The Courageous White House Vigiler
Concepción Picciotto (born in Vigo, Spain) is a peace activist living in Washington, DC. She has lived in a tiny peace camp on the sidewalk across from the White House, since August 1, 1981, in protest of nuclear arms and war. She has carried on the longest known continuous act of political protest in the United States history.
Concepción was inspired by fellow activist William Thomas, who originally began the White House Peace Vigil on June 3, 1981 and died on January 23, 2009. They began protesting on the sidewalk by the White House fence. National Park Service rules moved them across Pennsylvania Avenue to the front of Lafayette Park. Many times over the years Thomas and Concepción were arrested but the courts finally backed their right to hold the remarkable peace vigil as long as it was kept staffed round-the-clock.
Concepción has a few volunteers that give her a temporary relief from time to time but two years ago a volunteer was late and the Park police hauled off her camp. The issue was finally resolved and she is back across from the White House.
Whenever I visit Washington I always go by the vigil to stand for a few moments in respectful solidarity. Years ago when William Thomas was alive we became friends which increased my desire to visit the vigilers as often as possible.
Saturday, while in DC for the conference, I walked over to the White House. It was full of tourists and lots of political activity was underway. A group of more than 100 Koreans were holding a protest in support of the Sewol ferry families. Nearby in the jumble of people was a creative one-man protest against Israel's extermination of the Palestinian people.
Over at her camp site Concepción was holding court with several tourists. Loads of people were all around her as they read her signs and peeked inside the meager living space. I heard one man reading the signs to himself in a low voice. A middle aged woman was snickering in disgust at Concepción - partially I guessed out of politics and partly out of 'middle American arrogance'.... such a thing was beneath the dignity of this woman's station in life. Just witnessing it was more than the poor woman could even stand! I could just hear her thinking, "Can't someone do something about this mess!"
I went up to Concepción and thanked her for her dedication. She quickly said to me, "People are such cowards. Talk, talk, talk.....we need action." I told her I agreed and thanked her again. She graciously thanked me in return.
I walked on - stopping to look back from the center of Lafayette Park - I could see many people reading and reacting. Concepción (and William) long ago achieved the goal of getting their concerns under the skin of people from all over the world. Mostly importantly the White House, the home of the 'American illusion', has been unable to chase away a courageous old woman who suffers from skin cancer and lack of sleep.
My heart and deep respect go out to Concepción. We need more like her.