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The Cry of Our Inner Gandhi

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"While Republicans fight the War on Terror, grow our robust economy, and crack down on illegal immigration, House Democrats plot to establish a Department of Peace, raise your taxes, and minimize penalties for crack dealers. The difference couldn't be starker."

As a contribution to the general noise and ignorance, House Whip Roy Blunt's Web-site politicking is nothing special. Boo! Scared yet? Fear-baiting at election time is standard GOP save-our-keister strategy, but the list of acceptable bogeymen that party leaders parade before the constituency, with inimitable cynicism, is always instructional.

Taxes, check. Crack dealers, check. Department of Peace . . . huh?

Heaping derision on this quiet but potent piece of legislation - H.R. 3760, which now has 74 co-sponsors - may be a miscalculation on Blunt's part, given that most Americans have lost patience with the carnage in Iraq, don't feel safer because of the war on terror and want the country to move in a new direction.

I can understand why Blunt himself would be scared of it - the establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peace would signal a profound national direction change - but, sadly, I also understand why he sees it as a safe target to mock and misrepresent. The extraordinary notion that violence, like disease, may have causes that can be eradicated - that it is not embedded in human nature and therefore inevitable - isn't in wide circulation yet. It remains barely a pinprick in the national awareness, as manifested by the mainstream media and other outlets of popular culture.

The concept is also dangerous and upsets the powers that be. Violence is not only big business, it permeates the mythology that unites us as a nation. To suggest building a culture of peace, of which a Department of Peace would be one component, no doubt seems like a "plot" to the likes of Blunt - but I'm convinced there is a groundswell of hope for such a culture, indeed, a spiritual hunger for it.

A woman recently wrote to me: "I don't think I've ever felt a deeper level of frustration with the direction this country is going. Honestly though, what do you do? I give to the candidates and important causes, I've gone to marches and rallies, I write letters when necessary but I honestly don't know what to do with the anger, frustration, despair that I feel. I've had this conversation with friends and we talk about it but then agree that we don't 'Do' anything. But what is there to do? What is the best way to get involved?"

How many of us haven't felt such anguish ourselves? There's no simple fix for this sort of frustration, which, though it may be triggered by the Bush presidency, is far more spiritual in nature than it is political. For all the nation's vaunted self-aggrandizement as the world's oldest democracy, we are not encouraged by the mass media to participate in public life - certainly not at that level.

The Washington Post, for instance, in a story about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (the story quotes Blunt's laundry list of bogeymen), describes how the California Democrat set about revitalizing her party after its defeat in '04. Did she reach out to the public, tap into the great desire for change afoot in the land or craft a relevant party platform? Well, actually, no.

Instead, the story matter-of-factly notes, "she reached out to advertising executives, Internet moguls and language specialists to ask how Democrats could rise from the ashes and challenge President Bush and the Republicans."

This is the kind of story that ruins my day. The word "participatory" seems to be so thoroughly atrophied at this point that no self-respecting journalist would seriously consider using it as a modifier - much less an amplifier - for "democracy." Yet my anguished letter-writer is groping for precisely this word. That vibrating imperative she expressed, to do something that matters, is nothing less, in my view, than the cry of our inner Gandhi to become the change we want to see happen in the world.

And this brings me back to the Department of Peace, the culture of peace, the idea of peace. If we don't break the cycles of violence that keep hatred and injustice at a constant simmer, our future is limited and stunted. "We need a partner in our government so that peace becomes an organizing principle in this society," said Dot Maver, executive director of The Peace Alliance. That's the value of the movement to establish a Department of Peace, and for those of you, like my correspondent, who want to know where to put your energy, this may be the place.

Peace, as defined by Johan Galtung at transcend.org, is "the capacity to handle conflicts with empathy, nonviolence and creativity." Far from being a "plot" hatched by a cabal of Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi, as Rep. Blunt seems to think it is (if only he were right), peace is a principle, an array of social technologies and, above all, a life commitment demanding every ounce of our strength.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.
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