Plowshares Craftsfair is a perfect introduction to Syracuse Peace Council

The Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival, held Dec. 1, allowed community members to get a glimpse of the full mission of the Syracuse Peace Council.

On a gloomy, rainy, winter Saturday morning, the large parking lot of the Nottingham High School on East Genesee Street was packed with cars. People from all walks of life flocked to the annual Plowshares Craftsfair and Peace Festival organized by the Syracuse Peace Council, which formed in 1938 and is one of the oldest grassroots-level peace and social justice organizations in the country. The fair, now in its 44th year, has become one of the oldest and most celebrated crafts fairs in the city.

Photo: Manmeet Sanhi

The gymnasium of the school was converted into a crafts bazaar. The area was populated with unique crafts, some old and some new, as more about 120 crafters showcased their work. There were more than 15 community-based booths. Syracuse Peace Council had many booths that offered counterculture perspective books, badges, magnets, T-shirts and other items. There were also petition sheets to sign for various social justice issues.

A second-time visitor, Carol Crolick, 63, said, “There is a lot of diversity, and it's really well attended. There’s entertainment and culture, a little bit of everything.”

The fair is known for its culturally diverse crafts, and this year, there were craftspeople that originally hailed from Ghana and Somalia. But the concept has always been the same: a medley of good food, entertainment and talk about real issues.

One craftsperson, June Burns, makes exquisite puzzle ornaments and has been coming to the fair for five years.

“It’s not what you are good at," she said. "It’s where your joy is.”

The council works hard to make this joy transform into a palpable, workable event. Carol Baum, a staff person on the council, said, “Being sponsored by the peace council means that there’s a unity among everybody. Some of the people make their crafts specifically for the peace fair because they know that people will appreciate things related to peace and social justice."

“This is one of the most diverse of all the festivals in Syracuse," she said.

This is not an ordinary fair; it's a fair with an agenda for peace.

The community comes together to talk about issues that comprise peace. Several council members take an active part in informing local citizens about the current socio-political issues at the local, national and international levels.

The council organizes social justice awareness events several times during the year, like the Strike for Peace Bowlathon and several arts engagements. But this craft fair is their largest event, Baum said, and the council earns nearly one-fifth of its budget through this fair.

“Our annual budget ranges between $80,000 to $100,000, depending upon the year," she said. "We convert this money to activism.”

The council has many projects that are helping to build dialogue around social justice issues. One of the projects, Neighbors of Onondaga Nation, saw the council release a book titled Neighbor to Neighbor, Nation to Nation that reexamined the relationship between Onondaga Nation and Central New York.

"This book was a collaboration between us and some members of Onondaga Nation, and that’s pretty special,” said Baum.

Another council project, CNY Working for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel, has stirred many people’s emotions. The council has opened up an avenue to talk about these issues, Baum said.

“Many people find it very hard to communicate on such issues as they have a very strong position on it," she said. "They are really trying to bring out the perspective that there needs to be peace between these peoples. They are very supportive of Palestinians without trashing Israel, and many people feel that being supportive of Palestinians would mean that you are trying to destroy Israel, and that is whacko. People have stayed away from the peace council because of such things."

Baum feels that either one can be a part of the problem or the solution. According to her, by being a part of the peace council, she has been able to translate her single voice into a collective as that brings change.

“If you want to make change happen for whatever reason, you have to work together. The means and the ends are very related to each other,” she said.

Syracuse Peace Council is in it for a long haul. Baum thinks it's the little changes that matter and big change usually takes place because of a lot of small changes.

“It is all about moments and small victories,” Baum concluded.

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