Interview: The Department of Peace

Interview by
David S. Cohen for the Light Connection

DSC: You are being given the 2005 Peacebuilder award in Washington this Sept. 11 by Marianne Williamsons Peace Alliance, the organization that is supporting the creation of the Department of Peace. That award is being given to you, as I understand it, because of your work for years, at least since the time in 1984 when your name was put in nomination for the Vice-Presidency at the Democratic Convention, on a concept you had of a Peace Room that would actually be in the White House and that would be a positive complement to all the emphasis on Defense Department/Pentagon war-making. First of all, could you say something about how that idea originally generated for you?

BMH: Yes. The idea of the Peace Room came to me with the concept that there is now emerging on this earth, innovations, creative solutions, and projects that work in every field and function: in education, in economics, and so forth. If we could scan for that, and connect what is working now, we would see the outlines of a new civilization that would offer peace, sustainability, and increased creativity for humanity. I had been working on that idea. Then, Buckminster Fuller, who had been my teacher in the design/science revolution, suggested I run for president—this was many years ago way back in the early 70s. I would have run against President Nixon. (laugh)

DSC: Oh, my! (laughter)

BMH: Bucky said “Somebody has to bring the positive options for our future into the political arena, and I think it should be a woman, and I think it should be you.” From 1972 to ‘83, I just thought about it—how the ideas that had sprung forth out of Abraham Maslow and New Thought and Teilhard de Chardin and Buckminster Fuller hold the potential for a positive future for all of humanity, but they’re not in the political discussion at all. The idea occurred to me that the office of the Vice-President of the US should have a new function: to create the Peace Room, which would be as sophisticated as a War Room (and the War Rooms are very sophisticated in tracking for enemies and how to defeat them.) The Peace Room would be as sophisticated, and its purpose would be to scan for, map, connect and communicate what’s already working in every field in the United States and, eventually, throughout the world. The Vice-President would communicate continuously to the American people and the general public of the world what is emergent, creative, loving and working.

DSC: That’s certainly different from the way Dick Cheney conceives of his role! (laughter)

BMH: I called it ‘an office for the future’ that would eventually become the moral equivalent of war.

With the support of Buckminster Fuller and other colleagues and friends, I decided to create a Campaign for A Positive Future and to run as an idea candidate, which is in the tradition of our politics,…to run as an idea candidate to be selected by whomever would be nominated for President on the Democratic ticket. It was 1984, the year of the fear of George Orwell’s Big Brother; they called it the Year of the Woman—for some reason the idea of a woman vice-president, you know, was up there—so I had borderline acceptability (laughs) as an idea candidate. I went around the country and asked my friends to hold events for me because I was running for vice-president, which was a big shock to our movement; nobody in our movement had thought to do that. Everywhere I went people formed Positive Future Centers, which would gather people like ourselves—they were an early version of the people supporting the Department of Peace. They would care for each other, they would meditate together, they would have inspired insights, and they all wanted to go out and help their own community. I began to see that the root of a new politics is building community where people want to co-create, and that the purpose of the candidate was to support the people creating, not the other way around. I got very deep into the idea that it would be possible for a political campaign to support the coming together of people to create.

Along with the idea of a Peace Room in the White House, I also brought in the idea that people would be invited to meet in groups that I called Syn-Con (for ‘synergistic convergence’) in every sector of the wheel. As the Peace Room has Health, Education, Economics and so on, so the Synergistic Convergence Town Meetings would have people meeting in sectors defined by the functions of a society. They would look for common goals and match needs and resources in the light of what’s already working.

DSC: And that Syn-Con idea was based on something that you’d been working on for a long time, right?…that involved a sophisticated use of video in a kind of a wheel where all kinds of different points of view would be able to be involved in, literally, a kind of TV roundtable…

BMH: Exactly. In the Syn-Cons in the 1970s with the Committee for the Future, we did twenty-five conferences; we built wheels in large gymnasiums and auditoriums divided into sectors on the wheel. You can see it on my website on as the Synergy Center Peace Room Wheel. These Syn-Cons were really splendid events that involved a lot of diverse people, people who opposed each other, but everyone was invited in to see if there was a better way to get what they really wanted, because opposition does not create victory! It creates everyone getting less!

DSC: It creates more opposition.

BMH: …more opposition, more separation…With the Syn-Con process, I suggested we that we have two things: we have a Peace Room that tracks and maps and connects and communicates what’s working, and we have synergistic town meetings to see what are the common goals and how to match needs and resources to create greater social cooperation.

