Based in Astoria, New York, Astorians for Peace and Justice (APJ) was established in February 2003 to voice opposition to the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. Headed by Debbie Riga, who was active with local Cypriot-American organizations, APJ grew out of Greeks for Peace, a local group that coordinated bus transportation for New Yorkers wishing to attend large-scale anti-war protests in Washington, DC. Specifically, APJ came into existence when Riga rented a bus for $1,500 to travel to Washington for a peace rally, and posted signs around Astoria soliciting others to join her. Riga’s effort drew approximately 100 respondents — enough to fill three buses to DC — and thus APJ was born.
Describing itself as “an independent, non-partisan, and non-sectarian organization that believes all people have the right to live in peace and with dignity,” APJ stated that its mission was “to bring people together in our diverse neighborhood who share a commitment to social justice and democracy to work locally for a more peaceful world.” Composed entirely of volunteers, the organization sought to achieve these goals by means of public lectures, film presentations, and discussion forums. It also dispatched representatives to attend local and national antiwar demonstrations, and lobbied legislators to support its agendas.
In addition to its antiwar stance, APJ also opposed numerous aspects of the Patriot Act, viewing them as assaults on the civil liberties of Americans. In August 2004, attorney and APJ member Constantine Kokkoris expressed his support for a resolution — introduced by New York City Council member Bill Perkins — titled “The Defense of the Bill of Rights,” which called for the repeal of numerous Patriot Act provisions. Said Kokkoris, “It is one thing to quickly pass a declaration of war, which is a fairly straightforward Act. It is quite another to pass complex, far-reaching legislation that changes this many aspects of federal law. I don’t think you’ll find anything else like it in history.” Kokkoris, who was also a member of the National Lawyers Guild, called the PATRIOT Act “criminal” in terms of its policies regarding subpoenas and surveillance. “Today,” he expanded, “just as Japanese-Americans were wrongly held in camps after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and were later paid reparations, Arab or Muslim-Americans are being detained without people, including their family members, knowing where they are or why they’re being held.”
During its heyday in the early to mid-2000s, APJ:
sponsored “Party for Peace,” an informal gathering of Queens activists; and
On its website, APJ provided links to the homepages of such organizations as CommonDreams, CounterPunch, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the Independent Media Institute, the Institute for Public Accuracy, and United For Peace and Justice.