By ERIN ROLL
They wanted peace in a time of 9/11 and the war in Iraq. In today’s world, they are concerned with potential warfare with Iran, immigration and detention camps.
The Friday peace vigils on Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue are coming back after years on hiatus.
The Church Street “corner” vigils began after 9/11 and continued up through the Obama administration, according to Montclair resident John Kaniecki who began attending the Friday evening vigils for about seven years in 2004.
“For a decade we had a presence every Friday regardless of the weather. I recall being out there in both rain and snow,” said Kaniecki.
The group never had an official leader, but Jerry Caprio was the guy who showed up religiously every Friday and the guy who provided all the signs, said Kaniecki.
Sometime in 2012, the group began to scatter and stopped gathering on the corner of Church Street, not because of politics, but because of organization, said Kaniecki.
“People get complacent when things are going well,” one of the original members Jeff Hoey said.
But about six weeks ago, the vigils returned. The group — some of the old gang and some new — began gathering on Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue at 5:30 p.m. on Friday evenings.
Last week, the group gathered at dusk with signs that read “Peace in Korea is a good thing,” “Oil wars cause warming,” ”Food not bombs” and “No more war.” Pedestrians stopped and chatted about the different issues the world faces today, while motorists driving by honked their horns.
Although it was an independent effort, the group was loosely affiliated with New Jersey Peace Action back when it began.
When Hoey became New Jersey Peace Action’s new executive director in September, he decided the group should bring back the vigils. “We were all keen on restarting those peace vigils. They seemed very effective in the past,” Hoey said about the Friday evening conversation starters.
Now, New Jersey Peace Action hopes the vigils will take on renewed importance given current events.
New Jersey Peace Action originally began holding vigils in 2001, just after 9/11, throughout the area. The vigils continued through other events such as the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. New Jersey Peace Action was formed in 1957, originally with the mission of trying to ban or limit the use of nuclear weapons. That mission continues to be part of the group’s focus today and with recent events concerning Iran forging ahead with its nuclear program, that mission is still relevant.
“The times we live in seem turbulent enough to require vigils and raising awareness,” Hoey said.
The group is turning its focus to Iran. There is a possibility now of a “shooting war” between Iran and the United States, Hoey said, and New Jersey Peace Action fears that it could lead to casualties, both among the U.S. armed forces and the Iranian people.
One of the first new Friday vigils coincided with Montclair Make Music Day and a performance by the Women’s Fire Choir, with about 10 to 15 people showing up for the vigil.
“A lot of people show up with personal agendas, or group agendas, and we welcome them all,” Hoey said, the point being to talk and discuss.
New Jersey Peace Action is working on coordinating a vigil on the topic of immigration and the detention camps near the U.S.-Mexico border, in partnership with local groups such as BlueWave New Jersey.
Montclair resident Pat Kenschaft helped start the original vigils in Montclair and is in favor of restarting the vigils, though she herself is no longer actively involved. “We need peace, and I strongly support anyone who’s working for peace,” she said.
Occasionally, New Jersey Peace Action would still hold a special-event vigil around a specific theme, even though the vigils had stopped being weekly occurrences.
“The community of Montclair has been very supportive,” Hoey said. “An awful lot of people go by honking horns and waving peace signs” when the vigils are ongoing.
Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps will take place Friday at 7 p.m. on Church Street. Attendees are asked to bring flameless candles.