Plowshare’s beginning and transformation

A look back over the twenty-six years of Plowshare's history reveals:

hundreds of dedicated volunteers who have sustained its peace building work, serving on the board of directors, committees, and working in the shop; twenty-eight dedicated hired staff members over the years; and thousands of community people of all ages who have supported and participated in Plowshare's programs and events!

The Waukesha Center for Peace and Justice, as the Plowshare Center was first called, was started in June of 1989 by a group of eight people from Beyond War, the Community of the Living Spirit, and the Waukesha Mennonite Fellowship. They had been meeting for a year before to explore and plan together for a central gathering place for others like themselves who were longing for a more peaceful and just world. This new, nonprofit Center was then housed in the Mission and Ministry Building of the Cooperating Churches of Greater Waukesha on Main Street in Downtown Waukesha. The Center became a resource for families, schools, churches and other community groups looking for educational materials and programs which could bring hope in the midst of a sometimes violent culture and world. An interest soon developed in starting a fair trade shop, also. Generous donors to the Center, along with a bank loan, provided the funds needed to rent a building which could house both the peace resource center and the shop. Thus, the first storefront fair trade shop in Wisconsin was opened in 1990!


Over the years, the Center's board has articulated an emerging understanding of the mission of Plowshare and written mission statements (quoted in part): *..."As an alternative to the commonly held belief that we can achieve peace through military strength, we seek to develop skills that will lead to peace through negotiation, social justice, and personal transformation." (1989-1992) *"We believe that only enlightened compassion and love can lead to a just and peaceful planet. Therefore...We seek to raise awareness and teach skills which lead to: increased social responsibility; negotiation in conflict situations; and dialogue for a better understanding on social, economic, environmental and political issues." (1992-1996) *"The mission of the Plowshare Center is to discover and promote just and peaceful relationships with the natural world and all of the world's people, remembering that genuine peace begins within oneself." (1996-1999) *"Making Peace Relevant to the World Around Us" (1999-present) Plowshare's first fair trade shop, with its peace education resource center, was located at 247 W. Main Street, down the block from the M and M Building where the Center got its start. After that, the Center moved up and down Main Street (with a few years on Grand Avenue just off Main Street) into five different rented buildings over the 24 years of its existence. Now located in a bright and newly decorated building at 219 W. Main Street, Plowshare has been called by some an "anchor" shop, because it is one of the oldest, continuing enterprises in the Downtown Waukesha! The two main projects of the Plowshare Center, as it was renamed in 1996, have always been: *operating a fair trade shop *offering social justice and peace resources, programs and events, while advocating for alternatives to violence.


Since Plowshare's fair trade shop opened in 1990, there has been a very active shop committee that supports the shop manager in day to day operations and helps carry out the wider goals of the shop: *to demonstrate to the community the possibility of just relationships with people who are struggling to make a living wage, by being partners with artisans in economically developing nations and through providing a marketplace for their work. Plowshare also gives the customers an opportunity to be conscientious consumers by being able to purchase fairly traded goods. *to help promote a compassionate and responsible global perspective, by telling stories of the artisans whose work is carried in the shop, as well as providing information about the cultures of economically developing countries. The fair trade shop provides a colorful marketplace in Downtown Waukesha for small farmers and artisans from over thirty economically developing countries around the globe. Many of the products carried in the shop come from fair trade women's cooperatives ensuring safe working conditions and a just wage, so that women can provide food, health care, and education for their families. These artisans, in turn, provide the shop with unique items, mostly handmade out of environmentally sustainable materials. Products sold include: coffee, chocolate, soup and cookie mixes, as well as jewelry, clothing, baskets, pottery, and many other beautiful works of art. Early on, most of the shop's products were ordered from Selfhelp/Ten Thousand Villages. As time went on, the various managers found additional fair trade vendors, until today when Plowshare's manager orders products from forty-two different vendors. This allows more diversity and choice for Plowshare shoppers. Visitors to the shop often ask how they can be certain that the products there are fairly traded. The answer is that in 1990 the Center became a member of the Fair Trade Federation, which certifies that certain venders are indeed operating under fair trade principles. (Please see the Retail section of this Website for a list of fair trade principles.)

In 2012, Plowshare became a member of the Fair Trade Independent Stores, to continue ensuring customers that Plowshare only deals with fair trade suppliers. Over the years, Plowshare has been active with other downtown organizations and merchants. For example, since 1992, the shop has been involved with the seasonal Art Crawls started by the West End Artist Association. For several years, Plowshare has also been a part of the downtown's Friday Night Live events. And starting in 2012, Plowshare has a booth at the downtown Farmer's Market, which runs from May to October. All of these big community events showcase the fair trade concept and support Plowshare's outreach into the larger Waukesha community.

Another very effective way of getting Plowshare out into the community was the initiation of "off-sites" in 1993. This allowed the shop managers and volunteers to take merchandise out to schools, churches, fairs and other community events where fair trade products could be sold, along with programs given to explain the fair trade concept and tell the compelling stories of the artisans, their cultures and their countries. A continuing global education for all ages!


