Friday, November 15, 1985


DC HOME NEWS November 15, 1985

LAFAYETTE PARK - There's a famous park here in Washington, across the street from the White House. By the government it's called Lafayette Park, or President's Park. By some cab drivers, press, and public it's called Peace Park, D.C.
It's the kind of place where the champion demonstrators of the western world congregate 24 hours a day throughout the year, to make their views known to the president, who lives just across the street

There's a woman in Peace Park who has become quite famous for her four-year continual presence, day and night, seeking a total nuclear ban.

Saturday, August 24, 1985

Liberty And Junk For All?

Liberty And Junk For All?

The Washington Post
Saturday, August 24, 1985

For reasons connected with the high cost of parking at the fancier Washington hotels, my occasional early-morning walking route to a press breakfast takes me across Lafayette Park, just opposite the White House.
Here, where Henry Adams once built a great house, and where Andrew Jackson still rears his horse in equestrian splendor,my dedication to the constitutional right of petition undergoes -and invariably flunks-- a stern test. It is not unlike the test your belief in free speech would undergo if someone were screaming political slogans in your ear every time you hit the sidewalk.
The test for me is the clutter of billboards, placards, tents, mock cemeteries and whatnot that now disfigures one ofWashington's most agreeable squares, and one of the few refuges of distinguished architecture.
I was delighted, therefore, to read that the National Park Service: intends to crack down on the demonstrators who (often in absentia) have turned Lafayette Park into a junkyard, a zealot's haven but a citizen's eyesore.
New regulations would restrict the size: of placards--a long, ugly row of which now conceal, at eye level looking across Pennsylvania Avenue, the north facade of the White House. They would also have to be attended, or they would be treated as abandoned property.
The Park Service is, if anything, over-cautious. But depend on those who confuse vandalism with liberty to find even these mild measures objectionable.
The American Civil Liberties Union, bless its myopic soul, predictably finds this tightening frivolous, perhaps unconstitutional. "They want to make Lafayette Park look more pretty," said an ACLU spokesman, "[but] we just don't think that is a very weighty concern to justify the infringement of First Amendment Rights.
Not a weighty concern An exercise of rights that blights, all day every day, a public square? How far, one is led to speculate might libertarian numskullery go?
If someone with a burning message is moved to bedeck the Washington Monument with a huge wraparound banner the 100-foot level, or hang a sandwich board with anti-nuclear slogans around Mr. Lincoln's neck in the Lincoln Memorial, must tho aesthetic interests of tens of thousands be dismissed?
Why must the rest of us suffer, in silence some trashing of the commonwealth every time a world-saver with $20 to spend for a signboard and a paint brush goes into action! By long legal usage, even the most essential personal liberties are subject to reasonable "time, place and manner" restrictions when their exercise becomes a nuisance or a menace to others.
It is, as Holmes told us. no legitimate exercise of free speech to cry fire falsely, in a crowded theater, causing a panic. And nd even the silliest judge in the land would uphold your right to ring my door- bell every day at 3 a.m. to deliver your urgent warning against nuclear power.
This is not a plea for banning the right of timely and appropriate petition. It is an argument for measure, and for what might be called the Fifth Freedom: the right to enjoy unlighted the graces of the American landscape.[WHAT WOULD THE LANDSCAPE LOOK LIKE AFTER A NUCLEAR WAR?]
And by the way, while thousands of tourists must seek their first southward glimpse of the White House across a forest o[ placards, just who is being petitioned for a redress of grievances! Ronald Reagan is at the ranch. Congress is in recess and even when in town does business near Lafayette Square.
The petitioners and demonstrators should be permitted to do their thing at set times in the park, or in front of the White House or wherever they wish, then fold up,their demonstration sets and move on.
Outrage over the casual spoliation of the American land and cityscape of which the trashing of Lafayette Park is part--is made the keener by visits to European cities. They somehow manage to avoid becoming political gulags without sacrificing their visual grace.
Not so us. Like the clutter erected on the west side of the Executive office Building, like disfiguring, shoddy, box-like office buildings, steamy parking lots, instant-food strips. daily litter sufficient to make a landfill of the Pacific Ocean bed the junking of Lafayette Park is of a piece with our national tolerance of ugliness: And this in the name of liberty! Thomas Jefferson, who had much to say on that subject, was a man of taste who saw that virtues need not be graceless, nor beauty incompatible with liberty. A citizenry that becomes visually brutalized exposes itself to political brutalization as well.

