Left Justified: Peace sales at On the Waterfront

I’ll be hawking peace buttons again at On the Waterfront. Rockford Peace & Justice has had a table since the first festival back in 1984. Illinois Public Action, a statewide citizens’ lobbying group, had an office at 219 E. State St., right in the midst of the first Labor Day weekend party. A group of us peacenik volunteers set up tables and sold almost 2,000 buttons.

We also got yelled at for being “communist.” That doesn’t happen much any more. Most folks enjoy our political point of view, or will roll their eyes and promptly leave.

We, like other nonprofits, found the Waterfront a good fund-raising opportunity, and every year since, we’ve weaseled our way into the downtown festival.

This year, Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries is opening up its office at 115 N. Wyman St. so we can display peace buttons, mission items from around the world, and politically correct fair-traded coffee. The office will also host Lutheran singles handing out information about their wild parties, and the League of Women Voters will be registering wanna-be voters. You have to look for us, our projects are tucked away, and oftentimes there is a media tent set up right in front. But folks have come to expect a “Peace Store” on the Waterfront, and we won’t disappoint them this year.

The popularity of our buttons has changed over the years. What used to rile some of the conservatives now is either chuckled at, or no one knows what it means. For example, we sold a button that said, “Nuke a gay whale for Christ,” which was a jab at the right wing for their intolerance, anti-environmentalism and pro-gun stances.

Our political buttons have gotten more colorful. Another example: a button that shouts “Support Our Troops” is countered with one that says, “Support Our Troops—Bring Them Home.” Some thoughtfuul buttons include one that asks the question: “What’s our oil doing under their sand?” You have to think about it. And with the meanness of the presidential election being shown on someone’s lapel, our political buttons will heat up the discussion. My favorite is “Someone less dumber for President.” To be fair, we’ve gotten buttons on the conservative side, perhaps as a way of taking an unscientific poll.

Labor Day started as a day of appreciation for the American worker, and getting one last vacation before the winter winds blow. This year, Rockford Peace & Justice will show a film at our Monday night Labor Day Coffee Talk. The documentary, Behind the Labels: Garment Workers on U.S. Saipan, is a production of The Human Rights Video Project. The video will be shown for free and is open to the public, at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Sept. 6, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Rockford, 4848 Turner St.

Behind the Labels exposes the harsh conditions of the garment industry in Saipan, a U.S. territory in the Northern Mariana Islands of the Pacific. This territory is not subject to U.S. immigration laws, and in 1976 was exempted from federal minimum wage regulations to attract business to the island.

Chinese and Filipino women have to pay high recruitment fees to attain contracts to work in Saipan. The result is years of debt. Fees are sometimes as much as $2,000, while women only earn about $350 a year after room, board and fees are subtracted. Through hidden camera footage and interviews with the women in the factories, the reality of working on the island is revealed: undocumented hours, harsh quotas, 16-hour workdays six days a week, lockdowns and squalid living conditions. A capitalists’ paradise. The documentary follows labor organizers who win small concessions. Happy Labor Day!

The program is free and open to the public. Co-sponsors are Rockford Urban Ministries and the Rockford Public Library. The library acquired the film through a grant from National Video Resources (NVR) in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office to increase the public’s awareness of human rights issues through the medium of documentary films.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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