Department of Peace within our hearts,” she said. “The healing of trauma will spread from person to person.”

Melissa McReynolds can be contacted at galfriday07@hotmail.com.


Upcoming events

Presentation on DoP initiatives
April 29, 1 – 3 p.m.
Ragazzi Arte Cafe (on Rogers Street between Third and Fourth streets).

Brown bag and DoP presentation
May 8, noon – 1 p.m.
Namaste Center (111 E. Kirkwood Ave., above The Book Corner)

Nationwide Give Peace a Piece of the Pie
Join fellow citizens in visiting U.S. Rep. Baron Hill’s office with homemade pies and a request for his support of DoP legislation and for “a piece of the funding pie for peace initiatives.”
To be a part, or for other information, contact Gail Merrill at or 812/361-0995.
May 11

Introduction to the Practice of Compassionate Communication
(Nonviolent Communication) as advocated by the Peace Alliance
May 15, 6:30 – 9 p.m.
Namaste Center

Circle of Mourning and Transformation of Despair
Come together as a community to grieve the ravages of violence and to learn ways to transform despair into hope and action.
May 20, 3 – 6 p.m.
Contact Ingrid Skoog at 333-1982 or to register and for location.