Left Justified: On the Waterfront is on my mind

By Stanley Campbell

Another summer gone by, and the only thing I have to look forward to is On The Waterfront (OTW), Rockford’s famous music festival. Where did the summer go? Was I delusional, or was this the coldest summer we ever experienced? If that’s “global warming,” then bring it on!

I am looking forward to OTW, not so much for the music, but for the fund-raising. I sell lots of peace buttons at OTW, which funds our meager attempts at raising social justice issues in this community.

Rockford Peace & Justice Action Committee has had a table since the first OTW festival back in 1984. Illinois Public Action, a statewide citizens’ lobbying group, had an office on East State Street, right in the midst of the first Labor Day weekend party. A group of us peacenik volunteers set up tables and sold almost 1,000 buttons. We were hooked. Besides selling peace buttons and bumper stickers, we had petitions and fliers for various political and environmental activities. Now, we also sell fair-trade gifts, chocolates and coffee.

Back then, we got yelled at for being “communist.” That doesn’t happen much anymore. Now, folks either enjoy our political point of view, or will roll their eyes and leave. Sometimes we get hit with the new epithet: “traitors,” or even “terrorists.”

Like other nonprofits, we found the Waterfront a good fund-raising opportunity, and every year since, we’ve weaseled our way onto the downtown festival. Our new “storefront” will be at 115 N. Wyman St.

We’ll sell peace buttons, mission items from around the world, and politically-correct fair-traded coffee and chocolate, as well as handing out literature about the environment and peace. Most of the fancy stuff will come from the new fair-trade store on Seventh Street, JustGoods (open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday).

The gift items come from many fairly-traded (as opposed to “free-trade”) outlets, including Ten Thousand Villages, a mission outreach of the Mennonite Church.

“We will be displaying arts and crafts from around the world where producers receive a fair and decent wage,” says Michael Kearney, president of JustGoods board, a volunteer, and a retired school teacher. “Fair trade is consumerism with a conscience, and the wave of the future, especially for people concerned about working conditions, the environment and social justice.”

Mike will be at OTW along with a number of volunteers. Don’t yell at them about the political buttons, that’s my fund-raiser.

You have to look for us on Wyman Street just north of State Street. The storefront is tucked away in front of the Luther Center, 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 you won’t be disappointed this year.

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

The war has brought forth tons of new buttons, most blaming George W. Bush: “We are making more enemies than we can kill,” and “What’s our oil doing under their sand?” Some you have to think about. And the meanness of the presidential election was reflected on someone’s lapel. My favorite was, “Someone less dumber for President.” We will have some buttons celebrating the Barack Obama (D) election, as well as calling for health care reform and alternative energy.

Labor Day started as a day of appreciation for the American worker, and getting one last vacation before the winter winds blow. Happy Labor Day, and hope you can make it to this year’s On the Waterfront!

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

From the September 2-8, 2009 issue

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