The weekend of Feb. 3, over 1,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to ask the federal government to consider creating a federal department of peace with a cabinet-level position. The attendees listened to speeches from such activists as Deepak Chopra and Michael Beckwith. In the audience was Liverpool resident Gay Montague, a former English teacher at Liverpool High School. Montague attended the conference with friend Danya Wellmon of East Syracuse. The two were the only Central New Yorkers in attendance.
“It was really inspirational,” Montague said. “Almost every state was represented.”
Montague is part of the Peace Alliance, a national organization committed to forming a department of peace. The organization was formed by motivational speaker Marianne Williamson, an author whose works include “Healing the Soul of America” and “The Gift of Change.” Montague has long been committed to creating a more peaceful world, and the Peace Alliance is a natural fit for her.
“It’s important for people to know that it’s not an antiwar or anti-military organization,” Montague said of the alliance. “It seeks to establish a federal department of peace with a cabinet-level appointment. We want to bring the idea of peace to the forefront. We put our energy into creating peace rather than being antiwar. There’s a difference.”
Montague, with Wellmon’s aid, is trying to establish a chapter of the Peace Alliance in Central New York. She wants to educate people on the mission of the organization and to spark a different kind of thinking about conflict resolution.
The creation of a federal peace department is part of that new thinking. A bill has been brought forth in Congress proposing a federal department (House Resolution 808), and 60 representatives have already agreed to cosponsor the bill. In addition, 19 major cities including Chicago, Detroit and Atlanta, some of the most violent places in the country, have put their support behind the proposal.
The time has come
Montague said that the idea of a department of peace is not new. “It first came up in 1792,” she said. “It was proposed by Benjamin Banneker and Benjamin Rush when the country’s government was being set up. It’s come up several times since then. It’s an idea whose time has come.”
While the idea of a department of peace may seem overly romantic to some, Montague pointed out that the proposal is also very practical.
“Interpersonal violence costs $300 billion in one year in the U.S. according to the World Health Organization,” she said. “And that figure doesn’t include the costs of war. Violent crime is on the rise. It’s up 8 percent in the nation’s smaller cities, and the national murder rate is up for the first time in years. Something’s not working.”
Montague said that the department of peace would work to create a new concept of conflict resolution and would teach nonviolent tactics in areas where violence is prevalent. The department would work internationally and locally to improve living conditions for people and to prevent outbreaks of violence.
“Studies have shown that we can identify where the next outbreak will be based on the conditions people are living in,” Montague said. “[These include] high child mortality rates, limited or no access to markets and people feeling like they have no voice in government. Peace department workers could step in [in these situations] to prevent the violence.”
The department would also aid the military in the aftermath of war to rebuild infrastructure and bring about a return to normalcy in war-torn nations.
“After the shock and awe of war, people need jobs,” Montague said. “There needs to be a good transition.”
In addition, the department would undertake efforts here in the U.S. to limit violence, working with prisons to better rehabilitate violent criminals, presenting programs to schools and assisting victims of violence. It would provide an umbrella under which all peace programs could operate, allowing for increased awareness and better oversight.
“It’s a rethinking to set up conditions for peaceful resolution,” Montague said.
The biggest part of that rethinking would be the establishment of a peace academy which would work in conjunction with the military academy to train people for nonviolent conflict resolution.
The cost, Montague said, would be minimal; activists anticipate asking for a mere 2 percent of the budget for the Department of Defense. The cost is especially paltry when considering the potential benefits.
Montague recognized that the idea will still have its naysayers, but she’s not discouraged. “Abolition was unthinkable at the time,” she pointed out. “Women’s suffrage was unthinkable at the time I think people are beginning to realize that what we’re doing isn’t working. This is a viable path.”
For more information about the Peace Alliance, visit ThePeaceAlliance.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.