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#Pivot 2 Peace - 2015 Friends Committee on National Legislation Annual Meeting

In November more than 400 Quakers and like-minded activists met in Washington, DC for FCNL's annual meeting. New Mexico Regional Meeting's Tom Vaughn was one of those attending. Here's his report on the experience.

What I Did on My Trip to Washington

… besides getting a cold I can’t seem to shake

 By Tom Vaughan, NMRM rep. to FCNL

Used with FCNL 2015 Annual Meeting feature

 It was after 9 Wednesday evening, Nov. 11, when I got to the Washington Court Hotel, after leaving home at 4:45 a.m. to get to the airport, so I was too late for any of the Friends Committee on National Legislation activities that day.

Thursday at 7:30 a.m., I met with Christine Ashley, the FCNL Field Secretary, and other FCNL Visiting Friends to discuss the program this year and where to go next year. I realized that I have failed to follow through by keeping in contact with the meetings I visited in the Southwest; I will try to mend my ways. We discussed the possible role VFs could have in assisting meetings with the biennial priority-setting process, which begins again in January. We also discussed ways to better coordinate Visiting Friends, the Youth Advocacy Corps and other advocacy programs that FCNL has gotten going. For one thing, other than periodic group telephone calls (which don’t include all VFs), we don’t have an internal networking process for the Visiting Friends. Which led me to think, we also don’t have an internal communication link among the FCNL reps of Intermountain Yearly Meeting. That would help us prepare for the annual gathering and we could also supplement the FCNL executive secretary’s report to IMYM with an internal report specific to the yearly meeting. Things to ponder. We also discussed the tactical efficacy of being present at regional and yearly meeting gatherings to let Friends in small, isolated worship groups and meetings know about FCNL. I suggested reaching out to tribal college students and staff to include them in the youth advocacy activities being planned, perhaps through the Tribal College Journal.

The rest of the day was spent prepping for lobbying on Friday. Technically, Nov. 11-13 was the Quaker Public Policy Institute, devoted to lobbying Congress on “Building a Pathway to Peace.” Our specific “ask” was urging our delegations to cosponsor and support the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, which Sen. Ben Cardin (D-DE) is planning to introduce in the Senate (House sponsor unknown yet). This act, if passed, would:

1. Permanently authorize the Atrocities Prevention Board, a high-level coordinating group of 10 agencies, established in 2012 by executive order. Legislation would give the APB more permanence; it wouldn’t be subject to cancellation by E.O. The APB works out of the National Security Council office.

2. Authorize funding for atrocities prevention at USAID and the State Department. This would support the Complex Crises Fund (already used for fast response to crises) and create Atrocities and Conflict Prevention Funding at the State Department to support “prevention of war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass atrocities and genocide.”

3. Provide training to Foreign Service Officers in conflict and atrocities prevention.

4. Require an annual report to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence reviewing countries that are at risk of mass atrocities and genocide.

I always feel more comfortable having an existing bill to urge the delegation to back, but … it is what it is!

In the morning on Thursday, we heard from Nancy Lindborg, the fifth (and first female) president of the United States Institute of Peace, located at the other end of the National Mall from the Capitol (not on Long Island, as my Congressman once said in Silver City when he proudly proclaimed he had just voted to defund the USIP!). Lindberg’s background is with Mercy Corps and USAID.

Lindborg said we need to MANAGE conflict; it can’t be erased from the globe. (I will use quotes from various people we heard from in this report, sometimes without attribution; at least one of the speakers is a current federal employee and we were asked to keep that part off the record [which I protested after the fact].)

Right now, the flow of displaced people in the Middle East exceeds the post-WWII experience! At least 50 nations are now considered “fragile” (Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fund_for_Peace) - either too weak or too lacking in legitimacy to cope.

“There are critical strategies that can make a difference.” The U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes this. “Fundamentally, an alternative to military solutions” is called for. “Peace doesn’t happen only top-down through treaties.”

Recent research is showing there are long-lasting effects on neural development in the brains of young children in conflict environments, suggesting generational impacts. A female law student in Afghanistan was quoted: “We don’t know how to have a disagreement without it becoming violent.”

Relevant here is Goal 16 of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals: “Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.” In the fragile nations, inclusion, access and accountability are typically lacking.

The APB and the CCF have been used to head off violent conflict in Burundi and the Central African Republic. Similar strategies have also been used in Kenya. The latest budget for the CCF is down from $40 million to $20 million. The USIP is budgeted at $35 million. (The catering budget for Google is alleged to be $70 million.)

“Palestinians have lost all hope. … It’s a very dangerous moment to leave it unaddressed while we wait for the next administration.” U.S. arms sales and military aid in the fragile nations complicate the humanitarian aid situation.

