Guest Column: A new umbrella for America: U.S. Department of Peace

The rains have been plentiful in Rockford lately—for some, a little too plentiful, with floods causing anything from inconvenience to devastating damage in certain areas. I was in Oregon, Ill., for the Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 11-12. When I updated a Rockford resident about the status of scheduling a visit with U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo (R-16)—that it had been delayed because of his attention to the flood in Rockford—the response was, “What flood?”

I turned on AM 780 after I was “settled in” on southbound Interstate 39 and heard on a news report an interview of a doctor in Darfur. The doctor told of the ongoing genocide there; he told of the destruction of cities, where “troops” come into a town, shoot the men, rape the women (and he added that women are not raped by one or five men, but by 10 or 15 men), destroy all of the houses and move on. Tens of thousands of children are orphaned. Few doctors are available to thousands, yes—thousands—of patients and minimal medical supplies. He expressed concern, or maybe knowing, that he would be interviewed again a year from now, and the world would say simply, “We didn’t know.”

I’ve shed a few tears each day since that Sunday afternoon news broadcast on AM 780. I am the Illinois state coordinator for the grassroots effort to establish a U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence, including a cabinet-level Secretary of Peace. One of the things this piece of legislation does is it makes it someone’s job to know. It makes it someone’s job in America to address violence daily and in depth, both within our borders and outside our borders. I understand how seemingly overwhelming it can be to face the truth of what is happening in our world, whether it be at home, in our community or in other countries. I understand the person who came to our table at the Energy Fair and said, “it [H.R. 808] will never happen; we’re too far gone.” I lived there once.

Where I live today, there is good news coming to me through the Internet, the phone and e-mail almost every day. People are sharing information about a global movement—it is being called the largest social movement in the history of humankind. The shift from not knowing what is happening to our neighbors to finding out what we, personally, need to know to contribute to this movement toward sustainability. Hearing and knowing about the violence and destruction every day is difficult. It takes all the tools to inner peace I have learned to keep me open to learning more. As disturbing as knowing what is happening is, there are people being tortured, killed or somehow rendered invisible in their suffering. Their suffering is far greater than mine. It is worthy of my discomfort; discomfort to the point of prodding me to write a few words or make a few phone calls.

It’s time for a new umbrella for America. A Department of Peace would be just that—an umbrella to some government departments, a sister department to others. It would hold peace and nonviolence (including human rights, vying for natural and space resources, animal rights, etc.) as an underlying principle in all that we do. It is a paradigm shift.

A Plan for Peace was drafted in 1792. Many of the world’s citizens believe it is an idea whose time has come. Global summits are occurring approximately every six months with 12 other countries calling for departments or ministries of peace in their countries.

Many young people “get” that significant change must happen in their generation to eliminate or minimize the amount of suffering their grandchildren or great-grandchildren will face on Earth—or at least that the direction we’ve been going is simply not sustainable, and it’s time to shift.

The sun was shining in Rockford the weekend of the Energy Fair, and days later an appointment was confirmed with Congressman Manzullo. Citizens have been meeting with their members of Congress across the country about this legislation since 2001; some Congressmen are asking for evidence of the groundswell of public support for this legislation. The national organization supporting the emergence of this grassroots campaign, The Peace Alliance, has called for a national call-in (to your member of Congress) day Oct. 12. You can learn more, connect with local citizens and/or contact your congressperson through

Karen Johnson is Illinois state coordinator for the Department of Peace Campaign. She can be reached at or (312) 545-3460.

from the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2007, issue

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