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Call to Action, March 19th, 2008

A candidates' forum was held at a recent conservative Christian convention that was attended by 1000 delegates from groups throughout the country. Every major presidential candidate appeared. There are similar conventions hosted by the AARP, the NRA, the AMA, the NAACP, the ABA, the American Legion, trade associations, labor federations, and numerous other groups.

There has never been a candidate, major or minor, appearing at a peace group convention, let alone the whole crowd of them. Why is that? We need only look to the simplest of answers: no such thing exists. No such thing has ever existed.

There is no genuine peace movement in this country. There are no 1000 delegates from local organizations bound together by a common agenda who could attend and put hard questions to candidates, nor is there any organized manner by which meaningful blocs of votes are committed or removed based upon the responses. Peace proponents do not participate in a concerted, organized manner in the multi-faceted parliamentary process that drives elections to decision-making posts in our republican (small "r") democracy.

We must create ourselves. We must force the need for responsiveness to our beliefs within the existing political process, as so many other significant organizations do. In order to do so, we must create 1000 well-populated local peace service organizations, who will send over 1000 delegates to a hotel in New York City or Washington, and make it clear that any candidate who doesn't have a working plan to promote our beliefs, or who fails to appear, or both, will lose access to a gigantic bloc of single-issue voters.

It's not complicated. It's not expensive. It must be done. Start your local chapter of the new National Peace Service today. Scroll down to "How To Get Started" and "How To Get Started, Part 2" for the basics of how to start and operate your group.

How To Get Started

Many people feel powerless and unsure what, if anything, can be done, or done differently, so that real change leading to peace now and into the future will occur. The answer to that is a resounding LOTS. Getting started is easy. But first we must understand how most current peace efforts fail to reach their mark.

Organizing First Amendment events (free assembly/free speech) does not constitute a movement. For the time being, there actually is no movement, and that's according to the literal definition of the word, as well as the organizational one. Nobody is moving, and nothing is moving. Everything is staying the same. Vigils have been on the same corner every week for five years. Once in awhile we hold a rally, or attend a forum where some well-known writer is appearing on his or her book tour. We are static, which is the opposite of movement. There are plenty of people coming up with all kinds of ideas for new things to try out, but since there is no actual Movement, only a few hundred or so people across the entire country ever respond to test out the mostly Internet-disseminated suggestions. But there could be a lot of power behind any or all of these suggestions if only anti-war people resolved to actually become a Movement. It's quite easy, and quite simple. Here's how to start.

Form a local group of like-minded people (not an online group, a real flesh-and-blood group) and meet once a week. You don't have to plan anything yet. Just decide you're going to meet once a week. You can talk about politics, but you don't always have to -- you could just go to a movie together, or a museum, or play softball. But you have to meet, once a week, same time, like the way people go to church, or a 12-step meeting, or a poker game, or the Kiwanis Club, or to a particular bar for Monday Night Football, etc., so that the process of being together as a communal unit, in a regularly scheduled manner, becomes an integral part of your lifestyle. Sort of like the John Doe Societies in the movie "Meet John Doe." You can start doing that right now. In fact, getting 20 people together to watch "Meet John Doe" ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033891/) would be a great way to get started. It's a real inspiration, and a tale as much for our time as the one in which it was made.

Then make sure you meet again the following week, same day, same time. At the second meeting you might discuss the pros and cons of, and your local ability to participate with, ideas for actions other than rallies and forums that you may have read about, and before closing the meeting, each of you agree to bring at least two new people to the next meeting, which of course will be on the same day, at the same time. By the end of the third meeting, at least three of you will have agreed to find a group of people in the town adjacent to yours who want to start their own weekly peace club, and you'll attend their introductory meeting, as well as bringing two more people to your own meeting on its regular night. Every time you're together, pass the hat and keep the money in a jar for when you need to buy a new toner cartridge, open a PO Box, or put a reservation down on a hall for an event.

In less than a year, in plenty of time to be present for the party conventions and to influence the federal campaigns, we'll have a real, powerful movement under way. Start tonight. Make a few calls, and pick a place and time. Make it happen.

Send and email to commonplans@gmail.com and tell us how it's going.

What Form Should The Local Chapter Take? (or: How To Get Started, Part 2: Consider the Volunteer Fire Department & EMS)

Consider your local volunteer fire department and/or your Rescue Squad. These are powerful models for the development of a Peace Movement.