“If you want peace, you have to ask, ‘What does the end look like?’ Then you have to plan, staff and resource to that end.” “The aim and the object of war is to create a better peace.” In addition to an Army War College, we should have an Army Peace College.

As to the origins of violent extremism … young people are faced with unjust feudal structures. “Cash for work” programs don’t meet actual needs. Is aid money going where it is most needed, or supporting people who pervert the aim?

“Violence actually stays around peace agreements.” “Being able to wage peace is a good strategy.” “You cannot do this work without resources.”

“Show me the evidence that the military solution works!” Localized solutions are best, and focusing on the drivers of conflict is more effective than just subduing the conflict.

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On Thursday afternoon, we saw a video from the presentation of the Edward F. Snyder Award for advancing disarmament and supporting peace. The 2015 award went to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). During the Senate consideration of the Iran accord, Durbin brought in our allies’ ambassadors to meet with senators and reassure them that this WAS the best deal possible. He said of FCNL, “When it came to Iran, you were ahead of the curve!” He has also been concerned with Syrian immigration and supports sentencing reform.

Allyson Neville-Morgan is an FCNL legislative associate working on prevention of violent conflict. She gave us concrete examples of grassroots peacebuilding through the Prevention and Protection Working Group, “a coalition of human rights, religious, humanitarian, antigenocide, peace and other organizations dedicated to improving U.S. government policies and civilian capacities to prevent violent conflict, mass atrocities and protect civilians threatened by such crises.” She had been in the Central African Republic 10 days earlier, in a town that, a year ago, was too violent to visit. Local “social cohesion committees” have helped restore calm. She gave an example that we found very telling in our visits on the Hill the next day: A cow had been killed in a village. That could have set off an intertribal cycle of violent reprisals. Instead, the social cohesion committee in a nearby village stepped in and negotiated peaceful resolution. She pointed out that strategies for preventing violence and atrocities are developing that were virtually unknown 10 years ago.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to review and develop strategies for lobbying on the Hill the next day, led by Chris Letts (left) and Maiya Zwerling. Good refreshers and honers.

Back to work that evening with Bridget Moix talking about “From ‘war is not the answer’ to peacebuilding.” Bridget is now with the Genocide Prevention Program at George Mason University. She was an Used in 2015 FCNL Annual Meeting featureFCNL intern 19 years ago and then on the FCNL staff. Bridget had a significant role in turning the FCNL focus from “War is not the answer” (the text on a banner unfurled outside the FCNL office on Capitol Hill the day the U.S. invaded Iraq) to the real answer, “Peaceful Prevention of Deadly Conflict.” In 2015, that has further evolved to “Building a Pathway to Peace” and “#Pivot2Peace (War Doesn’t Work)” which connotes shifting from a Pax Americana course dominated by military power to one that features diplomacy, economic and other means. She called her story “A Tale of Two Oceans” - the Ocean of Darkness and the Ocean of Light.

Bridget shared a statement about conflict that I find very thought-provoking - “a war that began long before it started and hasn’t ended yet.” So true of so many conflicts today!

She noted that war-ending treaties used to call for “general and complete disarmament;” now they just call for a cessation of armed conflict. “Super power hegemony” doesn’t last long. In 2000, Quakers at an international meeting in Britain tried to answer the question, Why do we have so little to say when the bombs are falling? They concluded, “We really need to get further upstream.” This led in 2008 to FCNL and others forming the Prevention and Protection Working Group.

A week before her talk to us, Bridget had been invited to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to participate in a roundtable on responsibility to protect, which included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The cadets at the roundtable crafted this slogan for U.S. military intervention: “Proactive in prevention, prudent in intervention and persistent in rebuilding.” She believes “peace is a growth industry!”

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Friday the 13th - Lobby Day! Sara Keeney and I were on the Hill in meetings from 9:15 a.m. until after 3 p.m. We went to Rep. Pearce’s office, then to Sen. Udall, to Sen. Heinrich and in the afternoon to Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. I was the lead on the first three; Sara on the last two. We were joined by Claudia Wilson, Richard Stoltz and FCNL Friend in Residence Lon Burnam in Pearce’s office; Wilson, Stoltz and FCNL Program Assistant Kyle Cristofalo in Udall’s and Heinrich’s offices.

Used in 2015 FCNL Annual Meeting featureSara Keeney, Albuquerque Friend and clerk of IMYM, and I stopped by the Summerhouse on the Capitol grounds (photo on the left). This little-known gem contains a fountain, a grotto … and peaceful quiet. It was built by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1882.

