Burlington Vt. Peace Center Debates its Future

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March 23, 2011; Source: Burlington Free Press | These are strange times for the peace movement. The current occupant of the White House is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but the nation is now fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya, where the U.S. is at least temporarily in the lead of efforts to establish a no-fly zone deterring Qaddafi's attack against his opponents.

And now the 32-year old Peace and Justice center in Burlington, Vt. is facing up to the possibility of a shutdown and has asked the Burlington community for the ideas that will help keep it alive.

None of the protests of the current wars have reached Viet Nam-era, march-on-Washington dimensions, but protestors are taking to the streets around issues such as the eighth anniversary of the war in Iraq, and the arrest and detention of alleged WikiLeaks leaker, Bradley Manning, which prompted Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg to get arrested at the White House last week.

It takes money to organize and coordinate protests such the Iraq anniversary marches or the larger protests scheduled for April in New York and San Francisco. Are charitable donors interested in giving peace a chance, or do they get turned off by suspected political motives in addition to peace?

In the case of the Peace and Justice Center finances have forced shrinkage. The organization used to have eight full-time staff at its office and store, but is now down to three. Total revenue in 2007-2008 was $419,975, but in 2008-2009, it dropped to $252,492.

Certainly 2008 and 2009 included the early months of the recession, making fundraising for an esoteric and unreachable goal like world peace very difficult, compared to organizations emphasizing social safety net needs for the recession. But what is the sustainable "business model" for peace centers such as the Burlington organization? And how do the organizations that organize coordinated marches in multiple cities across the nation raise money to pay their costs?—Rick Cohen