White House Peace Vigil
The placement of a Peace Memorial and Meditation site across the street from the White House, where the final descion to wage war is made, will serve as a constant reminder of the needs of the people, the futility of Nuclear War.
The Original Occupier It’s cold and dark and she’s there. It’s rainy and windy and she’s there. It’s hot and sweaty and she’s there. Winter, summer, spring and fall, she is there, occupying her spot on the sidewalk across the street from the White House. The original occupier, Concepcion Picciotto, the spiritual mother of the Occupation Movement, is still there maintaining her continuous peace vigil after 30 years. She began her vigil with her colleague William Thomas in 1981. William was an ardent peace activist who swam across the Suez Canal and walked across the Sinai Desert to halt the arms race. One day, he was deposited on the sidewalk across from the White House by police after he was arrested for his protests and released. It was William who finally prevailed in his free speech case before the Supreme Court which allowed the peace vigil to continue. Although some conditions were imposed such as a limiting the size and number of signs, the 24 hour a day vigil continued unabated. Mr. Thomas passed away in 2009, so Connie, as she likes to be called, has carried on alone. Huddled in a plastic hut that wouldn’t qualify as a tent, at 74 Connie is still passionate about her commitment to peace. She loves to stand in front of her hut talking to visitors about the dangers of nuclear war. Young people seem to be especially spell bound by her words as she points at the large wooden signs that flank her. The signs are crammed with newspaper articles, information and photos depicting the carnage caused by nuclear weapons. Like most people, I was amazed that she could survive in a small, fragile hut consisting of nothing more than a few sticks carefully placed into concrete blocks that support the large plastic sheet. It kind of looks like an igloo except for the ice. There is no door, just a small entrance way which she seals up with large binder clips when she sleeps. Somehow, she fits a small chair, a pallet with a sleeping mat, a couple of milk crates filled with her papers and her bicycle in there. The only heat source is a candle. During the three months I spent at Occupy Washington D.C. on Freedom Plaza, I often visited Connie and got to know a little about her life. She is a pretty private person and is reluctant to talk about herself. However, over time, she told me a couple of stories that she gave me permission to share. Last winter, she told me she fell asleep in her chair in the doorway of her little hut. It started to snow. When she woke up she was buried up to her neck in the snow. She couldn't move. Snow plows passed by and created a huge mound in front of her. People walked by on the street, the Secret Service continued their watch across the street. She couldn't move, she struggled to get up but couldn't. She tried to shout for help but no one heard her. She wiggled and twisted in her seat. She kicked with her feet, eventually poking a whole through the snow bank. Finally, she slid out on to the street through the tunnel she dug with her feet. This past fall, Hurricane Irene hit Washington, DC. The trees around Connie twisted and groaned. As the wind howled, Connie sat in her hut buffeted by the winds. But she didn't move. A large tree fell to her right taking out a wrought iron fence. On her left a big branch cracked and broke landing just yards away. Connie stayed put, praying in her chair. As she prayed, the guards across the street dived for cover. The winds picked up the metal barriers and flung them around the street in front of her. She prayed some more. Although the winds swirled around her, they did not move her hut, they hardly ruffled the plastic sheet she clutched around her. The miracle she prayed for wrapped her in its love and the hurricane passed by. The weather is not the only trial that Connie has endured in her 30 year vigil. Insensitive, insulting people have harassed her and tried to frighten her during the night, someone poisoned the little dog that kept her company and even the Secret Service sometimes finds nothing better to do than tell Connie not to accept the small donations that people throw in her can and force her to put the can away. Several D.C. occupiers have taken on maintaining the vigil while Connie takes a break. That is how I became acquainted with her. So, at least for now, she can go get warm, eat and take care of her personal business. However, if the National Park Service shuts the occupations in D.C. as they have threatened to do, Connie’s occupy support team may vanish. Although a frail figure bent by the weight of time, the spiritual power that emanates from her outshines all the bright lights and brilliant chandeliers that glow in the White House across the street. It is sad that not one president or any of their family has ever bothered to walk out the front door and meet her, or even wave from the grandiose foyer that stares down at her a hundred yards away. Maybe they would have learned something if they did. Something that will never be found anywhere else but in the heart of an occupier.
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