A Push for Peace

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Mira Binzen has been teaching yoga in the Chicago area for the past eight years—work she describes as "teaching people to be peaceful from the inside out." So a few years ago, when she heard about a proposal to add a Department of Peace to the president's cabinet, it immediately clicked. Binzen joined other yogis, like Ike and Judith Lasater, and celebrity supporters in the Peace Alliance, a nonpartisan citizens' action group.

The alliance formed in 2003 to support legislative proposals—such as the bill introduced into Congress by U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich, of Ohio—to establish a Department of Peace and Nonviolence, a federal department that would work hand in hand with the departments of State and Defense. "We're doing yoga on a personal level, and the Department of Peace is like yoga for our society," says Binzen. "It's bringing about healing through nonviolent means."

Last fall Binzen helped organize the alliance's conference in Washington, D.C., which drew volunteers from more than 40 states and urged voters to call on Congress for support. It appears to have worked. Kucinich and Senator Mark Dayton, of Minnesota, have introduced bills that establish a cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence. The bills, which by press time had found 75 cosponsors, declare that "the time has come to review age-old challenges with new thinking" about peace and violence, and call for a dedication to "peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace."

Under the bills, the secretary of peace and nonviolence would have domestic responsibilities, addressing everything from gang violence to domestic abuse and working with the secretary of education to implement a peace curriculum in public schools. Internationally, the secretary would advise the departments of Defense and State on matters of national security, monitor global arms sales, and make recommendations to the president regarding the reduction of weapons of mass destruction. A peace academy would provide training in peace education.

It may sound like a tough sell in today's political climate. But Patty Kuderer, the Peace Alliance's co-director of communications, notes that although there were separate agencies handling the environment before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, it took the EPA to tie those efforts together and make them a matter of national policy.

"We need to create this agency that sits right at the same table with the other secretaries...when these decisions about how to handle volatile situations come up," Kuderer says. "And right now, the president doesn't have that expertise at his disposal."