Very little has changed in our culture since Robert Kennedy said in his 1968 speech "The Mindless Menace of Violence" that "we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens, and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire."
Forty years later it is sad to know that our culture continues to be divisive, encouraging hate and fear. Our government continues to spend billions of dollars on weapons and war with very little investment in existing programs to avert violence at its root cause. It is true that we have an increasing number of universities and colleges, including our government agency United States Institute for Peace, which teaches strategies for peace. However, they are grossly underfunded and not fully recognized by our cultural institutions.
It is obvious to many Americans that we need more balance in government that would end the violence at home and stop the march to endless war. A cabinet level Department of Peace and Nonviolence would facilitate the research, funding and implementation of the best practices to reduce violence. Since Dennis Kucinich introduced HR 808 in 2001, thousands of grassroots volunteers have united to lobby their representatives in Congress and the Senate, to educate civil society, governmental and local leaders to see the wisdom of endorsing this bill. It is not surprising that so many cities have now passed resolutions to endorse HR 808. They include such diverse cities as Atlanta, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, Minneapolis and most recently Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country.
It is also not surprising that people around the world have been inspired by Dennis Kucinich's legislation for a Department of Peace within the U.S. government structure. (I believe he has more recognition abroad than in his own country.) People from at least 30 countries are now working for the same in their countries. Through the work of the Peace Alliance Foundation, together with other grassroots campaigns of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace, three annual global summits have been held to provide a venue with workshops for learning, assistance and collaboration. This year's summit in Japan was attended by about 50 civil-society activists and government officials, from 21 countries and six continents.
Here in Sonoma County, the relationship between the police and the community is increasingly difficult. The challenges are great. Sadly, I believe that we are not using all the skills and tools we have at our disposal to quell disputes before they grow out of control and become violent. We are too ready to buy and use the latest weapons, but seem loathe to prioritize investment in the ongoing training of our "peace officers" in peaceful conflict resolution.
As a society, we choose violence when do not invest in cultural education and nonviolent communication skills in our schools and institutions. We choose violence when we make minorities the scapegoats of crime in a broken system that makes us fear one another. We choose violence when we do not concern ourselves with poverty and illness. We choose violence when we turn a blind eye to the violence of movies, video games, sports, television shows and advertisements.
We choose violence when we invest in companies that make weapons for war and agribusinesses that destroy our environment. We choose violence when we ignore bullying, teasing and insensitive remarks. We choose violence when we only inflict punishment rather than work on restorative justice and when we imprison criminals without offering some form of rehabilitation. This is absurd when we know there are better options to provide human security.
Let's choose to work for peace, to educate ourselves to be the peace we want to see in the world through education in peace studies. Let's choose peace by investing in peace with our creative talents and resources, our energy, time and money.
Please join me in this historical and unstoppable movement. It makes sense.
Maggi Koren is a volunteer for the Peace Alliance, a national educational and lobbying organization campaigning for a culture of peace and the passage of HR 808, which calls for a cabinet level Department of Peace.
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