Earlier, Sara and I breakfasted with Program Assistant Ellen Short, who will be helping with the workshop on youth advocacy to be held in Santa Fe, January 9-11, 2016, with a focus on incarceration. Ellen is full of enthusiasm and has family members who are corrections officers.

Patrick Cuff, Pearce’s legislative director, was very forthcoming and we talked for almost 45 minutes with him. He was receptive, as all offices were, to the argument first used by President Obama when he appointed the APB: We too often turn our attention to conflicts in other nations at a point when the choices are either to send in the troops or do nothing! Earlier recognition and intervention can save money and lives. Cuff acknowledged to us that the 2003 invasion of Iraq may not have been a resounding success in terms of its overall outcomes! He’s interested in making sure that military deployments makes sense. We praised the Congressman’s work with Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) on immigration issues and Cuff seemed to think there were more opportunities for joint efforts on border issues where they represent the most affected parties.

Matt Padilla, in Sen. Tom Udall’s office, drafted the senator’s legislative proposal against the use of U.S. troops in Syria. It was interesting that he said he went back and picked up the language of the 1982 Boland Amendment, which forbade U.S. assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua - the provision that got Col. Oliver North and others in trouble when they tried to evade it in a fiasco that became known as Iran-Contra. Padilla said he closed the loopholes.

Jordan Franklin mentioned Sen. Heinrich’s letter to the president opposing the use of U.S. troops in Syria and said he believes Heinrich may be interested in Cardin’s bill.

Rep. Grisham’s legislative assistant, Nathan Schelble, said the procedure to get more money allocated for the APB and the Complex Crises Fund would be for the Congresswoman to send a letter to the House Budget Committee making that recommendation. He said he would consider recommending that.

Scott Stockwell, legislative assistant to Rep. Lujan, was a bit more enthusiastic about the proposal, saying he “can’t think of any reason why the Congressman would not support that.” He wanted to know who to coordinate with in Cardin’s office.

We have since heard from FCNL staff that, as a result of some 400 visitors on the Hill on that Friday, Sen. Cardin’s office has had a significant uptick in contacts from other Congressional offices, wanting to know more about the proposed bill.

After our day of lobbying, we had two hours for dinner on our own. The Washington Court Hotel is in a good location - a few blocks from Capitol Hill and a few blocks from Union Station. I met some acquaintances from my Park Service past at a restaurant in Union Station - it sure looks different than when I last saw it in about 1960!

In the evening, we heard from Florence Ntakarutimana and Hussein Khalid, from the Central African Republic and Kenya, respectively. Florence works with Catholic Relief Services and Hussein with HAKI Africa (HAKI is an acronym for Humanity, Activism, Knowledge, Integrity). Both described the need to provide support for peacebuilding activities on the ground in Africa and elsewhere. Hussein spoke to the cycle of violence when young men are unjustly detained and/or beaten by authorities, then go north into Somalia and return as radicalized jihadists.

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Saturday was the beginning of the annual meeting. At present, the FCNL office has 42 staff members, including the 11-month program assistants. The governing General Committee consists of 185 members, two-thirds of whom are representatives of yearly meetings or Quaker organizations; the rest are at-large members. Donations and bequests to both the FCNL Education Fund (tax-deductible) and FCNL (not deductible) have increased in the past year, resulting in restored salaries and a generally better financial position.

We heard that our Capital Campaign is well and truly launched, with a sturdy little red car symbolizing the meetings the staff and volunteers will hold across the country in 2016 to raise funds. This is a five-year campaign that was launched in 2012, with a major emphasis on changing the composition of FCNL - reaching out to more young adults, broadening FCNL outreach to Friends of all ages and strengthening the lobbying efforts.

The goal is $15 million for:

* Young Adult Program ($6M endowment, $2 M new programs).

* Sustaining Our Lobbying ($2M endowment, $1M new programs).

* Friend in Washington Program ($1M endowment).

* Growing Our Presence ($1M renovation of 205C St.).

* Expanding Our Community Fundraising Capacity ($2M campaign costs [13%]).

The best part of every annual meeting is always the presentations by this year’s group of program assistants - young people who take a year of their lives to work with us on issues of Quaker concern (11 months, actually, for which they receive about $24,000 - not high living in DC!). I am always so humbled by their stories and their aspirations, feel so honored that they will join us in our efforts! That is always on Saturday night and here they are - from left to right, Kyle Cristofalo, Mavis Britwum, Jacob Chappell, Katherine Kusiak Carey, Ellen Short and Asana Hamidu.


FCNL's Summary Report of the 2015 Annual Meeting

What I Did on My Trip to Washington - Downloadable PDF Version