NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A group of protesters organized by the Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War held a demonstration on October 2 in downtown New Brunswick to protest President Donald Trump's priorities in the wake Hurricane Maria.
Trump was widely criticized for his attitude towards Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which were both devastated by the Hurricane in September.
“We felt the situation in Puerto Rico was so deteriorated and not getting the attention it deserves,” said Coalition member and Highland Park resident Ellen Whitt. “It’s unbelievable that [the Trump administration] hasn’t been able to meet the need.”
Waving signs and chanting slogans like “Money for Puerto Rico, Not War,” the all-volunteer group hoped to raise public awareness toward what they said was a misalignment of priorities.
They also handed out political information pamphlets in addition to flyers for an October 7 disaster relief benefit concert to pedestrians and drivers alike.
For some protesters, however, the situation in Puerto Rico merely highlights a larger issue with the administration’s priorities, which they say could lead to disastrous consequences far beyond the damage that has already been done.
“We have an incompetent administration more interested in giving tax breaks to millionaires and corporations rather than providing support to Puerto Ricans who need food and clean water,” said Geoff Herzog, a Highland Park resident who is also the campaign manager for Green Party gubernatorial candidate Seth Kaper-Dale.
“We want to raise public attention to the fact that government is trying to raise World War 3 with North Korea and are ignoring disaster relief to Puerto Rico as a result of a storm caused by climate change, which the administration denies as we stand in 70 degree weather in October,” Herzog said.
Bob Witanek, a Belle Mead resident and active member of the New Jersey anti-war community, echoed Herzog’s sentiments.
“Taxes should be used to better the lives of taxpayers, not blowing people up,” Witanek said.
“We have three aircraft carriers in North Korea and three to four nuclear subs off their coast, threatening to blow them off the map. Then we hear about the impediment in aiding Puerto Rico because of the ocean–that never seems to be a problem when it’s war we’re talking about.”
Witanek said that because of these and many other challenges threatening peace in the world, citizens need to get organized and make their commitment to peace formally known: a process he hopes to help facilitate with his upcoming publication "NJ Anti-War agenda."
The prospective eight-page tabloid will encourage those who consider themselves anti-war to develop positions against what he calls the "endlessly escalating imperial wars."
“Everyone needs to be engaged in this: we’re in a dire predicament right now. Everyone needs to be shouting. We’ve got to figure out ways to get people energized,” Witanek said.
David Schraeger, who decried the Puerto Rico’s history of exploitation at the hands of the US and transnational corporations, was less expansive and more pointed in his criticism
“It shows more than anything else, Donald Trump’s total and complete inability to have compassion for the suffering of other people. The mayor of San Juan said ‘the inefficiency is killing [them]–’ she’s begging,” said Schraeger.
More than aid, Schraeger felt the best way to aid Puerto Rico going forward is to forgive its debt, which he regards as"‘artificial."
“It’s not a legitimate debt, in my opinion,” Schrager said.
Coalition members were in agreement that the demonstration went well.
“The response has been great. People are honking their horns in support and asking for information. There’s been zero negative feedback,” Herzog said.
Founded in 2002 in response to the Iraq War, the Coalition for Endless War is a group of volunteers who protest and host educational events.
Meeting once a month in New Brunswick at the Friends Meeting House on Nichol Avenue, the group works in opposition to "US international wars" as well as "wars against its people at home and on the planet," according to Whitt.
In addition to their monthly meeting, about every six weeks the group hosts a ‘coffee house’ event at the Reformed Church of Highland Park.
The group's October 21 event, dubbed "Fighting Racism and Changing the System: Where do We Go From Here" brought together community members to hear remarks from Larry Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress and Tamaj Nicholson, Chairman of Black Lives Matter Rutgers.