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Legislation Watch | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Legislation Watch

In 2001, Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced legislation to create a Department of Peace and Nonviolence to "not only make nonviolence an organizing principle in our society, but to make war archaic," as he told Studs Terkel in an article for The Nation in 2002.

Six years later, H.R. 808 has 59 cosponsors – including Rep. Jim McDermott – who writes that the bill "embodies the dreams and aspirations of Americans to live in a nation that uses its great strength to support the cooperative efforts of people throughout the world to create peace." The legislation calls for $8 billion in annual funding – less than one month of spending on the Iraq War and in stark contrast to the $439 billion allocated to the military in the recent Bush budget.

The Department of Peace would develop policies and allocate resources to support cutting-edge approaches to issues like domestic violence, child abuse, violence in schools, and racial violence. McDermott writes, "Internationally, a Department of Peace will advise the president and Congress on the most innovative techniques to establish and promote peace among nations, and will research and analyze the root causes of war to help prevent conflicts from escalating to the point of violence."

Kucinich is a man who fights injustice wherever he finds it. "The American Revolution never really ended," he told Terkel. "It's a continuing process. I think we're approaching the revolution of hope. We have the country that makes it possible for people, if they've lost control of the government, to regain it in a peaceful way."

There is great depth to Kucinich's commitment to peace – a commitment that led him to speak out against the invasion of Iraq before it happened at a Martin Luther King Day celebration in 2003. In the same speech he renewed his call for a Department of Peace, saying, "Peace is a civil right, which makes other human rights possible. Peace is the precondition for our existence. Peace permits our continued existence."

At a time when our Defense Department might as well be called by its original name – the Department of War – Kucinich's vision of a Cabinet level-office devoted to non-violent conflict resolution is worth organizing around (and students should click here). Although it is highly unlikely that such a bill would be passed in the current Congress, a Department of Peace is something to strive for.

Kucinich has the opportunity to achieve something extraordinary by reframing the way we approach peace and security. His tenacity brings to mind the great Robert F. Kennedy (and George Bernard Shaw) quote: "Some men see things as they are and say ‘why?' I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?' "

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