They stand in rain, sleet and snow to protest military drones at Hancock Air Base. They rally to ban fracking in New York. They churn out — in print and in pixels — a newsletter they hope will prick consciences.
Meet the Syracuse Peace Council.
“It is individual groups and people that are a part of creating change. You get motivated by your vision, your heart, and your thoughts,” said Carol Baum, one of the Council’s four paid staff members. “The Peace Council is a believer that social movements are what changes things. And without social movements you aren’t going to get real change.”
Founded in 1936, the Syracuse Peace Council what its website calls the “oldest local, autonomous grassroots peace and social justice organization in the United States.” Its members challenge notions of hierarchy, inequality, and powerlessness with cooperation, individual empowerment, and a strong sense of community.
Among the things the Peace Council is trying to change: More rights for the LGBTQ community. A future without nuclear energy. Freedom for Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, who’s serving a 35-year sentence after being convicted in 2013 of giving classified military documents to WikiLeaks. No more unmanned military drones. No hydro-fracking to extract natural gas. And more labels on genetically modified foods.
In Syracuse, the unmanned drones have taken center stage, because of the drone program at Hancock Air Base. From there, the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard guides Reaper drones over targets in Afghanistan.
Peace Council member Ben Kuebrich credits the local movement within Syracuse with bringing national attention to this issue. In 2010 and 2011, unmanned drones and their use in war was not a national issue, he said.
“Now, drone warfare is an issue written about regularly in major publications, a campaign issue, and something that the Obama administration is actually revising and rethinking, given the strength of the public outcry,” Kuebrich said in an email interview.
In one of the Council’s most prominent moments, at least 16 people were arrested on Oct. 25, 2012, for staging a protest outside of the air base, according to The Post- Standard/Syracuse.com. One of the people arrested, and later convicted of disorderly conduct and trespassing, was Ed Kinane.
Kinane, a Syracuse native and member of the Peace Council, has emerged as a leader within the movement to end U.S. militarism and to ground unmanned drones. His activism has taken him to El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Sri Lanka, where he served as an unarmed bodyguard for human rights workers during conflicts.
Kinane views militarism as “a plague on this planet.” Said Kinane: “It leads to so much human suffering, and disruption of the environment and society. And militarism is diverting large sums of money away from things that could benefit human beings and other creatures.”
To fund its work, the Syracuse Peace Council operates on a yearly budget of about $100,000. It gets most of its money from individual donors, usually in amounts of $25 or $50. It’s a big deal, said staff member Carol Baum, to get a $500 contribution.
Other funding for the Council comes through selling books, t-shirts, hats and lapel buttons. It also sponsors an annual craft show, Plowshares, said Amelia Lefevre, fundraising committee member and Peace News Letter editor.
It is no longer a non-profit organization. The Council lost its non-profit standing under the Nixon administration because it was advocating tax resistance, said Peace Council staff member Carol Baum.
Baum sums up the work of the Syracuse Peace Council by quoting Indian non-violence leader Gandhi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
(Jess Marshalek is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)