Friday, August 23, 1985

Capital Park Dispute Free Speech or Eyesore

Capital Park Dispute
Free Speech or Eyesore?

By Leslie Phillips

The cluttered landscape of Washington's Lafayette:Park provides: a haven for protester and their causes - and a visual black eye for lots of residents and tourists, Concepcion Picciotto, who lives between placards emblazoned with mushroom clouds, says new restrictions proposed by the Reagan administration violate the Constitution.
"You can say a requiem for the First Amendment," she said Thursday from the park, located across from the White House. "I think it's very unfair."
The American Civil Liberties Union says if the new regulations go into effect unchanged, it will sue.
But for Joseph Plock, a bank officer, who passes the demonstrators on his lunch hour, the proposed rules don't go far enough.
"I think they (the signs) should all be ripped down," he fumed. "It's litter."
From a 12-foot-high proclamation opposing the bomb to a "Stop the Arms Race Now" message in seven languages, about two dozen signs border the White House side of the park.
Among the main changes, which are subject to a 60-day period of public comment: Each protester would be limited to two signs no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet and they would have to stay within three feet of their signs.
"We've had everything down there from desks to make-shift toilets," says Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.
Nevertheless, it's a curiosity for tourists.
Concludes 15-year-old Ivan Austin of England: "If I was the president, I wouldn't like it much."
(picture: SIGNBOARD PROTESTS: placards line Lafayette Park across from the White House. photo by Lee Anderson

Wednesday, August 21, 1985

New Rules to Curb Lafayette Protests 'Visual Blight' Cited

New Rules to Curb Lafayette Protests
'Visual Blight' Cited

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer

The National Park Service, arguing that the proliferation of permanent protest displays is causing "visual blight" in Lafayette Park, has announced new regulations that would restrict both the size and the number of protest signs there and prohibit the plywood huts and other structures that have sprung up across the street from the White House.
The regulations, according to the Park Service, are intended to control the manner, but not the content, of protests by demonstrator;s who have settled into the park on a long-term basis and turned its picture-postcard beauty into what many call an eyesore.
"We've obviously had a lot of complaints about conditions in the park," said Sandra Alley, associate regional director of public affairs for the Park Service's national capital region. "We're not trying to curb First Amendment rights, but we are seeking some sort of balance.
Hand-carried signs would be exempted from the new regulations, and protest groups would be allowed to set up temporary speaker's or "soapbox" platforms for rallies in the park.
But other "structures"--the huts, chairs, desks, makeshift toilets, kitchen sinks and other personal items that officials say protesters have brought in or "stored" in the park--would be prohibited.
Under the new regulations, scheduled to take effect in late November after a period for public comment, signs placed or set down in the park must be no larger than four feet in either dimension and no thicker than one quarter inch. They may not be elevated more than six feet from the ground at their highest point and may not be combined with other sigrls to form larger structures.
No protesters may have more than two such signs in the park at any one time, and those signs must be "attended" at aII times, meaning that: someone must be within three feet of the sign or it will be considered abandoned property.
Park Service officials say they need the tighter restrictions because protesters have begun setting up billboard- like, hand-painted signs along the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the park, obscuring the view of the White House. posing a Safety threat in high winds and generally ruining the park's esthetic quality.
But park protesters and civil libertrians, who have tangled with the Park Service before, raised concerns yesterday thnt the new restrictions could violate constitutional protection of free speech and free expression.
"They`want to try to make Lafayette Park look more pretty in the view of some people," Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU's local office here. "We just don't think that is a very weighty concern to justify the infringement of First Amendment rights."
Though an around-the-clock antinuclear vigil has been going on in the park for more than two years, court decisions have prohibited overnight "sleep-in" protests there. Long-term demonstrations on the sidewalk in front of the White House also have been banned, a move that has made Lafayette Park all the more attractive to protesters.
"I came here June 27 and I just haven't gotten home yet," said Prima Blakus of Portland, Ore., who sat in a chair at the southeast corner of the park yesterday and flashed the peace sign to passing motorists. "Now I've gotten stubborn,I'm waiting for world peace." More than 50 signs--encouraging everything from world peace to, birth control to freedom of religion--were set up in the park yesterday, sharing space with lunching office workers and drawing the attention of tourists. Only two demonstrators, Blakus and Concepcion Picciotto, were in the park with the signs.
Picciotto, an organizer of the anti-nuclear vigil, said she and a companion, William Thomas, built several of the larger protest signs that face the White House. "The more weapons they build, the more signs we have to have to show the people what is happening," she said.
But Park Service officials, in a memorandum accompanying publication of the regulations in yesterday's Federal Register, warn that without the new restrictions the "dumplike atmosphere" and "building boom" in the park could get ~worse. They say they have received requests for permits to establish a library in the park, a landing spot for;l spaceship and facilities to perform an abortion.