Since Plowshare's beginning, there has been a lively, hard working education committee that has helped Plowshare achieve its goals of offering peace education to the larger Waukesha community. These goals are: *to offer experiences to explore, develop and model the skills of nonviolent living through forums, speakers, workshops, resource materials, film festivals, and peace vigils. *to advocate for alternatives to violence, thus helping build a culture of peace and nonviolence in our families, communities, nation and world. Plowshare collaborates with others to create conditions where it is possible to live in harmony with diverse people and nations, along with the earth and all its creatures. In all of Plowshare's efforts, there is the intention of giving hope for the future by holding up positive examples of influential changes which have been achieved by individuals and groups, both locally and globally, through courage and innovation. Throughout the years, Plowshare's education committee has developed a wide variety of programs and approaches to peace education: *Since, 1992, Plowshare has been offering regular Friday Night Forums to provide a setting which promotes dialogue among participants for a better understanding and a basis for action on cultural, environmental, political, economic issues. Many of these forums have featured local people who have shared their experiences traveling to economically developing countries whose products are carried in Plowshare's fair trade shop. The stories told in these forums have helped put a face on these struggling, but spirited, people around the globe. A few of the titles suggest the range of issues addressed: "Guatemala and Rigoberta Menchu"; "Prospects for Peace in the Middle East"; "Learning to Live the Green Life"; "Women, Culture and Disability"; "How Fair Trade Differs from Free Trade: the Effects of Globalization on the U.S. and the World". *Starting in 2006, Plowshare began collaborating with Carroll University and the Waukesha Chapter of the United Nations Association to offer an annual, day long film festival at Carroll U., attended by hundreds of diverse people, including students, teachers and community folks. The United Nations Association Film Festival (UNNAF) features award winning documentaries dealing with such topics as human rights, women's issues, refugee protection, racism, disease control, universal education, and war and peace, as well as many other critical social issues. The UNAFF has traveled around the world to places like London, Paris, Dubai, New York, San Francisco and Waukesha. A unique experience, indeed, for this small town! *Since 2007, again collaborating with Carroll University, Plowshare has put on a big event each year about a different public policy issue, ones being discussed in Washington, D.C. and on Main Street in Waukesha. In these forums, the goals are to: show the effects of social problems on "common folks," who at times may be feeling as if their needs and voices are not being heard by policy makers; and then, with the help of expert panelists, to look at possible solutions to these social problems, including how everyone can participate and make their voices heard. These "Human Face of..." forums have addressed such social issues as Immigration, Health Care Reform, Transformative Learning, the Economy, the Environment, Restorative Justice, and Human Rights. Frequently, over the last twenty-four years, other programs have been presented by a variety of local experts, and nationally and internationally-known speakers. For example, recently two people spoke about amazing peace building efforts in countries which are now in the midst of war. Large audiences heard talks on: "Nonviolence in Afghanistan," by a local college peace educator, who had visited Afghanistan and talked with Afghan groups and individuals involved in peace efforts there; and "The Challenge of Nonviolence in the Midst of War," by a representative of a peace community in Columbia which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Another more recent program was "Prophetic Listening and Civil Discourse," which was well received and will form the basis of the Dialogue Initiative Plowshare will be introducing to the wider community. The Center wants to attract the interest and participation of community members of all political, religious, ethnic persuasions, and all people of good will. The education committee believes that Dialogue is an essential tool for building this kind of understanding. The Learning Peace Center, started in 2002, and the Little Free Peace Library, started in 2012, were described in another section of this Plowshare Center's website. They continue to educate conscientious shoppers and visitors to the fair trade shop on the wider issues of economic justice and nonviolent strategies for resolving personal challenges and global conflicts between cultures and nations. From 2001 to the present, the Center has joined the Waukesha catholic Worker in a weekly Vigil for Nonviolence. The vigil is now in its thirteenth year, with stalwart vigilers standing out in the cold, rain and hot sun every Sunday at Cutler Park, between noon and 1 P.M. Vigilers' signs have called for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an exploration of nonviolent alternatives to conflict and war. Four on these vigilers spoke at a Friday Night Forum recently about the meaning of the vigil in their lives. One of them talked about how he didn't know if his being at the vigil changes anything, but he does it to keep the wars and violence in the world from changing him!


Because Plowshare's programs and events have been offered at no charge to participants, since the beginning the Center has been sustained by generous individual donors, grants and fundraising events. There have been several fashion shows, featuring clothes from the shop, a silent auction, and a delicious dinner that has raised funds for educational outreach. There have also been Parties for Peace, with dancing, and other lively events that have brought people together to support the mission and work of the Plowshare Center. Besides the fund development committee, other volunteer committees that have supported the growth of Plowshare over the years have been: finance, outreach, and most recently, the technology committee, which is bringing Plowshare into the 21st Century with the ability to communicate its message electronically!

The birth and growth of the Plowshare Center has been compared to childbirth, with all the accompanying work, pain and joy. As the organization was developing, there was always a nucleus of individuals with dedication and commitment who were willing to put energy toward the underlying goal of creating a grassroots peace effort in Waukesha. This bright, abundant energy continues today, with many young people in their twenties and thirties joining in with seasoned peacemakers to help rejuvenate and sustain the Plowshare Center, giving hope that a peaceful and just planet is truly emerging!