Inside the Capitol

Monday, May 14, 2007

Peace Conference Not Totally Peaceful


Syndicated Columnist

                SANTA FE -- New Mexico's World Peace Conference, beginning today in Santa Fe, isn't turning out to be entirely peaceful. It wasn't difficult to make that a New Year's prediction in my Jan. 1 column. It was inevitable.

                In peace-loving Santa Fe, everything is controversial, even peace. But Santa Fe is where our state government decided to hold its world conference, even though we don't have a convention center these days or an airport that will handle anything bigger than a puddle jumper.

                Convention centers and airports are controversial here, too. Santa Feans aren't sure they want outsiders coming to town. Sure, tourism is our biggest industry, but we still fight it.

                Albuquerque could have hosted the conference and accommodated many times more people but Santa Fe is the City of Holy Faith and just seemed like the place to hold such an event.

                The problem with a government-sponsored peace conference is that the state doesn't have a position on peace so who knows what to do at a conference?

The Legislature, which appropriated $420,000 for the gathering, finally decided the focus would be peace tourism, so the Department of Tourism was given the responsibility of planning it. We're spending a lot of money on space tourism, why not peace tourism too?

No one thought much of that idea or could do much with it. So the folks at Tourism brought in some peace professionals. Yes, there are such things.

But that didn't set well with New Mexico's many home-grown peace groups, which had been working on that mission for years. Why hadn't they been involved, they asked?

So a peace conference on the peace conference was held between conference organizers and the New Mexico peace groups. Some accommodations were made but their philosophies were just too far apart.

Although government officials didn't have a firm direction in mind, they did know they wanted to keep it positive. After all, we have a governor who is running for president. And although all candidates use the word peace frequently, they know they won't be elected unless they talk tough.

The peace groups wanted to talk about the horrors of war and how we go about dismantling our country's huge war machine, much of which is based in New Mexico's national laboratories and Kirtland nuclear storage facility.

Obviously, doing away with New Mexico's national labs is not something that a state-sponsored conference can advocate. The state does have a position on that issue.

We want to keep them. Besides, they are national labs so the federal government would merely move them to another state. The war machine would remain intact and New Mexico would lose its biggest employers.

So the conference will include a discussion group on demilitarization and participants are allowed to form subgroups to discuss any related topics. Peace groups also will be allowed to rent tables to distribute literature about their approach to achieving world peace.

That wasn't good enough for several groups that have vowed to demonstrate rather than participate. But the conference filled up quickly, anyway.

Despite the controversy, organizers appear to have put together a solid conference. They know what they're up against in our warlike world.

They contend that progress can't be made by fighting reality but by building a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. They point to environmental issues, which have moved from the fringe to the mainstream in the past 30 years.

Maybe the Tourism Department wasn't the best place to assign the conference. But that department gets a lot of topics assigned to it by the governor and Legislature because it has a reputation of getting things done.

And besides, where else could it have been assigned? We don't have a Department of Peace, although that has been proposed in past legislatures and Dan Pearlman once ran for governor with that as his major issue.














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