Thursday, August 8, 1985





Beaten, abused, living rough, they stand like some moral Maginot Line on a permanent White House peace vigil...


ON June 1,1981, a man and a woman began a remarkable vigil for peace in a small park across the street from the Washington White House... there messages line the sidewalk facing the home of the President of the United States, signs of all shapes and sizes, in various colors, with drawings of the mushroom cloud of skulls...angled side by side, they stand like a moral Maginot Line resisting the White House.
The man and the woman-Concepcion Picciotto and William Thomas- live under the stars, exposed to the rain and snow, summer and winter, without tent or sleeping bag. They feed like the pigeons and squirrels in the park, on what comes along, sometimes from the nearby McDonald's or Hardees bins.
It is a starkly contrasting picture in the capital of the world's greatest nation. On the south side, in the great mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue live Ronald and Nancy Reagan...across the street in Lafayette Park, without address or visible means of support, are Concepcion and William, with their messages of peace.
Concepcion was born in Spain and educated by nuns to live by high spiritual and social principles and values.
She takes the time to talk to passers-by about why she and William maintain their lonely and long-lasting vigil: "As a young dreamer, I came to the United States searching for something different - a more promising way of life. Over 20 years ago I became an American citizen. Peace, justice and freedom have always been my ideals, and I believe that these ideals should be available for all people."
When she became a citizen she swore to uphold the constitution...but today she says she sees that the constitution is just a game, a mere facade, a stage play.
Concepcion is a small, untidy woman, surrounded by the rubbish of her camp life. All she wants, she says, is to be "given the opportunity to be heard properly before being hastily condemned because of my actions and activities as a United States citizen."
Sitting in the humid evening of a Washington summer, with the tourists carefully steering a path out of her reach, she told me of the ordeal of maintaining the vigil.
She and William have been arrested innumerable times. He was severely beaten by a Park Police Officer while taking photographs of the Officer assaulting another protester who was handcuffed. She has been forcefully strip searched, and suffered defamation of character by the same officer. "Our signs are regularly confiscated, and broken," she says. "We just come back and defend our rights to free expression in the courts, make more signs, go on with our work."
They seldom sleep, only in brief snatches. If the police catch them asleep they will be charged with camping: "We are not camping, but exercising our right to 'speak out' against the forms of political and technical insanity which presently threaten all life on earth."
On December 8, 1982, one of her mentors and friends, Norman Mayer was killed at the nearby Washington Monument, suspected by the police of having dynamite in a van parked alongside the tower.
Concepcion - known as 'Connie' to a growing worldwide army of supporters of the anti-nuclear lobby-was then joined by the 38-year-old William, an intellectual known simply as 'Thomas' to the millions around the world who follow this story of the only round the clock peace vigil against nuclear weapons being conducted anywhere in the world.
For their pains, quite literally, they have been attacked and beaten by right wing 'patriots' as well as the police. But their anti-nuclear vigil continues to send a message to the White House.
'Decent, Civilized People Do not Nuke Fellow Humans', says one... 'Live By The Bomb, Die by The Bomb', another. 'NATO and Warsaw Pact Countries Stand Astride The Same Uncontrollable Weapons Pile. The World Trembles at Its Fate', says another...'There Is No Shelter From the Nuclear Bomb', says another.
Press from around the world have photographed this quiet couple; people come from every country in the Western world to see if they are still keeping up their vigil...they do, sneaking a couple hours of half-sleep whenever they can before the police come around to shine a light in their faces-"I have a psychic antennae that picks up an approaching policeman at fifty feet," says Concepcion with a smile, "I can be awake before his night stick starts to poke me into the caged wagon."
Concepcion and William are the lonely watchers at the gate. And they'd like to hear from you. They can be contacted at C. Picciotto and W. Thomas, White House 24-hour anti-nuclear vigil, P.O. Box 4931, Washington, D.C. 20038

