Take Action — Damn Violence! Build Peace!

I thank the Peace Alliance, a national non-profit grassroots educational and advocacy organization, for launching an Op-Ed campaign this month (see http://peacealliance.org/take-action/action-resources/) that maps out five major categories of peacebuilding work – work that is beginning to demonstrate how we could better deal with these challenges. These five key “Cornerstones of Peacebuilding” offer tangible hope and a blueprint for deeper progress. Their effectiveness can be measured in cost savings, violence reduction, and various other community benefits.

The five cornerstones are:

● Empowering Community Peacebuilding: Addressing such challenges as crime, violence, and gangs. Effective programs may include police/community relations, hands-on street outreach and intervention, mental health services, out-of-school programs, opportunities for seniors, and arts practices. One example is the River Phoenix Center for Peace-building, in Gainesville, Florida, which is guiding the entire local police force, six officers at a time, through day-long workshops where they interact with high-risk teenagers, strengthening community connections with deeper empathy and respect. Congressman Bobby Scott has introduced the bi-partisan Youth PROMISE Act (HR 2197) – which promotes community dialogue to identify and support the best practices for reducing youth violence and incarceration.

● Teaching Peace in Schools: Bringing conflict resolution curricula into our schools with tools such as social-emotional learning, reflective listening techniques, restorative processes, and other proven peace-building skills to increase graduation rates and dramatically transform violence, bullying, truancy, and other challenges facing youth. Congressman Tim Ryan (OH) has a bill (HR 850) currently before Congress to bring Social and Emotional Learning into US public school curriculum.

● Humanizing Justice Systems: Moving away from overly punitive policies, towards healing-oriented criminal and juvenile justice approaches. Restorative justice, diversion/alternative incarceration programs, and prisoner rehabilitation & re-entry programs are among the most promising solutions. The Longmont (CO) Community Justice Partnership – using Restorative Justice practices, brought its recidivism rate down to 8%, compared to over 55% in the surrounding Boulder County.

●  Fostering International Peace: Championing peace-building approaches to international conflict and atrocity prevention in hotspots through mediation, diplomacy, and effective on-the-ground programs. Important components may involve economic development, post conflict justice, humanitarian aid, and support for frameworks necessary for democratic processes. U.S. Agencies leading in this realm include the U.S. Department of State’s Conflict and Stabilization Operations Bureau, and USAID’s Complex Crises Fund, as well as the U.S. Institute of Peace. All of these are obtaining impressive peacebuilding results on a shoestring budget.

● Cultivating Personal Peace: Integrating peace in our own lives, with our children, in our relationships, in the workplace, and in our approach to activism, through such methods as compassionate communication, mindfulness, empathy, and stress reduction.

More detailed examples in each of these areas can be found at www.peacealliance.org.

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