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."