DSC: And the core of it is dialogue…

BMH: The core of it is dialogue within the context of a whole system, within the context of what people want to create rather than what they’re opposed to…The minute you ask people what they want to create and what they need to create it, you change the dynamics from opposition to creativity. In the Syn-Cons, when we took all the walls down, there was such a connectivity that was inherent in the social body that had not shown up previously, because the structures are separating and adversarial. They also tend to stereotype people, so that, you know, you have an image of what a White Southerner is, or a Black Power Leader, or an Environmentalist, or a Developer, all made into these extreme versions of themselves—but when you got them into the Syn-Con Wheel, you could see that you had much more in common with them than you thought. I could go on and on about Syn-Con…but to sum up what I saw as a Vice-Presidential candidate: If we could combine, in politics, the Peace Room/Office for the Future (that would be continually scanning, mapping and communicating what’s working so that, rising up out of the social body, is all its creativity made coherent in the Wheel), and we also initiated new kinds of Town Meetings in the Round (which I called Syn-Cons), we would have the beginnings of a more co-operative Democracy.

So I went around saying these things and starting Positive Future Centers, and in some respects it was a phenomenal success because when I got to the Democratic National Convention, although we had no money and no media and no passes to the floor, we were so imbued with spirit!…My friends said, “Barbara, don’t go to San Francisco, dear, you’ve done a good job; people are excited by these ideas, but you’d be lucky if you get one delegate if she were your mother…” We actually had to get two–hundred delegates to get my name placed in nomination. We had three days to do it, and we had no passes to the floor. So we did all the metaphysical/spiritual processes we’d ever learned (laugh)…we forgave everybody…we overcame doubts…we prayed, meditated and visualized, all of that, and then we went out into the lobbies, into the bars, into the restrooms, and we would say to delegates—not only myself, but my friends—“Barbara Marx Hubbard wants to run for Vice-President to set up a new function in the Vice-Presidency: to scan for, map and communicate what’s working in America.” I got it down to a thirty-second speech. The first day we had a hundred signatures, the second day we had over two hundred more than we needed, and two women’s names were placed in nomination for Vice-president, Geraldine Ferraro and myself. It was a political para-normal experience!

When I was being led up to the Great Podium there to make the speech, which we had visualized in all these church basements and small gatherings, the guard who took me up took me by the arm and said, “Now, honey, they won’t pay any attention to you, they never do, you’re saying this for the universe.” So I said it out loud, I stood there at the podium— everybody was wandering around, you know how it is—and I said, “The United States of America has a mission: to liberate the creativity and compassion of its people and of people everywhere, and we’re going to have a new function, the Peace Room that will do this, and it will be in the White House, it will be in the Kremlin, (laughing) I just let loose, and of course nobody paid any attention. However, it was—you know sometimes you catch hold of a seed? It isn’t exactly (ready to plant)…it’s in a greenhouse. We grew the seed of a more cooperative democracy in the greenhouse of social change in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

DSC: …wonderful…

BMH: It more or less felt to me like I didn’t know what to do after that; it was exhausting, and I didn’t have a political base, I didn’t have a financial base, I didn’t have an organizational base, so I spent several years doing Soviet-American citizen diplomacy and other things, and just to make a long story short, now, in 2005, which would be just about twenty years since I ran for Vice-President, the whole thing is rising up again…and here’s how it is rising up: The Syn-Con process is being activated by an organization in Washington called The Foundation for the Evolution of America. A man named Kelly Parker came to me after hearing my whole plan and said, “Would you work with me to redesign the Syn-Con so that it is simple enough for people to do with the Internet, and we could offer it around this country, in the United States, to overcome the polarization? We could have stewards for every sector of the wheel, and the stewards would be, for example, in the Environment, in Economics, in Energy, to keep monitoring what people know works, and what they want to actually do…and that would go up into the Internet. Each Syn-Con would be cumulative; it would be building on other Syn-Cons; it would track and map the best innovations already at work so people would know what’s happening, as they do in Science, where they know if there’s a breakthrough. In social innovations so often we don’t know that.”

He wants to do this such that eventually we could have a Platform for a Positive Future based on what the American people want to create that would be offered to political candidates of any party. In other words, we’re going trans-political here. The effect of this would be to support an evolutionary political agenda rather than conservative or liberal. It would be forward, whole and upward.

Now, the Department of Peace: When Dennis Kucinich began to run for President, I had the privilege of being with him a few times, and I told him of my vision of the Peace Room in the White House, and I had a dream of it being inaugurated in the Rose Garden…

DSC: ..a literal dream?

