Bringing Together the Pieces

By Karen Hall

The Board of the Center (l to r) – Ann Tiffany, Karen Hall, Nick Poulos, and Melody Holmes (missing are Kanat Bolazar, Sam Feld and Eileen Schell). Photo: Marla Lender

After months of planning and preparation, the Syracuse Center for Peace and Social Justice became a physical reality on July 20 when the purchase of 2013 East Genesee Street was completed. If you've been following the monthly update column in the PNL, you know we have many plans for renovations of the building, but just what is the plan for this new organization and the structure it's being housed in?

The Center began as a vision of coalition building and resource sharing. The new building will provide a setting for greater collaboration among organizations dedicated to bringing about a culture that values the sacredness of peace, the integrity of the individual, and the sustenance of harmonious communities. Central New York, like most localities in the US, is in need of civic institutions that have the capability to bring like-minded social justice groups together.

Unfortunately, the forces in our culture that are impediments to peace have many local, state and federal institutions that extend far beyond the branches of the military. The B1 Bomber, for example, is manufactured from parts produced in 48 states. This masterful linkage of economic and labor interests ensures that no congressional representative can vote against the allocation of funds for the war machines due to the fear of backlash from constituents when jobs in their state are lost. The war-making powers have used the past 60 years to embed their interests in our nation's economic, political, spiritual and cultural fabric. The forces for peace will have to work just as hard to embed nonviolence and social justice into our daily lives and the structures of our community and nation.

More than a Building
A building is a structure that represents a community's priorities. The city of Syracuse has demonstrated its priority to business and tourism by constructing exhibit spaces directly linked to war: first the Armory and later the Onondaga War Memorial. The region's priority values on industry and trade are represented in the space and buildings allotted for the State Fairgrounds, the MOST and Museum of Automobile History.

The facilities we set aside for peace are fewer and farther between, and generally don't come with government funding. The powers that be have successfully defined nonviolence and anti-war protest as political, whereas demonstrations for war and in support of the military are apolitical and part of the accepted status quo. This lack of balance is as much a structural issue as it is a political issue, and not all the structures are intangible.

Peace needs to be a tangible priority as well as a moral value. It is the goal of the Syracuse Center for Peace and Social Justice and its members to take the struggle for a better world one step deeper into our community fabric by creating a significant place for sharing and cooperation.

Melody Holmes demonstrates that she belongs to a working Board! Photo: Karen Hall

At present, the Center will house offices for five socially involved organizations: the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Westcott Community Center's Art and Education project, the Syracuse Peace Council and Citizens Awareness Network. Staff members and volunteers from these organizations will have the opportunity to share ideas and inspiration across organizational lines. In time, their memberships and agendas will reflect the cross pollination that working under one roof will foster. We also hope that their memberships will expand and gain in energy and strength as members from one organization meet and interact with staff, programs and volunteers from other organizations.

The Center will also plan programming that invites non-resident organizations to share in the resources and opportunities the new structure fosters. A period of listening and gathering ideas and needs will take place after which The Center will announce workshops and events that the community is invited and encouraged to attend.

2007 is our inaugural year and although our building has stood on East Genesee Street for one hundred years, the Syracuse Center for Peace and Social Justice is in its infancy. In time, with your energy, time and commitment, it will become an integral, linking thread in the fabric of Central New York's proud peace and social justice history.

Karen is a writer, teacher, activist and secretary of the Board for the Syracuse Center for Peace and Social Justice.