Monday, April 4, 2005

Protesting for peace

Protesting for peace

Spanish immigrant calls sidewalk home in decades-long showdown with White House

by Jason Kane and Nicole Wetherell
Hatchet Reporters

Concepcion Picciotto has become a local and national celebrity in her 24 years of protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Media Credit: David Ediger
Concepcion Picciotto has become a local and national celebrity in her 24 years of protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.
In the early-morning light flooding the sidewalks of Lafayette Park, Concepcion Picciotto rises stiffly from her rustic encampment of protest. Peering intensely back at tourists who gawk at her from all angles of Pennsylvania Avenue, Picciotto, flyers in hand, braces for another day of heated controversy.

For nearly 25 years, Picciotto has enacted the same routine within the shadow of the White House, willingly subjecting herself to both scathing public criticism and the harsh Washington weather in support of peace and nuclear disarmament.

Having been labeled everything from a prophet to a public pest, she has resigned herself to the name-calling, basking instead in the notoriety attained from her short appearance in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the belief that many Americans find comfort in her unfaltering presence in the park.

Picciotto's six-foot-tall signs, which evolve in accordance with world affairs, tower over her small frame, ensuring that the message preached in her soft, heavily accented voice is clear to all who pass.

"Stay the course and this will happen to you," warns one sign bearing pictures of bloodied corpses. "Give peace a chance." The small, wrinkled woman stands defiantly under them, ready to preach about the need for better education in America ("Americans are ignorant people. They're lazy. They've never suffered."), or the dangers of nuclear war.

Shortly after the vigil's conception in 1981, massive versions of the current signs dominated the north gate of the White House, covering approximately three-fourths of the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue. Laws enacted to prevent such behavior have since limited Picciotto to her current allotment, a process that has forced her across the street from her original location and subjected her to what she describes as a never-ending barrage of harassment, citations and legal trials.

"The government makes many rules which are in violation of the Constitution by limiting the size and number of my signs. I have been arrested a number of times, I have been beaten by marines, accosted by police. It's very difficult," she says in a low whisper.

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