Cambridge Peace Commission :: About Us
Purpose and Role of the Cambridge Peace Commission
The Cambridge Peace Commission promotes peace and social justice within Cambridge and in the wider world. It works to reduce violence and advocates ideas and programs that affirm diversity and build community within our city. It links peace groups, social justice efforts, anti-violence coalitions and the municipal government, and pays special attention to violence affecting youth.
The Commission's presence in Cambridge city government is a concrete expression of the City's innovative, creative and inclusive approach – valuing an engaged, informed and concerned community. The Commission works with schools and communities to ensure that difference is understood and celebrated, so that sources of violence are recognized and addressed, allowing all residents to contribute to making Cambridge an equitable and peaceful community. The Commission also pays special attention to violence and inequality affecting young people through creative programs such as its Summer of Peace Initiative.
The Commission builds community by celebrating local people and efforts with programs and events, and by organizing community forums on issues affecting the community. It supports Cambridge’s sister-city relationships, including those with Yerevan, Armenia and San José Las Flores, El Salvador.
Brief Background and History
In 1981 – like 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.
Click for the full text of the ordinance establishing the commission, see Chapter 2.90 of Cambridge Municipal Code.