Tuesday, July 2, 1985

Pledge of Resistance

Pledge of Resistance

Iowa Idea
Spring/Summer 1985

"I had the pleasure of representing our local United Mine Workers Union in the national convention. . . and introduced a resolution favoring the adoption of international socialism. We got so prominent that they called it the IOWA IDEA. -G.H. Freyhoff of Mystic, Iowa, February 7, 1903.
These and many other signs in Lafayette Park in Washington D.C. stand facing the White House for Nancy's and Ronnie's daily inspection.


Today in front of the White House (across the street from the White House lies Lafayette Parks two worlds are joined and separated by Pennsylvania Avenue.
On the South side in the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue live Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Across the street without address or visible means of support, live a woman and a man known as Concepcion Picciotto and William Thomas. They began their vigil there on June 1st, 1981, and are there till the present.
Mr. and Mrs. Reagan live well housed and well fed. The crumbs from their table feed Concepcion and Thomas for a week. They live under the stars, exposed to rian and snow, summer and winter, without tent or sleeping hag. They feed like the pigeons in the park, on what comes along, sometimes from the Mc Donald's or Hardees dumpsters.
Mr. Reagan, across the street issues moral messages against abortion and an Evil Empire, for freedom, the market, and school prayer.
Concepcion and Thomas tend their messages night and day. These messages line the side walk farina the White House, signs of all sizes and shapes, in various colors, with drawings of the mushroom cloud or skulls. Angled side, the signs stand like a moral Maginot Line resisting the White House.
The Police harass Concepcion and Thomas, and they have been arrested innumerable times, Thomas was severely beaten by Park Police officer David Haynes while Thomas was taking photo graphs of Officer Haynes assaulting another protestor who was handcuffed. Concepcion was forcefully strip-searched 'and suffered defamation of character by the said officer. The signs were confiscated and broker. They came back and defended their rights to free expression in the courts, making more signs, clIng ing to their turf. They sleep little, by snatches. If the police catch them asleep they will he charged with camping.
Although the insist they are not camping, but exerci zing their right to "speak out" against the forms of political and technical insanity which presently threaten all Life on Earth, ultimately their problems are the Government's problems, their complaints the complaints of us all, as they stand before the Goliath of rights denied.

Thursday, June 27, 1985

Concepcion Threatened as Police Look On



Washington, D.C. - Lafayette Park - A Metro Police officer pulled his motorcycle up to the curb in front of Concepcion Picciotto's Anti-nuke demonstration and said: "Connie, you made it through last winter, but you won't make it through this one.
He smiled, gunned his cc's and sped away.
He called Ms. Picciotto by her familiar name "Connie." He had a blonde mustache and he wore a helmet and dark glasses.
"I took it as a death threat," said Ms. Picciotto, a 43-year-old woman who has manned the 24-hour anti-nuke demonstration across the street from the White House for the last four years.
Several nights earlier, a man came after Ms. Picciotto wtth a two-by-four, smashing her signs instead, as she ran for police help.
"The man chased me all over the Park," she said. "The Park Police watched but did nothing. Then the man said things to the police so they handcuffed him and took him away.
"He was back, sleeping on the park bench a few hours later. The Police would like to see me scared out of here ."
The right to demonstrate in Lafayette Park is being threatened by forces that would eat away at the Democracy from the inside. Our own people, our "peace" officers, are harrassing our own citizens who dare to think that bombs can de dismantled.
The Metro Police Chief and the Park Police Chief here in Washington are being alerted to this situation before It gets to be tragic.

