WASHINGTON – On the heels of President Bush’s request to boost the defense budget by 7 percent, Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, other Congress members and celebrity activists asked legislators Tuesday to give the U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence a chance.
“Peace is an American value,” said Wynn, who spoke at the Capitol Hill news conference announcing the proposed department.
“If we had a Department of Peace, we wouldn’t be in Iraq or gearing up for war in Iran,” said presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the measure’s original sponsor.
The bill, first introduced in 2001, aims to create a Cabinet-level department to promote non-violence and reconciliation both domestically and internationally.
Kucinich said the bill asks for at least 1 percent of the defense budget, to fund the new agency.
“This isn’t just about the United States,” said Kucinich. “In the world, there is now a greater need and urgency to move toward peace.”
Despite the fanfare, the bill is not likely to have a large impact on the war, said Jeffrey Davis, political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“I can’t imagine he (Kucinich) thinks it has a chance to pass both the House and the Senate and become law,” Davis said.
Wynn, who posed for pictures with actor and activist Sean Penn during the Jan. 27 peace rally in Washington, again joined celebrities from the Peace Alliance, most notably Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix, in support of the legislation.
Wynn is “a rising star as a peace activist,” Kucinich said introducing him.
“A late convert,” Wynn joked in reference to his initial vote in favor of the Iraq war.
Wynn can laugh now, but his early position on Iraq nearly cost him his job. In a narrow Democratic primary victory, opponent Donna Edwards made inroads by painting Wynn as being out of touch with his Democratic constituents.
Wynn addressed the need for international peace talks, but unlike previous speakers, focused on the potential for domestic success.
Gangs and domestic violence are not just problems in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. They are national problems that can be helped by the Department of Peace, Wynn said.
The Department of Justice looks to solve gang problems using arrests and imprisonment, Wynn said, but the Department of Peace would try to promote reconciliation and use mediation to handle the same problem.
Another Marylander, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, is also among the 52 cosponsors of the bill. He was scheduled to speak at the news conference, but was tied up in a hearing.
A Department of Peace would not be a substitute for the Department of Defense, but rather a complement, said Marianne Williamson, founder of the Peace Alliance.
“The idea of peace,” said Williamson, “is bigger than any one piece of legislation.”