Friday, September 15, 2000

Les presidents americains passent... Conchita reste (REPORTAGE)

Les presidents am�ricains passent...
Conchita reste (REPORTAGE)

EAF.TMF.ELU I EMI 150900-04h33 w0593
Agence France Presse

WASHINGTON, 15 sept (AFP) - Il n'est pas un jour ou sa silhouette menue, encadr�e de deux panneaux contre "les armes de destruction de masse", ne soit visible a 50 metres des fen�tres de la Maison Blanche. Tant�t assise, discutant avec des �cureuils, tantot debout expliquant sa cause aux passants.

Depuis bient�t 20 ans, Concepcion Martin Piccioto, "Conchita", sans-abri d'une soixantaine d'ann�es, vit sur deux metres carr�s de trottoir devant la Maison Blanche, d'ou elle expose inlassablement ses id�es.

Elle a �t� la voisine impertinente de Ronald et Nancy Reagan, George et Barbara Bush, Hillary, Chelsea et Bill Clinton.

Vagabonde militante, Conchita esp�re ainsi r�veiller le pr�sident et les citoyens sur les dangers qui les guettent.

"Le monde entier dolt savoir. Je ne quitterai jamais cet endroit", explique l�trange femrne a la peau burin�e et l�norme perruque fabriqu�e par un ami pour la "prot�ger".

"Les armes nucl�aires. Hiroshima. La plan�te bleue au bord du gouffre. La corruption des dirigeants". Elle r�p�te inlassablement les m�mes themes aux Japonais, Isra�liens, moines tib�tains et autres touristes de passage, venus sextasier devant la maison de l'homme le plus puissant du monde.

"D'ou �tes-vous? Br�silien?', demande-t-elle, tendant un prospectus dans la langue appropride. 'Nous navons pas besoin de davantage de catastrophes (. . .) ni de guerres", explique-t-elle a des Japonais tr�s int�ress�s par les photos de victimes d'Hiroshima �pingl�es sur lun des panneaux.

'Vous en avez assez, avec les inondations que vous venez d'avoir au Japon", ajoute Conchita, qui lit assidüment les journaux.

Mme Martin ne s'int�resse pas beaucoup en revanche a l'�lection pr�sidentielle, m�me si du scrutin depend l'identit� de son prochain voisin: "ils sont tous pareils, m�me Ralph Nader", le candidat des Verts:

"Corrompus", affirme-t-elle.

Dans une autre vie, l'Espagnole naturalis�e Arn�ricaine avait "travaill� comme interpr�te pour les Nations unies et pour le bureau commercial de lambassade espagnole".

En 1981, un divorce douloureux a conduit Conchita a changer radicalement de vie et a s'installer sur son trottoir au 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, a Washington.

A New York, Salvador Betancourt, un college de lambassade espagnole, se souvient d'elle : "elle est arriv�e en 1966 (. . .) comme r�ceptionniste, c'�tait une fille tr�s s�rieuse, tr�s bien mise et efficace. A l'�poque, elle ne s'int�ressait pas trop aux questions rnondiales", se souvient-il.

Conchita refuse aujourd'hui de quitter sa "maison' faite de b�ches et de panneaux militants. 'Elle reste environ 16 heures par jour", confirme un policier. "En vertu du code des r�glementations f�d�rales, article 36, qui r�git la manifestation solitaire, elle a le droit de rester l�, si elle respecte certaines r�gles', ajoute-t-il.

Les coll�gues du policier post�s aux alentours ne regardent m�me plus la militante, comme on ignore une statue trop longtemps apercue.

"Je suis l� cornine Jeanne d'Arc: c'est tr�s dur, mais il faut aller de lavant', dit-elle.

La nuit, Conchita voit les lumi�res de la fontaine et du jardin pr�sidentiel s'�teindre une a une vers onze heures, puis dort entre ses affiches, sur une planche bringuebalante, mi-assise, ml couch�e "parce que lon a pas le droit de faire du camping" devant la Maison Blanche.