BMH: A literal dream. I dreamt of the whole scene in the Rose Garden, and the President and everybody inaugurating the Peace Room function! Dennis said to me, “Barbara, we won’t just inaugurate it in the Rose Garden, I’ll build it next to the Oval Office.” He actually saw the structure that it needs to be. Architecturally, it’s a very large circular room with each of the sections as a slice of the pie—health, education, economics, social needs, science and technology, arts and media, and so on. He saw, just like I did, that there would be databases of what works in every sector continuously growing. Then the leaders of the movement for a positive world of whatever level of power would be invited into the White House to actually place their project and their work in the field of what’s working. Well, this is Dennis over the phone without ever having talked to me, so I thought, “Oh my God, this idea is in his head!” It’s not that he got it from me, but the two of us together sort of made it more concrete.

When I realized that he would be initiating the Department of Peace legislation, I proposed to Dennis that they include the Peace Room function in the Department of Peace, and include the Syn-Con function because peace is much more than conflict resolution. Peace comes through each person having a chance to express their creativity in a cooperative way. That, you know, is vital to peace, so I will be proposing at the event on September 11 in D.C. where I’m getting the Peacebuilding award that we include in this movement the Peace Room and the Syn-Con.

But there is another amazing possibility that could develop as the military, this huge power in the military, realizes it cannot produce security by force alone. We see this in Iraq: We have a very powerful military, we have no equal in the world; we can destroy any enemy, but we can’t build peace. We can’t build or rebuild a culture, and Iraq is the perfect example. So what we need in the military is a new, sophisticated Peace Room! (laugh) I’m going to be meeting with people in the military to see if there could be a sacred alliance between the Peace Movement and the new forces for security in the United States because we’re not being given security by our military forces because they can’t do it by force.

DSC: …because it’s not in the nature of force to do…

BMH: It’s not in the nature of force. The people in the military are so sophisticated, but they have to have a new strategy. Their purpose is to provide security. I mean—the purpose of war is not to kill; the purpose is to provide security, and peace, actually. So I think that we need to broaden this discussion beyond what has been called the Peace Movement and include all the positive movements—Environment, and Health and Education, and the natural desire for Security—into some form of action, because planet Earth is in a crisis phase way beyond these issues. The environment may collapse within our lifetime. We may have Global Warming that destroys all the cities by the sea. Who knows what’s in store for us here?

So I would say that we have a planetary crisis that requires a new consciousness and new cooperative systems, and that that’s what the Peace Room and Syn-Con are a contribution toward. That’s what I want to say. Working with The Foundation for the Evolution of America, we’re going to do a demonstration Syn-Con in Santa Barbara, which could actually bring all this together. I‘m calling my original Syn-Con team in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12 to redesign Syn-Con with all the new electronic capacities so that we could do a Syn-Con training for people who would like to initiate Syn-Cons in their communities, including the people working for the Dept. of Peace in every one of the Congressional Districts. That’s over four hundred districts. Why not hold synergistic events in those, and get people from all parties, and get over this ideological polarization that is going to block us from any form of success?

DSC: One can imagine the bitter, mocking riffs that the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the world will launch when they take aim at a Department of Peace with their poison microphones. What have you learned about how such opposition can be harnessed and transformed?

BMH: Um-hmm…well, I’m not a great pro on this, but what I have learned is never to pre-judge how an individual will behave when faced with a new option. I invited people to twenty-five Syn-Cons who were among the most difficult people in the world, like gang leaders in Los Angeles or people who hated one another—like environmentalists who hated nuclear physicists—and I had to get them all in the wheel, and I would go in with an open mind to see where we could go. The question I’d ask people is “Are you satisfied with the way things are going to get what you want to happen?” Almost everyone said no. Then I said, “Would you like to try a better way? Here it is.” So I was able to persuade the most unlikely people to come in. I totally believe that genuine conservatives—I’m not speaking of extremists, on either side—but genuine conservatives would be delighted with the Syn-Con because it fosters responsibility, cooperation, and local initiative…what is there to be against? What is there to be against?! (laughter) It’s hard to be against; you have a hard time really coming out against it. (laughter)

This is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union….We had a Syn-Con with Soviets and Americans during the Cold War on the theme of social innovations, and we had to do it with the cooperation of the Soviet Peace Commission, which was an arm of the Communist Party, and they were rigid and difficult—this was before Perestroika and Glasnost—and (they held that) ‘Communism was the best system in the world,’ and they were very skeptical of us, and our State Department said “Don’t trust anyone; there’s no way you can ever cooperate with the Soviets,” and so on. So Rama Vernon, who was head of The Center for Soviet-American Dialogue, and myself and others invited Soviet astronauts, farmers, nurses, doctors, and artists, and their American counterparts into the wheel, (delighted laugh), and their purpose was to find joint projects. Well, you might say ‘all Heaven broke loose,’ (laughter) because nobody cared about their ideology, they wanted to create something! People were rushing around finding each other and at the very end, we had National Public Radio broadcasting the joint projects that Americans and Soviets had come up with, and there were lines of groups to tell what they wanted to create, and the people in the Soviet Peace Committee and the people in the State Department finally participated themselves (more laughter). I mean it was like an irresistible attraction…!

