Activist heritage makes Syracuse the place to be
Monday, December 11, 2006
By Ed Kinane
In The Post-Standard on Dec. 4, columnist Sean Kirst told us why he cherishes his adopted city. Born and bred on Syracuse's South side, I value my hometown for some of the same reasons.
For me, the main reason why Central New York is special is its unique legacy of peace and justice activism, a legacy with global impact and an ancient pedigree. Consider:
On the shore of Onondaga Lake, centuries before the Europeans arrived, the Peacemaker made a lasting and exemplary peace among the region's warring nations - thereby creating the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.
In the 18th century, the Haudenosaunee system of governance (clan mothers leading the clans and appointing the chiefs, etc.) modeled participant democracy and inspired the system of checks and balances - a system hitherto unknown to Europeans - underpinning the new U.S. Constitution.
The respect indigenous people here had for women and women's egalitarian role in the Confederacy (apparently an alien concept to the European newcomers) inspired those early founders of feminism - the suffragists based in nearby Seneca Falls and Fayetteville.
During pre-Civil War days Central New Yorkers like Harriet Tubman, Rev. Samuel May and Rev. Jeremy Loguen were prominent abolitionists and Underground Railroaders.
In the 1930s, the Syracuse Peace Council - this country's oldest independent local peace and justice organization - was founded. SPC is still hard at work trying to end war and to remove its causes.
In the middle third of the 20th century, the extraordinary Berrigan brothers - Fr. Dan, Fr. Phil and Prof. Jerry - grew up here on the South side before helping to trigger the movement to end the Vietnam War and nuclear madness.
Since the mid-90s, Syracuse has been a hub of the national campaign to expose and close the U.S. Army's School of the Americas.
Fifteen former or current Central New Yorkers have spent at least three months each in federal prison for nonviolently "crossing the line" at annual protests at that sinister training school for Latin American military at Ft. Benning, Ga.
SOA students are trained to terrorize their own people on behalf of U.S. corporations seeking cheap non-unionized labor and cheap resources south of our border.
And finally, in 2006, there's been the Syracuse Peace Council's project, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, NOON, and - in collaboration with Syracuse University, SUNY ESF and other community organizations - its year-long series of public educational programs.
This unprecedented initiative has fostered broad good will between the Onondaga people and other Central New Yorkers in the context of the Onondagas' land rights campaign.
That campaign itself makes me especially proud to live in Onondaga County. As far as I know, no other native land claim in this country has focused on the restoring of environmental integrity to local land and waterways - for all, native and non-native alike.
Over the years, I have heard young people say it's the activism here that explains why they chose to settle in Syracuse. This legacy is a precious asset. Let's keep working to perpetuate it.
Ed Kinane lives in Syracuse.