Astorians for Peace and Justice (APJ)

Astorians for Peace and Justice (APJ)


* New York-based anti-war group
* Opposes numerous aspects of the Patriot Act
* Member organization of United For Peace and Justice
* Was active until about 2010

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:

  • made a lobbying visit to New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. regarding the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, Resolution 367 (May 2005);
  • dispatched an Astoria contingent to a May Day march for nuclear disarmament and an end to war (May 2005);
  • participated in vigils at the Flushing (New York) Library and at the Flushing military recruitment center, on the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (March 2005);
  • presented “The State of the Franchise in 2004 and Beyond,” a forum that made a case for granting voting rights to non-citizens and felons (October 2004);
  • sent a Queens, New York contingent to an anti-war demonstration at the Republican National Convention, which was being held in Manhattan (August 29, 2004);
  • sent representatives to a demonstration against the U.S. occupation of Iraq (March 20, 2004);
  • sponsored a showing of the 2003 film Uncovered: The War in Iraq, which held that the Bush administration had knowingly deceived the American people into supporting an unnecessary war against a nation which the President knew possessed no weapons of mass destruction;
  • co-sponsored a talk on Iraq and Palestine by Jessica Anderson of Seattle’s “Another World Is Possible”;
  • presented “Is the War Really Over?” — a community forum and talk by New York City Council member Charles Barron, Veterans for Peace‘s John Kim, and the Immigration Law Board’s Cyrus Mehta;
  • presented “Is the War Really Over? Part II,” consisting of a talk by Marvin Gettleman and a poetry reading by Astoria’s Eliot Katz;
  • organized a lobbying visit to Peter Vallone Jr. regarding City Council Resolution 909 affirming civil liberties;
  • sponsored “Party for Peace,” an informal gathering of Queens activists; and

  • organized participation in, and transportation to, major antiwar rallies on February 15 and March 22, 2003.

On its website, APJ provided links to the homepages of such organizations as CommonDreamsCounterPunch, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the Independent Media Institute, the Institute for Public Accuracy, and United For Peace and Justice.

Active until about 2010, APJ was a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, and occasionally collaborated with New York City’s chapter of Veterans For Peace.

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