"The Minnesota Peace Project is the definition of outside the beltway peace advocacy at its finest....I know I say it all the time but I'll say it again--it's a model that should be emulated in every state!!"
-- Legislative Associate with National Peace Organization
Perseverance. Organization. Passion. Commitment. They are the definitions of grass-roots organizing and the descriptive words that tell the story of the formation and continuing efforts of the Minnesota Peace Project.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar with MPP's Roxanne Abbas by Minnesota Peace Project
Founded in early 2009, the Minnesota Peace Project's (MPP) mission is to build a more peaceful world by influencing U.S. foreign policy through the exchange of perspectives and information with Minnesota members of Congress. With volunteer coordinators in each Congressional District and two Senate teams, MPP seeks to develop long-term, respectful relationships between constituent peace advocates and their Congressional representatives and staff members.
Sound like a daunting task? It's what fuels the day-in and day-out work of both MPP co-founder Roxanne Abbas and Minnesota Third Congressional District Coordinator Linda Thomson, both of whom recently sat down with Wisdom Voices to talk about their work and that of the organization.
"I was not active in the peace movement until President (George W.) Bush announced the invasion of Iraq (2003)," Abbas said. "I tell people it was President Bush who recruited me for this intense involvement. I'd worked with other peace groups in the past, but from my perspective none of them was really working effectively to influence their members of Congress.
"These groups do a wonderful job with demonstrations and protest rallies and public education. But what I felt they weren't doing effectively and what needed to be done was communicating with our members of Congress. So, I talked with co-founder Mary Hinz and others who were interested and agreed with this perspective and we pulled together a core team to get MPP started."
"We developed a strategy to find ways to avoid former techniques where we had failed to influence our members of Congress and looked for ways in which efforts could be productive and where we would have the potential to change their positions," added Thomson. "We recognized the importance of having a strategy."
Resolve conflicts through diplomacy
Build an infrastructure of peace and prosperity
Dismantle the infrastructure that encourages militaristic response to conflicts
With agenda and mission statements in hand, MPP then organized into establishing local volunteers and members in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts and two Senatorial teams. "You can only be on a Congressional district team if you're in that district," said Thomson, who has a background in marketing. "We recruit with endless phone calls and networking. It's in talking to people you'll find out that they say, "Oh, I know someone who just moved to Morris (Minnesota) and then we call that person and say, "Do you know anyone in your district who would be interested in helping.' It's constant work. And it helps to be willing to talk to anyone at anytime."
"I've been at conventions where I walk into other people's party rooms and just start talking," Roxanne laughed.
But it's far more than just talking that has been the real nugget of success for MPP. It is in the art of listening and using the tool of dialogue in which the organization has fine-tuned its work with the Minnesota congressional delegation, which ranges from Progressive Caucus co-chair Keith Ellison (Minnesota 5th District) to staunch Republican Erik Paulsen (Minnesota 3rd District).