Say you're the type of person who likes the idea of helping to save people's lives. You could go through life hoping that someday you'll find yourself in a situation where you could make the difference between life and death, or you could join your local fire department or rescue squad, which would not only put you in steady contact with the rewards of lifesaving service, but would also provide you with the training and support network that would ensure your ability to complete your task. What happens when you volunteer for the fire service?

First, you meet with the membership committee, which ascertains your understanding of the degree of commitment that's expected, assesses your desire to serve, checks your references, and does a minimal background check to make sure you never committed arson. Then the general membership accepts you into the service; and on the same night that happens, you get introduced to the team, shown around the trucks, bays, and compartments, and issued your ID, pager, and a t-shirt that you start wearing a lot more often than anything else in your wardrobe. You are a probationary member. From that moment, you're committing to a training schedule that will run you over 100 hours over a period of four months, just for the basic certification that allows you to enter a structure or touch a patient -- and that doesn’t include the regular weekly department training and monthly organizational meeting. All of these procedures are conducted by other volunteers who have come up in the exact same way and are now expert and motivated to bring others up through the ranks. If you fulfill all of your responsibilities and respond to the minimum number of calls over your first year, you move up to full member status, which brings further levels of commitment and the right to vote. All company business, ranging from what contractor services the soda machine, to drawing up specs for a truck, to altering bylaws, to the naming officers, comes across the floor for a vote.

You'll probably buy another t-shirt, and sweatshirt and jacket by this point, or receive them over time as service incentives, as by now you feel naked wearing anything else, for in them you are recognized as an Emergency Responder in your community and to your brothers and sisters in the service wherever you roam, a matter in which you take pride.

Every week you attend the company meeting, whether it’s administrative or technical training. Trainings are conducted by experienced officers. As you go through your activities, your talents and limitations start to fit in with the response plan. If you're claustrophobic, you won't be sent into confined spaces. If you're six-foot-three and 230 pounds, you could find yourself on forcible entry. If you're five-foot three and 105 pounds, you're perfect to get into attics. If you're older or have cardiac limitations, you might become a driver/pump operator. If you can't wear a pack and mask, you could handle the hydrant. Even when you're ninety years old, you can videotape incidents for review and training development. Everybody is a full partner in the operation, everybody is needed on every call, and nobody goes without a job. And yes, sometimes that job is fundraising.

But no matter what, you and the whole team are there every Monday night, and you answer every call that comes in when you're home. And you do that every year, as you get older, evolving into new jobs, and recruiting and training new members so that while some day you will be gone, the Fire Department will always be there. The Volunteer Fire Department was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1736. It exists today with a million members nationwide, and there are probably an equal number of EMS volunteers. Every emergency, in every locale, in every generation, in every part of America, since 1736, is handled with remarkable efficiency and skill. The continuity and productivity of the services, how they are kept populated, and how they ensure ongoing service from out of the distant past, through today's calls, and onward into the indefinite future, is an integral part of the service itself.

But there's more. Each company sends a delegate to the county organization. Counties send delegates to the regional and state organizations. States belong to national. Colleges offer courses, and vendors sponsor conventions. Heck, we even build full-service nursing homes for elderly volunteers who need looking after. And you know what? At every level, from the smallest town to national, the emergency services wield serious political clout. Candidates come calling, legislation is adopted, and photo-ops abound.

The Volunteer Fire Service and the Emergency Medical Service are genuine movements that extinguish every fire and transport every patient to the hospital, yet only a million people participate. There are perhaps 100 million people in America who hold strong general anti-war beliefs, and another 100 million who at the very least want the war in Iraq ended, but nothing even close to a standing movement for power and impact exists. If only the same could be said of war mongers, who draw from a much smaller pool. What we need in this country, if we're ever going to come home from Iraq and build and secure a peaceful America for our posterity, is a Volunteer Peace Service that conducts itself according to the successful models provided by Fire, EMS, and dozens of other volunteer community service organizations from the PTA to churches, to the Kiwanis club, the 4-H, or even 12-step meetings. We have to earn the right to call ourselves a movement by actually building one, and when we build one, it will succeed.

Please get started in your community immediately. See the previous post, "How To Get Started," for details. Write to commonplans@gmail.com, and check in regularly with the Eisenhower Project blog, www.commonplans.blogspot.com.