Although not drawing the same size crowds as other protests elsewhere in Jersey City or around the nation, the small dedicated group of activists routinely come to this part of the city to try to call attention to the connection they see between extreme poverty and the excesses of the industrial war machine.
On Sundays during the year, JCPM Director Erik-Anders Nilsson and others gather to do more than protest. They also feed the hungry.
For these activists, expansion of the nation’s longest running war only makes the situation more dire, saying war tends to divert resources away from local needs such as providing for the homeless.
For years, Journal Square with its busy transportation hub has served as a gathering place for the homeless, ironically in a city that has become one of the wealthiest in the state. Many homeless gather near the dilapidated fountain that was once suppose to be a tribute to those that gave their lives in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The shadows of new luxury developments in this section of the city often fall over the prone shapes of the homeless sleeping there.
Nilsson did not come alone. Jessica Hellinger, who is running for the Ward B council seat this year, was among the handful of volunteers handing out packages of food supplied by Councilman Michael Yun.
People old and young greeted the homeless and encouraged them to take the packets of food. Some of these people wore t-shirts advocating for their own movement, while others wear shirts supporting movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Nilsson, a Jersey City resident since 1992, has become the most visible face of the anti-war movement in Jersey City, but his protests sometimes go unheralded because they do not always coincide with current events.
He is critical of both Republicans and Democrats and their conduct of the war in Afghanistan. He notes that more than 20,000 bombs were dropped there during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The expansion of the war under President Trump, he believes, will make things worse, not just overseas but at home.
“We have to make it clear there is a connection.” – Erik-Anders Nilsson
In 2003, Nilsson co-founded the Jersey City Peace Movement, six months before the United States' invasion of Iraq.
He said he’s always been very political, and always focused on truth, justice and peace.
JCPM came out early against military intervention in Afghanistan and Iran, as well as ‘the war at home’ which, he said, includes arguing that U.S. tax dollars should be spent on housing, education and jobs.
Every Sunday from 12 to 1 p.m. Nilsson and other members of the Jersey City Peace Movement go to Journal Square to hand out pamphlets and raise awareness.
The group has been very active in other issues and held rallies in support of immigrant rights and well as against anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies. This group recently became part of “Jersey City People’s Alliance,” an umbrella organization for a network of progressive community leaders, groups, volunteers and supporters, working on local, county, state, national and international issues that impact the lives of Jersey City residents and beyond.
But for Nilsson and others, the most visible sign of oppression is here in Journal Square where the homeless gather.
“We have to make it clear there is a connection,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.