By Heidi Zemach for SCN –
Some local women have taken it upon themselves to put their efforts toward building peace in their own lives, in the lives of the community, schools, criminal justice system, and they even hope to foster international peace and prevent global crises.
Seward’s Lori Draper, Jennifer Carr, and Sharon Ganser participate in the Peace Alliance, a national grassroots organization that strives toward five main peace-building goals: empowering community peace-building; teaching conflict resolution in schools; humanizing justice systems; fostering international peace, and cultivating personal peace. They do so for the most part while remaining at home, in their own, small, rather isolated community. Once a month, they join a one-hour conference call with other Alliance members across the U.S. to discuss issues, set goals, and make plans for projects.
“Our main goal is to empower individuals to create a culture of peace,” said Draper, a retired banker who is a part-time staff member of the alliance. She was in rather good spirits because the Alaska Dispatch News had just published an editorial she had written about Restorative Justice. An earlier editorial of hers in the Dispatch had focused on the case related to Anchorage biker Jeff Dusenbury. When victims are included in a justice circle with family members, and the person who committed a crime, and they help set a plan for that person to make amends, it makes that person more accountable to those they have wronged, and also helps them to become whole, Draper said.
Draper has worked to establish relationships with media editors, and plans to submit more topical opinion pieces geared to get people to think of more peaceful solutions to various issues of the day, and to explain efforts that the Alliances supports. She avoids reading the online comment sections, which tend to attract folks who deliberately put down the people who write editorials and their ideas.
Carr is a retired schoolteacher who, with her husband Ken, a retired teacher, have raised three children in Alaska. The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2015 the group supports would integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) training and processes into schools, teaching children self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making skills and responsibility. The program has been shown to prevent drug abuse, violence and juvenile delinquency by teaching young people the mental skills they will need in life. Suicide prevention and anti-bullying also should be taught and modeled within schools and the community, Carr said.
A statistic that she, and the group likes to point out is that America, with only 5% of the world’s population, imprisons a quarter of all the world’s inmates. Another is that it costs $50,000-$200,000 to jail a juvenile for a year, and that Restorative Justice programs can reduce the average recidivism rate of 65 % to 7 %. “People are saying, “What’s going on in our world? There’s got to be a (better) way to deal with it,” said Carr.
Some may consider these Seward woman well-wishing idealists, not grounded in the reality of the dangerous world in which we live. But, the three Seward women were surprised and pleased by the positive reception they received at the Seward Music and Arts Festival in September, where they introduced themselves to the community with a Peace Alliance booth. They collected 220 signatures for a community peace-building petition that weekend, and donations and comments of support flowed in from a wide variety of people, regardless of their party affiliation.
“It surprised me,” said Carr, “You assume how some people lean, but they gave us a $20 dollar bill.”
With the petition in tow, Draper and Carr traveled to Washington, DC October 16-20 to attend a Peace Alliance National Conference. It started with education and training sessions for members, and proceeded to meetings with members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill, and educating them on the programs and bills that the group supports.
They received a surprisingly friendly and encouraging reception by the Alaska Delegation, including the office of Rep. Don Young, and Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Murkowski was very familiar with their main focus, The Youth PROMISE Act (YPA.), sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Young is a co-sponsor, although newcomer Sen. Sullivan was not familiar with the act. He told them it would probably be added to an omnibus bill that pertains to criminal justice, and agreed it was a bipartisan issue. The act funds locally chosen early intervention and violence prevention programs with the goal of keeping children away from violent behaviors and reducing incarceration.
“Suicide is a huge problem in Alaska,” said Carr. Draper’s daughter-in-law was headed for Hooper Bay to offer that rural community help in dealing with a recent string of four back-to-back suicides. When their vehicles’ tires were slashed by local young vandals a while ago, the Drapers and other residents, would have preferred to sit down with those young people and come up with a plan that would allow them to account for their actions, and then move on with their lives, she said: “But no. Now they have a court record, and we never got to see them face to face.”
Idealistic they may be, but some of their goals are already starting to come to pass, they said.
One is the Justice Department’s recent move to release 6,000 inmates early from prison. It’s the largest one-time release of federal prisoners, and is due in part to overcrowding, and the expense of building more prisons, and also to provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past three decades.
Another issue that has gained traction was when federal agencies were directed by President Barack Obama on November 2nd to “Ban the Box” on federal job applications. Ban the Box is an international campaign by civil rights groups and advocates for ex-offenders, aimed at persuading employers to remove from job applications the check box that asks for a persons’ criminal record, and screens them out before looking at their skills and qualifications. Fifty-two U.S. municipalities and 17 states had “ban the box” legislation in place this summer for government job applications, and also in some cases private contractors followed suit.
The Peace Alliance also lobbied on Capitol Hill for the Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act which promotes best practices in international peace-building to mitigate such disasters as conflict and refugee crises, and for the Complex Crisis Fund, which provides un-programmed money for the State Department and U.S. AID, to allow them to prevent and respond to unforeseen crises, and make rapid investments in prevention and crisis response.
They also support financing a U.S. Institute of Peace, (USIP), and agency that would conduct Peace-building training and research unique within the U.S. Government, plus a cabinet-level Department of Peace Building position in the White House.
“When you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Draper said, liberally quoting from a phrase in Abraham Maslow’s The Psychology of Science, published in 1966. Draper said she’s an eternal optimist, who still believes there will be a Department of Peace-building someday.
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