Building Peace is Deeply Connected to Transforming Government

Author: 420 Times
Created: 05 January, 2016
Updated: 16 October, 2022
11 min read

Reinvention is the key and peacemaking is the heart of today’s revolution.

Building peace requires fixing government. Only 19% of Americans trust our government to do the right thing and 75% of Americans believe corruption in government is widespread. We have to restore trust at the same time we make decisions as one nation about what kind of America we want to be and what our role is to be on our shared planet in the 21st century.

As an independent candidate for president, I believe building peace at home and abroad requires the transformation of the entire government of the United States of America so that our government

of the People truly delivers world-class results to We the People.

This is not just a list of new policies and new programs. We need transformation to rescue our democracy, a transformation that will touch every aspect of every federal agency.

When I say my presidential platform calls for fixing our broken government, I mean going department by department to reboot the purpose of most agencies, put new priorities into operational plans, demand accountability from agency executives for visible results, and insert new standards into budgeting systems so agencies stop wasting billions of dollars. We can then redirect those savings to better serve our communities.

Peacebuilding means turning anger and hatred into solutions. Building peace here at home begins with the transformation of our justice and law enforcement systems. We must demonstrate we can reduce and prevent all forms of violence and reverse our history of incarcerating non-violent or mentally ill offenders to restore the credibility we need to reduce violence and conflict around the world.

A Story about Peacebuilding

I have told this story many times:

In the summer of 2013, the New York City (NYC) Department of Probation expanded its Weekend Recovery Assistance Program (WRAP) by enrolling nearly 450 young people on probation in summer jobs to help city neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Sandy. This was a very organized effort.

The Department reached out to neighborhood groups and many nonprofits to better understand what exactly was needed and in what locations. Each young person had already been through a risk assessment so the truly dangerous were not part of the program. Private foundations contributed funds to cover costs for coached and stipends for the young workers.

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The Department had already transformed to a new model. Probation officers had begun moving out of headquarters and into communities where the most people on probation lived; and these officers and their supervisors were trained in mentoring, adolescent development, and even building partnerships.

A continuum of services were available to people on probation through partnerships with local providers. The services were organized as Neighborhood Opportunity Networks (NeONs);

The 450 were divided into small teams of 8-10 youth, 2 coaches and one probation officer. The teams were assigned to specific locations. They met every morning and every afternoon to talk about the day’s work and challenges encountered. Looking back, so much was learned on so many levels by so many people that lessons for reducing and preventing violence could easily inform a national strategy.

The teams mostly worked on tearing out water-damaged parts of homes and organizing materials for renovations or were assigned to one of many disaster relief kitchens. The grinding impact of poverty becomes very clear very quickly – very few of the 450 had ever even used a tape measure or opened a bag of raw carrots for peeling and chopping.

Real skills are learned in short order: measure twice and cut once; make a plan for where soaked insulation goes before unloading and stacking new insulation; make sure everyone on the team knows the plan; who will do what; or learning how to make healthy soups and salads from scratch. And always divide the large tasks into small steps and make sure everyone knows which job is theirs. When there is a problem, talk it out or take it to the team meeting.

The larger lessons that come from learning to work on a team contributing to a community rather than in a gang that is destructive in a community take time even beyond the summer program.

The learning was not just for the 450. Homeowners were impressed and genuinely grateful – to the point of tears and hugs – when strong, young people made progress where there had been so much hopelessness and so little seemed possible. Neighbors and communities began to value and appreciate these youth who had once been pushed away and isolated.

And the young people could hear a different tone from police officers newly impressed with the hard work of young people they once called juvenile delinquents and now call by name. The community as a whole changed their view of government in general and Probation in particular – now trusting government to support local community needs.

The summer program was just one snapshot, one set of circumstances in which 450 young people had the opportunity to change behavior, to choose peacemaking. Nationwide, re-arrest rates hover around 66%; in Probation’s 2013 summer program, re-arrests were around 11%.

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The New York City Department of Probation shows us how justice reform can turn to neighborhood peacebuilding. The story of 450 young people on probation also demonstrates the connections between a transformed government agency, the activities of peacebuilding and the psychological dynamics of peacemaking.

Build Peace

I like the NYC Probation story as a case study as it demonstrates many aspects of reducing and preventing crime violence. First and foremost, leadership matters. Only the right executive in the right position at the right time with support from a chain of command that goes straight to the office of the mayor or governor or president can transform a government agency. The NYC Commissioner of Probation in 2013 was just that person.

  • The Commissioner came in with a new vision of what it takes to turn around the lives of people on probation. In meeting after meeting with probation officers and citywide stakeholders, he helped everyone consider ways to change the existing vision, mission, goals and priorities.
  • He and his staff began to build a neighborhood-based network of services. They found the nation’s best risk assessment tool so everyone understood which clients were still dangerous and needed the most supervision and which clients would benefit from neighborhood services that built on individual strengths and interests.
  • New technologies were introduced for staff and clients.
  • Probation officers got new training and moved out of headquarters into communities where the most people on probation lived.
  • Success was now measured as helping clients turn their lives around -- not checking items off a list.
  • Everyone on probation was encouraged to fill out Individual Development Plans. For so many, this was the first time in their lives that anyone – especially anyone in authority – asked them what they were good at and what they were interested in.
  • Everyone on staff understood the new way of doing business

The list of organizational changes is very long – that is the point. They include re-thinking purpose and priorities, adopting a very different approach to training and education for headquarters staff and neighborhood-based service providers, and defining success not just the number of monthly visits to a probation officer but rather coaching and mentoring clients toward new behaviors.