Friday, May 10, 1985

"Lafayette Square 'Swept' Clean

"Lafayette Square 'Swept' Clean

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Washington Post Staff Writer

May 10, 1985

The team of 15 gray-shirted National Park Service maintenance workers arrived shortly before 2 p.m. yesterday at the Lafayette Square sidewalk office of Casimer Urban Jr., self - styled presidential candidate.
Within half an hour, the workers had carted off many of his books and personal papers and hauled away his office, a triangular 10-foot-high plywood structure he had erected and covered with crudely painted messages calling for the impeachment of "R.W. Reagon." They left his two desks and assorted other office equipment.
A short distance away, a small contingent of' U.S. Park Police yanked long- time anti-nuclear demonstrator Ellen Thomas off a portable stage as she screamed at them and arrested her and a man who tried to assist her. Workers promptly hoisted the stage onto a truck and took it away, too.
At Lafayette Square, directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, such scenes are commonplace these days.
The park has become a battleground between the conflicting demands of court decisions supporting the First Amendment right to demonstrate, albeit with a raft of rules, and those who think the clutter of hand-oainted signs and rickety structures built by the demonstraters has turned the park into an eyesore.
Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) complained to the Park Service earlier this year about the "growing visual pollution around Lafayette Park," which he called "highly offensive."
U.S. Attorlley Joseph E. diGenova, echoing the feelings of some, but not all, visitors to the park, said, "While some of these people think they're making a statement, in fact they're making a mess. At this point, it's beconling a disgrace .... We're going to do whatever we can within the law to keep the park clean."
Interior Department officials have ordered police and maintenance workers into Lafayette Square five times in the last three weeks to look for signs that don't comply with Park Service regulations, as well as loose lumber and piles of clothing and personal belongings that demonstrators are prohibited from keeping in the park.
But, just as soon as the workers have carted off truckloads of signs and possessions, they reappear.
This cat-and-mouse game, which is not likely to be resolved soon, had its origin in two court decisions last year.
In one Instance, the U.S. Court of Appeals here approved a series of Interior Department regulations on protests on the sidewalk in front of the White House that limited the size of signs to 3 feet by 20 feet, prohibited all stationary signs in a central zone and banned wooden signs.
As a result, most protesters, many of them demonstrating against Reagan administration nuclear arms policies, have now moved to Lafayitte Square, where there are no size limits on the signs and they can be built wlth wood. Some signs are now--20 or 25 feet tall, such as one saying, "We believe no issue is more important than the threat of nuclear war."
In the second decision, the Supreme Court last year banned over-night sleeping in Lafayette Square as a means of protest, saying it was not a First Amendment right.
That decision has led to almost constant conflict between the Park Police and the small band of 24- hour-a-day demonstrator s, who trade off guarding each others' signs through the night. Until earlier this week, most of them, as well as two dozen or more homeless people, had been sleeping on the steps and entrance arcade of the National Court Building, across Madison Place from the park.
But Federal Protective Service officers at the urging of court officials, this week booted out the sleepers, who now have opted for spending the night on the sidewalk.
Arthur B. Spitzer, the legal director for the local division of the American Civil Liberties Union, has fought government restrictions on protests in the vicinity of the White House. He said he is monitoring the latest Lafayette Square sweeps by police and maintenance workers.
"The First Amendment protects your right to have a fairly big sign," he said. "But there's some things; there I couldn't defend, such as large piles of personal belongings. I have no objection to the government hauling away things that are not communicative .... "The protesters can't homestead there."
Royce C. Lamberth, head of the civil division in diGenova's office, said officials are studying ways "to improve the situation in Lafayette Park" and may try to devise further rules on the demonstrations, such as limiting the size of signs.
Meanwhile, many of the long term demonstratots vow to kecp their vigils.
Conception Picciotto, a 43-year-old native of Spain, said she has maintained her anti-nuclear protest on Pennsylvania Avenue for four years, and said she will continue "as long as God gives me health ard strength.
"The Constitution allows us to present our views peacefully," she said as she handed out literature this week. "We are not going to give up."

