Beaten, abused, living rough, they stand like some moral Maginot Line on a permanent White House peace vigil...
SPECIAL REPORT By COLIN McALPIN
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 Mayerwas 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