Selon elle, aucun pr�sident nest jamais venu la saluer.

mck/bd/mf eaf.tmf

Thursday, August 17, 2000

Lone Woman on a Relentless Anti-Nuclear Crusade

| POLITICS-US: Lone Woman on a Relentless Anti-Nuclear Crusade

By Anna Blackden, Inter Press Service (IPS), August 17, 2000

WASHINGTON, Aug 16 (IPS) - Day and night for 20 years Concepcion Picciotto has occupied a small slab of pavement across from the White House, braving the wind, rain, police harassment and abuse from passers-by.
Connie, as her friends call her, has been keeping an unshaken, round-the-clock vigil for world peace and nuclear disarmament since 1981 when Ronald Reagan first entered the White House as president. In November another president will be voted in and Connie will still be on her personal crusade to free the world from nuclear threat.
"I will stay until whatever it takes to stop the bombing and the proliferation of nuclear weapons ... I am sacrificing a lot and enduring a lot," says Picciotto. "But it's worth it."
Her daily battle for survival and acceptance is in sharp contrast to the lives of her neighbours on Pennsylvania Avenue, the President and First Lady of the United States, Bill and Hilary Clinton. The first couple wield enormous power and influence from a secure and comfortable 200 year-old, 132-roomed, white-washed mansion.
For nearly two decades and through three different presidents, 55- year-old Picciotto has seen policies such as Ronald Reagan's Star Wars, the signing in 1996 of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and now Clinton's recently proposed 60-billion-dollar nuclear defence shield.
Three months after Picciotto set up her protest camp in January I 981, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed the Star Wars program. Reagan's proposal was to build a missile defence system that would protect the United States from nuclear attack.
Clinton's National Missile Defence system, which also seeks to protect the United States from nuclear threat could be ready for deployment in 2005. It may be ready for construction when a new president, the 43rd in US history, takes office.
By 1995 the Clinton administration had amassed more than 3,000 Trident nuclear warheads the world's largest arsenal, pointed towards a long list of global targets.
According to Vancouver-based anti-nuclear activist FH Knelman in an article for the Peacemagazine, the United States does not want nuclear disarmament, "it wants nuclear supremacy".
Knelman notes that while in 1994 the US defence budget was 285 billion dollars, the Soviet Union was spending 77 billion dollars on its war machinery while the combined budgets of Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria totalled 9 billion dollars.
"Action must be taken in order to reduce and eliminate the danger posed to humanity by this nuclear madness," says Picciotto.
Picciotto founded the White House Peace Vigil when she arrived in 1981. She refers to herself as "a witness" for the people and strongly believes her vigil has had a global impact - approximately 6,000 visitors a day descend on the White House, many see her holding up her placards.
"People from all over the world say to me we saw you on TV, they have heard my message ... it makes me feel very satisfied that the people are reached and that they then think about the issue for themselves."
But her existence here is not easy. Her presence opposite the White House is a source of irritation and annoyance to the federal authorities. Since she arrived on the block in 1981, the National Parks Service has enacted an impressive array of rules and regulations that restrict her ability to protest.
Picciotto 's colourful protest signs cannot exceed 6 feet in height, the pavement directly in front of the White House is barred from demonstrations (which is why she was forced "across the street" in 1983).
She is also not allowed to lay down at night to sleep in her makeshift camp as that is considered illegal camping - an offence for which she has been arrested "about seven or eight times, though it is hard to keep track over the years"' she says.
It is these restrictions on her freedom that she describes as "torture" and which she wishes to see lifted. While the First Amendment of the US constitution guarantees her freedom of speech these regulations limit how far she can be heard.
Concepcion Picciotto is a tiny woman, no more than 5 feet tall, well presented, highly articulate in English, despite a noticeable Spanish accent which gives away a background far removed from her life as the "protestor-in-residence" at the home of the US President.
She was born in Vigo, Spain. She emigrated to the United States at the age of 18 and says she worked in New York at the Spanish consulate. Picciotto fell in love with an Italian businessman she married at 21.