Thursday, April 25, 1985


The Home News
Serving Dade County for 41 years

Your Hometown Newspaper APRIL 25, 1985


by Dansforth B. Taylor

There's a famous park here in Washington, across the street from the White House. It is called Lafayette Park. It's the kind of place where the champion "demonstrators" of the Western World congregate 24 hours a day throughout the year, to make their views known to the president, who lives just across the street. There's a woman (there in the park) who has become quite famous for her three year continual presence (day and night) seeking a total nuclear ban. One of her mentors and friends for years, a Dade County citizen, Norman Mayer, was shot and killed at the Washington Monument three years ago, Dec. 8, 1982, suspected (at the time by the police) as having a half-ton of dynamite in a van parked by the tower itself, supposedly ready to explode at the touch of a radio signal from Mayer.
Mayer's reach for immortality was based on a bluff. There turned out to be no dynamite in his van at all. Still, he was shot in the head from three hundred feet on the basis that he had reported the existence of the "dynamite" to police who claimed to have no reason not to believe him.
The story is more fascinating when looked at through the eyes of this fiftyish-appearing lady who may certainly be dubbed the "Chief Demonstrator of Lafayette Park."
Meet "Connie" Concepcion Picciotto, who is more than willing to point out that Mayer was the "father figure" to the care of committed demonstrators who see themselves as setting a world-class standard for the specialized lobbying effort against "NUCLEAR WAR."
Connie's partner is a 38-year-old intellectual names William Thomas,known simply as "Thomas" to millions of fans around the world who followed the story of the only' 24-hour peace vigil against nuclear weapons being conducted anywhere in the world.
Connie and Thomas must never sleep soundly, or the police of Washington will arrest them.
That is the game that has been played since June 3,1981. Both Thomas and Connie have been arrested scores of times. They have been beaten by zealous patriots and they must never sleep too deep
Thomas got deported from England for trashing his American passport and he headed for Washington.
"They just pushed me through the doors at Customs and said 'welcome to America'." Thomas feels that he is a man without a country because he believes that the United States nuclear policy is dangerous.
Thomas joined Connie in 1981 and the 24-hour anti-nuclear vigil started.
Enter Norman Mayer.
Mayer paid Connie a-penney-a-piece to pass out his anti-nuke literature. Norman, who was nearing seventy years, became o father figure to the anti-nuke movement. He stood up for them in court and he had a plan he would not reveal. A plan to get the world's attention on the nuke issue. A faster plan. He watched and he helped.
Thomas had gone on a 57-day hunger strike. Norman talked him out of that with a bouquet of roses. Thomas was dying on the sidewalk and Norman brought roses and said he had a better way to get the world's attention than to die.
On Dec. 8, 1982, Connie and Thomas were arrested one more time. Norman returned from a trip and found them gone. It was time for Norman to do (in his mind) the one great heroic act for his dialogue on freedom, truth and the meaning of life.