DSC: So really, in a sense, this goes back to something you said early on, about how opposition is always going to create more opposition…

BMH: …right…

DSC: …but, by opening up one’s sense of the possible ways that people can move beyond the positions that you’ve identified them with, new things can come into being…

BMH: …and you see we didn’t ask people to change their position, we asked them what they wanted to create. Then the dynamic changes because you enter into the realm of the imagination. You enter into the realm of vision. You enter into the realm of people’s yearning to express themselves, and it’s like you turn on a different switch. People can behave both ways: they can be oppositional and destructive with each other, or they can be creative.

Elizabet Sahtouris identifies this as a biological pattern—when a species gets rapacious, overpopulating and so forth, it either learns enlightened self-interest, or it collapses. For literally hundreds of millions of years, species have learned to cooperate, and you see it rising up—single-celled life, multi-cellular life, larger animals. We have something like seventy trillion cells cooperating within us—so the tendency in Nature is not just survival of the fittest; it’s survival of what cooperates best. So we feel, at a bio-evolutionary-social level, that processes that facilitate co-creation and synergy are natural to our coming social ecology, and that we need to go beyond the adversarial mode of even win-lose voting and Roberts’ Rules of Order to synergistic Rules of Order and win-win-win: win for the person, win for the group, win for the planet.

DSC: That’s marvelous.

BMH: So that’s that, and that’s what I’ll be talking about, and I will also be bringing the design team together and promoting this as something to happen throughout our country and world.

DSC: It’s such an exciting moment.

BMH: It is. And you know, it’s like we’ve hit a limit on how far we can go through force and separation…and it also seems like you can’t impose Democracy, but maybe you can cultivate a more cooperative form of coming-together. I don’t want to be foolishly idealistic here, but I think trying to impose win-lose voting and types of more mechanistic democratic forms on cultures that are not ready for it may not even be right; it may be that the more tribal cultures would do better with synergistic process than mechanistic process. And I know that in the United States we need more cooperative process and less competitive process. So I think we’re onto something that’s part of the natural ecology. It has to happen.

DSC: Any final thoughts on this subject?

BMH: The Syn-Con and the Peace Room are two tools among many others that would help us. And what I’d like to do, just to finish this (subject), within the Syn-Con is to invite people who are really good at dialogue and communication to help people in the sectors of the wheel to really be heard. We always had a Syn-Con Media that picked up moments of new agreement and played it back as the news. So it would be the evolution of news, to be ‘The New News!’

DSC: So you would take moments of agreement or moments of breakthrough that happened during the conversations…

BMH: Yes.

DSC: …and then replay those as the headlines?

BMH:…as the evening news. We called it ‘The New World’s Evening News.’ What we’ll do in Santa Barbara and elsewhere is invite the local media into the Syn-Con and have them play it back to people as the report of that particular event, but I hope they might call it ‘the New News’ or ‘The New World’s Evening News;’ they might enjoy doing that.

DSC: I just keep imagining a Syn-Con among the Israelis and the Palestinians…

BMH: You see, David, I think that all these opposing forces are exhausted with opposition. It’s terrible. It never seems to work! And it gets worse rather than better. With the Gaza settlement people having to be ejected, to take a recent example, you see that on one hand, it’s needed; on the other hand, it’s miserable and causes more pain and more anxiety.

This is why I feel that the work that I and so many of us are doing needs to come into a new pattern and a new social system. It’s not about fixing up the old; it’s about co-creating something as good as the Jury, the Bill of Rights, and the Vote in the American Constitution. That forms the political basis—and you don’t need to change the Constitution to do this, because Syn-Con and the Peace Room are not about voting, they’re about communicating. They’re about changing minds and hearts, so that we can become cooperative. At the Los Angeles Syn-Con, we had Mayor Yorty (the mayor of Los Angeles at the time), who was in the Government sector of the Syn-Con, and he said “I would like to see a Syn-Con outside of every City Hall in the United States, so that people would get into the wheel and communicate and see where they could cooperate with each other before they got to the Mayor with their special interests.” Because in order to be heard politically, you have to exaggerate your differences—and you get brownie points in the media for being oppositional rather than for being cooperative. So we never notice the cooperative people! (Laughs delightedly) They’re not news!

DSC: Right, they’re always getting overshadowed by the best opposers…

BMH: We had to change the game of the News, so that the people who cooperated best, got the most attention…They got on the Media, and they got famous!