However, a bitter separation and custody battle cost her a home, her daughter and her job. There began a legal fight that was to lead her to Washington DC where she sought help from her Congressman. Unsuccessful, she took the fight to the gates of the White House.
There she became acquainted with other demonstrators, notably her friend William Thomas (who had begun protesting the previous year) and who influenced her to protest against nuclear arms.
The guards at the White House gate refer to her as a "regular", tolerant of her passive unthreatening protest. When contacted, White House officials did not have a comment.
If she could have five minutes with her new neighbour, the new US president to be elected in November she would tell him that the United States must "lead the way in nuclear disarmament, get
the whole world to stop testing nuclear weapons, stop the bombing in Iraq and lift the embargo."
She says she will be here until the world is safe enough for her to stop her protest. With the US nuclear defence shield already undergoing tests and other nuclear powers threatening to escalate nuclear build-ups, she may be here for a very long time.

Thursday, June 15, 2000

Washington Times - White House protester undaunted for nearly 20 years

White House protester undaunted
for nearly 20 years

Washington Times, Thursday, June 15, 2000, Tom Knott

Concepcion Picciotto lives in protest across from the White House, inhabiting a slab of sidewalk by Lafayette Park.
She has not been there forever it only seems that way.

Mrs. Picciotto, a native of Vigo,Spain, is nearing her 20th year along this closed-off portion of Pennsylvania Avenue. Her message, directed to the principal occupant of the White House, is simple: Stop the nuclear madness.

Bill Clinton does not respond, not unlike those before him, and so, Mrs. Picciotto, one voice one remarkably persistent voice is bound to this part of the city, ever committed to the cause. She is unbowed.
"What makes me tired is the same people who can't come to heir senses ' she says on this sunny, pleasant afternoon.

Mrs. Picciotto, 55, came to the United States in 1964 to work as a secretary with the Spanish Consulate in New York City. She lived her version of the American Dream in those years. She had a job and eventually a husband, a daughter and a home. But the marriage went sour, and a protracted divorce and custody fight ensued.

By 1980, Mrs. Picciotto was working and living in Washington, pleading her legal case on Capitol Hill and then finally on the most well-known artery in the city.

It wasn't long, as she came to know other protesters at the White House, that she adopted the anti-nuclear effort. She says she became an unofficial part of the landscape in front of the White House on Jan. 1,1981.

Her only move, from the White House side of Pennsylvania Avenue to the Lafayette Park side, was prompted by the National Park Service in 1983.

So now, 17 years later, she sits in the same spot, reading, painting and handing out fliers to passers-by while championing a cause. Squirrels and pigeons keep Mrs. Picciotto company. They stay at her side in exchange for the occasional peanut.

"What is the future of our children?" Mrs. Picciotto says. "People have to come to their senses, to think twice before engaging in confrontations."

Mrs. Picciotto is amiable, well spoken, easy on those who attempt to make conversation with her. A tourist suggests it would be nice to have a snapshot taken with her. Would she mind? Why, no. Of course not. She smiles for the camera.

Mrs. Picciotto says the winter months can be particularly hard. On some nights, the cold, no matter how many layers of clothing, cuts to her bones. And still she stays, looking to be heard, refusing to go away.

"Bill Clinton is too busy with Monica to pay attention to what I'm doing," she says.

No one seems put off by Mrs. Picciotto's makeshift camp, notably the U.S. Park Police officers milling around their cruisers parked on Pennsylvania Avenue. Her two plywood signs pass the legal requirements.

Even free speech has its limits across from the White House, the limits being no more than two signs per person and no sign taller than 6 feet.

Shouting is permitted, as one middle-aged man makes clear along Pennsylvania Avenue before he turns right onto East Executive Park. He is wearing a white T-shirt with the words "Salvation for Satan" emblazoned on it. He is shouting his thanks to the uniformed representatives of the U.S. government for granting him free speech.

At least one, a park police officer, smiles and says, "You're welcome."

For Mrs. Picciotto, free speech is a lifestyle.

"We have to do this," she says, referring to herself and cohort William Thomas. "The situation is getting worse by the day. We need education, jobs and housing for the poor."

They maintain a post office box and an Internet site (

As perhaps the city's truest believer, Mrs. Picciotto braves the elements, the gawkers, the loss of privacy and God only knows what else on this stretch of pavement.

At night, when the avenue is empty and dark and the park fills with characters of questionable repute, does she ever question her devotion to the cause?

"No, she says simply .
Is she ever scared?

"There is the threat right there," she says, pointing to the White House. "There is the danger."