"The main point I'm trying to make," he says, "is that the earth is a unit, it's a whole thing. It is not compartmentalized. And what people do is divide this unit up with imaginary lines. This is not productive...they fight wars over land they do not own. The only thing you actually own is your own life...
"I can clearly see that there are many different concepts of reality, but a concept of reality doesn't change the actual reality. There is a real plane and an imaginary plane, and when we live in the imaginary [plane it causes chaos"-and that, he says, is why the world is in the mess it is in: festering with war, crime, cruelty, starvation, poverty, oppression and assorted petty personal problems."
Thomas says there's only one reason he bothers to talk to people: to provoke them into thinking about the existence of God, "because if they believe there is no justice beyond what we can see in one lifetime, then the rule of the earth will continue to be Might is Right - and it isn't." To him, God is reason.
He said the purpose of life "is to acquire wisdom and attain moral perfection."
To that end, he embarked on an odyssey six years ago, leaving behind a wife and a New Mexico jewelry business, to experience life and find out what is true and what is not.
At the time, he was studying the Bible, and he found himself preoccupied with the notion that money is the root of all evil."I had a house, three cars, bank accounts, insurance policies and I thought: I have all these things, these 'rewards',and yet the Bible tells me I am not living the right way...And I thought, if that was true - if money led to evil, and if you need money to live - then the syllogism followed that evil is necessary, which was not palatable to me."
So he set out to see if he could live without money or jobs, in order to prove that money was unnecessary. "To tell the truth," he says, I had some anxieties. I was leaving my wife behind. I said, "Is this rational? Are you sane? But I had to test this out. And I knew that if I found it to be true, then the world was living a radically irrational existence."
Thomas' journey took him to New York where he worked for a week as a carpenter to make enough money for a one way ticket to Casablanca. From there he walked on foot to Cairo. He had no money.
"There were days I went without food," he says, and in six months I did sleep outside for about six weeks. But otherwise food and shelter were just provided. I never asked anybody for anything. I had a blanket over my shoulder and the clothes I was wearing: that was all. People would just come up to me and say, "Where are you going? That's a long way. Where are you sleeping? Come with me." They asked me, they frequently asked me what I needed. I never asked."
He returned to the United States for a time, working as a dispatcher for a cab company and as a stone carver. Then he resumed his journey. Over several years, he said, he traveled back and forth across Europe. HE found himself last year in London, where he was jailed for several months after overstaying his visa. Eventually the authorities deported him to the United States. He arrived last October at Kennedy National Airport, where he had to be forcibly removed from the plane. "I was dragged into the customs office," he says, "where I was told I was now in America and free to go where I pleased."
The seed to that ordeal was a decision he had made in London months before: He no longer wished to be an American citizen. In the course of his wanderings, he had come the conclusion that the United States was contributing to the destruction of the earth and exploiting its inhabitants. Therefore, for him to advise others not to fight over land and exploit one another, while he was benefiting from the American passport, seemed hypocritical to him. Association with a country whose ideals he loved but while practices he abhorred was inconsistent with his goal of attaining moral perfection.
So he had taken the waterproof wallet containing his union cards, his social security card, and his passport and had thrown it into a lake in Hyde Park, England. "I assumed," he says, that there was nothing wrong with throwing away my passport because I knew myself to be a free man... Then I decided I would walk back to the Mideast, but when I got to Dover, I was arrested...
"I argued that I couldn't have a visa, because I didn't have a passport, for reasons I have already explained. Additionally, visas are designed to control populations, and since I was leaving the country, I was no threat to the population...They had no right to tell me I had to be an American. It is not for anyone else to decide who I am; it is for me to decide..."
Thomas has written down his thoughts and his experiences, an account that exceeds 300 pages. In March, he telephoned the Soviet Embassy here, saying he had a manuscript dealing with the conflict between America's ideals and its practices and asking if the Soviet embassy was interested. He says he has no sympathy for communism, but thought he'd try to communicate his ideas on this through another channel. When he arrived at the embassy, he met with V. Doroshenko, the third secretary in the information department.
According to Thomas, he and Doroshenko exchanged ideas, and Doroshenko asked if there was anything the embassy could do for Thomas, who told Doroshenko he was interested in peace. Thomas said Doroshenko then told him that the Russians too, were interested in peace. "And then I told him," Thomas recalled, "that I thought this mutual buildup of nuclear weapons had to do with mutual fear between the two nations. And he said yes, he thought that was true. And then I told him that in order to prove that Americans had nothing to ___ of the Russians, I wanted to surrender myself to the Soviet Union. He said, "You don't have to do that," and I said that nevertheless I would. He said, "You cannot, and I said, "I will. I am not leaving. So they had me removed by the police."
Doroshenko confirmed that the meeting took place and confessed to having been puzzled by Thomas' calm refusal to abandon the idea of surrender. "I told him," said Doroshenko, that he would have to go to the chancery first if he wanted to go to the Soviet Union, but he wouldn't move, so what could I do?
The young scriptwriter with the curly hair who had stopped hours before to ask Thomas what he stood for had been preceded by an old man with no hair who was carrying a lot of newspapers under his arms. "What is this about?" he asked. The papers flapped under his arms like wings. Thomas answered: "Wisdom and peace." The old man's mouth fell open. Then he walked away, shaking his head vigorously, and saying, "You never let up do you?"
Thomas thanked him