In 1981 – as in many cities across the United States – the City of Cambridge Civil Defense Department published a booklet called "Cambridge and Nuclear Weapons" that explained how one nuclear weapon dropped on Cambridge would affect the city. But in a twist on the standard civil defense booklets of the time, instead of instructing people to stockpile food and water, urging them to locate the closest fallout shelter, and telling them how to long to wait before emerging after the nuclear war had ended.
The booklet went on to describe an order from the Cambridge City Council: "That the Civil Defense Department conduct a program through all the media urging the citizens of Massachusetts to communicate to their representatives in Congress and the Legislature the necessity of continuing negotiations with foreign powers to control nuclear arms." The Cambridge School Committee also acted to establish a curriculum to support "children's and young people's understanding of the history, scientific background, economics and politics of waging peace in the nuclear age." Following Cambridge's example, cities from San Francisco to Toronto, Canada to Cambridge, England distributed their own versions of the pamphlet over the next year.
In early 1983 the City Council voted unanimously to establish the "Cambridge Commission on Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Education" to address the concerns of war and peace in the age of nuclear weapons. That fall, a citywide referendum to ban research and development related to nuclear weapons in Cambridge was soundly defeated, leading activists and the City government to look at a longer-term approach to meeting the City Council's goals. In January 1984, the City hired Jeb Brugmann, an economist and peace activist, as the first director of the Commission. Brugmann was the first "Peace Director" in the U.S., and was given the responsibilities of establishing a sister city relationship with a city in the Soviet Union, instituting the first peace curriculum in Cambridge's schools, and working with elected officials through the National League of Cities to find ways to address the looming threat of nuclear war.
In 1995, the Peace Commission worked with eight Cambridge teachers to developed "Resolition of Conflict Kits" (called ROCKits) as hands-on classroom materials to deal with conflict and cooperation, cultural diversity, and issues of war and peace. These were some of the earliest peace curriculum materials in the country, and contained grade-appropriate books, bibliographies, activity cards, games, songs, musical instruments, art supplies, and folders with ideas for teachers.
In 1985, Yerevan, Armenia (then a part of the USSR) was chosen to be Cambridge first "Peace Sister City." The choice of Yerevan was the result of a search for a city in the Soviet Union which could help counter misinformation and images of the "Evil Empire." Many in the peace communities at that time worried about the Cold War, nuclear weapons build-up, and massive government spending for military purposes justified by a fear of the Soviet Union. They were looking for a way to create citizen-to-citizen exchanges which could interrupt the fear-based stereotyping of Soviet peoples and help to foster dialogue and friendship. Yerevan was also selected because of the large Armenian community in the Cambridge area. With the end of the Soviet Union, the connection with Yerevan remains very strong. There have been exchanges on matters like water systems and technological issues, exchanges of youth and artists as well as help in difficult times such as the earthquake.
In 1986, a small group of Salvadoran families being held in a refugee camp in San Salvador decided to return to their community of origin the rural village of San José Las Flores with the help of the Catholic Church and international solidarity. These civilian peasants had fled their homes many times in reaction to raids and killings by the military. Because the U.S. government supplied the money for the military ($1.8 million a day for 12 years), the community had the idea to reach out to a U.S. city as a partner - to bring attention to their situation and offer protection. Cambridge, home to many Salvadorans, faith-based and secular groups opposed to U.S. intervention and a sympatric city council was approached. In March of 1987, the link was made official. When 11 members of the community were captured by the military a month later, telegrams and calls from city officials and residents to the US embassy resulted in their safe release.
Initial delegations from Cambridge focused on taking aid and messages to the community (which was cut off by the military) and bringing home stories of the conditions under war. Delegations included clergy and church members, health workers, and Central America activists. Delegates created a series of slide shows and a video to dramatize the conditions under war and the struggle of the community to live in peace. These images enlightened students and neighborhoods to the beauty and resiliency of Salvadorans and spurred many to try to end U.S. government support for the war.
With the end of U.S. aid, the Peace Accords were signed in 1992. Some of the delegations since that time focused on support and learning about preserving self-determination in the face of economic privatization and participation in fair elections. A second focus has been teacher delegations drawn to the community-based popular education in San José Las Flores. Cambridge teachers have worked with San José Las Flores classes exchanging letters and materials from Cambridge students and new ways of teaching. Third, eight delegations have gone to San José Las Flores which has included high school students. These youth have met with youth in the village and developed a joint network called VIVA. Recent delegations have also included Salvadorans living in Cambridge as a way to bridge the information and geographic divide.
View the full text of the ordinance establishing the commission, see Chapter 2.90 of Cambridge Municipal Code.
The Cambridge Peace Commission promotes peace and social justice within Cambridge and in the wider world. The Commission works with other municipal agencies, communities of faith, nonprofit organizations, and the broader community to promote constructive dialogue and foster understanding. Officially the “Cambridge Commission on Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Education,” the Peace Commission was established in 1982 to address issues of war and peace in the age of nuclear weapons.
Today, the Commission continues to advance peace and justice within Cambridge through building stronger connections and understanding among all communities, while also addressing issues of global concern. When a city – supported by municipal agencies, faith communities, nonprofit organizations, and concerned and engaged individuals – undertakes activities to build connections and strengthen relationships, sustainable positive change can occur. To this end, the Peace Commission supports efforts that increase awareness, mobilize communities, and activate residents to create a safe, healthy, and supportive city.
This work falls into four broad categories:
- Working with congregations and faith communities in Cambridge on issues of peace, social justice, and community building, providing a bridge to City government and creating greater understanding and dialogue.
- Responding to traumatic events affecting the community in ways that build relationships, support dialogue, and enhance understanding.
- Creating and supporting citywide and neighborhood-based cross-sector partnerships and collaborations to promote diversity and inclusion, and building stronger connections and understanding among all aspects of the community.
- Supporting Cambridge’s Sister City relationships and connecting them to related communities within the city, including strengthening Cambridge's developing relationship with Les Cayes, Haiti.
The Peace Commission works in those categories in the following ways:
- Coordinating and supporting compassionate responses to traumatic events and violence affecting Cambridge so that when serious issues occur, the community is prepared and able to react, commemorate, or recover and heal together.
- Building trust and relationships by fostering dialogue and connection between diverse groups through community conversations, vigils, and other activities that promote a strong and resilient community.
- Organizing public programs and events, including annual commemorations of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Holocaust.
Ways that the Peace Commission recognizes and sustains the powerful link between relationships, dialogue, and understanding to enhance our community include:
- Serving on the Steering Committee of the Cambridge Community Response Network – established collaboratively with the Public Health, Police, and Human Service Programs departments and the Cambridge Public Schools – to support the community in the wake of traumatic events.
- Working with the Police Department and local clergy as part of the Police Chaplaincy Program, serving victims, community members and first responders who have experienced traumatic events.
- Continuing the Summer of Peace Initiative to promote a summer free of youth violence by bringing together City staff, schools, clergy, youth centers, police, clinicians, academics and community activists to identify potential problems and sources of violence in the community, foster collaborations among agencies, share information and report on accomplishments.
- Supporting the newly formed Citizen Committee on Civic Unity as it develops its mission, goals, and plans to provide insight, facilitate discussion, and explore best practices on issues dealing with race, class, religion, sexual orientation, income, physical ability, age, and gender to preserve and enhance Cambridge as a diverse and welcoming place to live, work and visit.