Sunday, March 29, 2009

Report from Capitol Hill - The Department of Peace Campaign from Maryland

On Monday, March 23, a band of intrepid citizen lobbyists from Maryland joined arms with activists from around the country and visited our elected officials to campaign for support of H.R. 808 - The Department of Peace act. We had meetings with 5 of our 8 representatives and with Senator Ben Cardin.

The first meeting - led by newcomer activist Lisa Cosgrove (Silver Spring) - was at 9 a.m. with Ken Cummings, Legislative Aide for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland District #8. (The Maryland DOP team had also met with Mr. Cummings two years ago to discuss the legislation for the 110th Congress.) Mr. Cummings listened politely but reiterated some of the standard objections to the legislation, including the cost of setting up a new bureacracy and the impression that existing government agencies are already supporting the many of the things outlined in H.R. 808. The logical response is to point out that whatever exists now isn't working. So, we will need to work with Mr. Van Hollen's office to educate them on how things need to be done differently in order to reduce violence in society. If Rep. Van Hollen isn't going to cosponsor H.R. 808, what legislation will he put forward to help reduce violence?

The second meeting - led by State Coordinator Ted Nunn (Columbia) - was at 10 am with Racquel Gallman, Legislative Aide for Rep. Elijah Cummings (no relation), MD district #7. Ms. Gallman is on a one-year fellowship from the DOD, on loan to Congressman Cumming's office in order to learn more about the Legislative branch. Rep. Cummings is already a cosponsor of H.R. 808, so our conversation with Ms. Gallman revolved more around understanding what the Congressman finds appealing about the bill (he supports any effort to empower peole to move in a positive direction, including violence reduction) and about how to market the bill to future cosponsors. She pointed out the need to make the vast array of violence statistics meaningful to the specific district - advice which helped in subsequent meetings.

The third meeting of the morning - led by District Team Leader Joyce Lang (Cheverly) - was at 11 am with Nate Tipton, Legislative Aide for Rep. Donna Edwards, newly representing MD district #4. (Rep. Edwards replaced Albert Wynn, who was a cosponsor of H.R. 808 in the 110th Congress.) The large group of visitors overwhelmed the freshman Congresswoman's small office, so we had to meet in "the halls of Congress" (literally!). Mr. Tipton listened to the information offered on the sources of violence and about the proven programs that can be put in place to reduce violence. Then he commented on how impressed the Congresswoman is with the groundswell of support for H.R. 808 from the district, pointing out that this was the fourth meeting he had taken on this topic. He pointed out that domestic violence is an important issue for Rep. Edwards, and that she believes security can be increased through peace. He indicated that Rep. Edwards is likely to come on as a co-sponsor, and that it is mostly a matter of processing the paperwork. The District 4 team will be following up in the coming months to make sure nothing gets in the way of making this happen.

The fourth meeting - led by District Team Leader Susan Owen (Annapolis) - was at 12 noon with Roy Chrobocinski, Legislative Aide for Rep. John Sarbanes from MD district #3. The DOP team laid out "a strong case" in support of H.R. 808 and Mr. Chrobocinski indicated that he would discuss the legislation with Rep. Sarbanes. Mr. Chrobocinski commented that he had seen first-hand from his own high school experience in New Jersey how teaching conflict resolution skills can help reduce violence in schools. He also pointed out that Rep. Sarbanes is a supporter of the Public Service Academy idea, which may also imply support for the National Peace Academy, a component of H.R. 808. The district team will follow up with Mr. Sarbanes' office after April 3rd, when the appropriations cycle is complete.

The fifth meeting of the day - led by activist Marsha Lehman (Union Bridge) - was at 1 pm with Annie Baker, Legislative Aide for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett from MD district #8. (Rep. Bartlett is the lone Republican in the Maryland Congressional delegation.) The DOP team focused on the economics of nonviolence, and used the story of WA state corrections success with reducing violence in prisons to demonstrate how H.R. 808 could benefit the citizens of district 6. The team also pointed out that Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (formerly from MD district #1, and a fellow Republican) supported H.R. 808 in the 110th Congress. Ms. Baker mentioned that Rep. Bartlett is looking into the Public Service Academy, and that she would discuss H.R. 808 with him.

The final meeting of the day - led by Joan Breitman (Rockville) - was at 4:30 with Anh Nguyen, Legislative Aide (Foreign Relations) for Senator Ben Cardin. Ms. Nguyen pointed out that Sen. Cardin is a strong supporter of peace and is involved with legislation to stop mass atrocities, such as the Darfur genocide. She shared her own background as a high school student in lower Montgomery county and some of the violence she experienced there. She also mentioned courses she took at UMCP in conflict resolution, so she understands the science behind H.R. 808. Ms. Nguyen pointed out that a new, separate department would be difficult to gain support for, but that the "special envoy" ("Peace Czar"?) approach might be more acceptable in the near term. She will meet with the Judiciary Aide in Senator Cardin's office to see what the best approach might be for moving these ideas forward.

Overall, it was an incredible lobbying experience for new and seasoned citizen activists alike. Special thanks to the leaders mentioned above who helped organize the meetings and to Bob Cooke, David Cockrell, Ronnie Fellerath-Lowell, and Liz-from-Baltimore.

If you haven't already done so, please send your Representative a note asking them to support H.R. 808 and the Department of Peace idea. Whether from Maryland or elsewhere, chances are there was a DOP team from your district on the Hill last Monday, and your Reps. need to know you support the idea, too!


  1. Well done! This is a lot of good news!

  2. Wonderful recap of a very busy day! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for all that you do.