Annual Peace Festival offers opportunity for holiday shopping

Tired of crass commercialism, cheap, plastic toys and halfhearted keepsakes? Want your holiday shopping to mean something this year? Look no further than the 22nd annual Peace Festival. Saturday's festival is your one-stop shop for meaningful mementos that not only give you a head start on your Christmas wish lists, but also help make the world a better place.


"We do want to get the message into people's minds: Bring your holiday shopping lists and your checkbook and this is like going to the mall of human justice and social organizations," said Nathaniel Batchelder, director of the Peace House. "Anything people decide to buy benefits the group they bought it from."

The festival is a joint effort by the Peace House and the Peace Education Institute, along with 50 local organizations, artists and entertainers. Although some hot-button-issue groups such as the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus will have booths, the event is not meant to be an aggressive recruitment or protest event.

"The Peace Festival is not an 'in-your-face' event; it is a very gentle, peaceful event," Batchelder said. "We open the festival with a song. People wander around the festival, meet friends and buy stuff. It's a feel-good event. There may be a day for dialogue about politics, but this is not it."

Among the attendees will be fair-trade organizations that will sell handmade wares from villages in developing nations, offering such items as Nicaraguan coffee, jewelry, fabrics and a number of other unique pieces.

"People in developing or impoverished countries make carvings, pottery, weaving or other crafts that, very often, they are not paid very well for," Batchelder said. "The fair-trade organizations believe they should have a living wage for what they do based on the society they live in, which is extremely modest by our standards."

The Peace Festival caters to families, with a children's area adjacent to the festival where parents can stow their little ones and be free to roam the booths at their leisure. Arts and crafts as well as children's theater will help keep the kiddies busy.

Conna Wilkinson of the Peace Education Institute is organizing the children's area and said that there is a central art piece on which the children all will collaborate.

"Last year, they did a peace wish tree and it got displayed on Yoko Ono's Web site, which was fun," she said. "The area is open all day and fully staffed, so as long as we don't have to change diapers, we're happy."

Many of the Peace Festival exhibitors are established organizations that have been around for decades. Although the problems of the day will be reflected at the festival, the organizations are able to respond to the changing climate of the world by focusing on humanity's perpetual problems.

"The groups that are represented at the Peace Festival, however long they have been around, they are good groups to have, war or peace. They are not just groups that have been founded after the war in Iraq, although we will have a table for Iraq Veterans Against the War," Batchelder said.

The festival is just one facet of the organizers' programs. The Peace House educates and organizes nonviolent events to bring attention to various issues, including environmental stability, immigration, hunger and poverty, as well as opposing the death penalty.

The Peace House and its sister organization, Peace Education Institute, provide educational programs, as well as camps directed at students from elementary through high school. 

"We also provide scholarships for people who want to work or train in activism," Wilkinson said. "We helped a woman who is on a trip right now to Palestine with Interfaith Peace-Builders. She is the first person from Oklahoma to go on one of those trips. So we were able to help her to get the money she needed to do that."

The festival itself is designed to be accessible to those who are conscientious, but not necessarily activists. If they can't support the causes with blood, sweat and tears, then the festival allows them to support the organizations through shopping dollars.

"There will be no speakers at the festival; it is not an event to get people's dander up about an issue," Batchelder said. "Behind the scenes, there are lots and lots and lots of nonprofit organizations that slug away at their work for the betterment of the human condition in one way or another, and this festival showcases what they do." "Charles Martin

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