Transforming a government agency so that it delivers quality services takes focused leadership – and yes it can be done for spectacular and measurable results!

I’ve learned a lot since the publication of my 1988 book, Peacemaking: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management. My belief in the power of face-to-face dialog remains steadfast. Now I make the distinction between peacebuilding and peacemaking.

Peacebuilding is active – a ceasefire, a gang truce, a mentor for a teenager who just got arrested for the first time or an official framework for ceasing hostilities. These are the activities of peacebuilding.

Peacemaking is psychological; it’s internal. Peacemaking is embedded in the face-to-face dialog that goes with the activities of peacebuilding. It happens with deep listening. It’s a personal transformation, a change of heart, forgiveness, or simply a decision to stop hating. In New York City, it’s when young people on probation decide to give back to the community they have harmed.

The key ingredients for building peace here at home or in conflict zones around the world are very similar. They include the activities of peacebuilding, the personal insights that accompany teamwork and dialog, and organizational changes that include new programs, policies, training and measures of success. A hidden organizational requirement is reinventing budgeting and acquisition so funding prioritizes programs and policies that support the new vision.

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Building peace does not mean being stupid. Whether we are talking about transforming policing here at home or supporting ceasefires and peacebuilding in conflict zones around the world, we must make honest assessments about truly dangerous individuals or groups.

No one can sweet-talk a bully; no one can negotiate with psychopaths and sociopaths, especially those who use brutality as tactics of war. They have crossed a dark line; they are lost to us forever; they are not part of any peace talks; they will be confronted and defeated.

I have already proposed a model for Justice Reform in America with strategies (how to move forward) and specific actions (exactly how to get results). The strategic plan begins with a new mission for the U. S. Department of Justice:

“To reduce and prevent crime and violence by building stronger communities; to restore the full faith and trust of the American people in our police departments and justice systems; and to partner with communities and all levels of law enforcement to reduce and prevent crime, violence and acts of terrorism.”

There are many details in this plan and the first goal calls for prioritizing federal funding to support a rapid transition to community policing. The policy changes in my plan for the federal level include an end to the war on drugs, elimination of for-profit prisons, the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing, the adoption of “Mandela Rules” (elimination of solitary confinement and intrusive search tactics), and reducing violent arrest tactics such as the use of chokeholds, Tasers, tear gas, and police dogs.

My plan calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to be accountable for the national transition to community policing – the model that trains police officers to build partnerships as guardians of our communities and our constitutional rights.

Many of these same concepts apply to building peace in conflict zones around the world. I have defined five operating principles for all foreign policy decisions:

  1. We must be strong to build peace. We must make sure our military and intelligence expertise and resources are strong enough to counter genuine threats to America. Strength at home is visible as federal agencies that deliver world-class services to all of us. Strength at home is also reflected in the power of our core values – justice, equality, freedom, diversity, and self-government – values that bind us together as one nation, one America.
  1. The purpose of American foreign policy is peacebuilding. The goal of war is never more war; the goals of warfare in the 21st century are the political solutions that can only be achieved through face-to-face dialog.
  1. Building peace does not mean being stupid. Psychopaths and sociopaths who use beheadings or rape and enslavement as tactics of war have crossed a dark line; they are lost to us forever; they are not part of any peace talks; they will be confronted and defeated.
  1. American foreign policy must be based on systems thinking and true partnerships. Our foreign policy must combine many points of view: military strategies informed by experts in culture and history; tactics that cut off the flows of fighters, weapons, and money into conflict zones; diplomatic engagement that leverages the skills of community peacebuilders; intelligence and communication strategies that counter the appeal of ISIS and radical violence including the root causes of corruption and failed government; and humanitarian and development plans that recognize that our War on Terror has killed 3 million civilians and helped create a refugee crisis.
  1. Washington D.C. must tilt toward peacebuilding. We spend 12 times as much waging war as building peace. Our foreign policies have been based on aggression and confrontation; those policies alone do not work. We must be more effective in how we de-escalate tensions and seek diplomatic solutions.

There are real and dangerous people here at home and around the world. We have to be realistic about those dangers and how to counter those threats while understanding the true costs of community violence and the moral injury war inflicts on us all. We must invest in peacebuilding and economic development.


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I see before me plans and principles to build peace here at home and around the world; I see a full range of proven solutions to reduce and prevent crime and violence; I know we have a national and worldwide network of peacebuilders ready to take action; and I predict a 2016 voter’s revolution making a statement about good government and peacemaking.

And so I hold this truth in my vision, goals, and plans for America: In the 21st century, we the people are wiser than warfare; we the people are wiser than community violence.

Photo Credit: iQoncept / shutterstock.com

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