Daily Express (Malaysia) - Sunday, Sept 19, 1993
A Woman's Round-the-Clock Peace VigilJames Sarda
Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. is home to two famous residents both located diagonally across the other.
One is the most powerful man on earth who exercises great influence from a secure and comfortable white-washed 18th century mansion.
The other is a woman who braves the wind, rain, sun and snow in a lonely rount-the-clock street vigil alerting people to the horrors of weapons and nuclear war.
She also rails against all that her neighbour stands for, decrying what she calls 'inconsistencies of the American government to peoples of other nations.'
A helmet that caps her puny 46-year-old frame is her only protection in life.
Although technically homeless, Concepcion Picciotto has won so far in staying power at least.
She has outlasted two of the mansion's occupants - Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
"Since sitting here 13 years ago, I have seen leaders the world over enter the 'madhouse' over there," she said pointing to White house across the street.
"I suspect what they discuss most of the time behind those doors is buying weapons," says Picciotto.
She was sitting atop a milk crate on the small sidewalk space which has been her home ever since she decided to demonstrate for a living on Aug. 1, 1981.
She decided taking her protest to the gates of the White House which draws millions of visitors yearly to be the most effective way of getting her message across.
"People must pressure their governments not to buy weapons anymore."
"There is just too much misery being caused by these.
What people everywhere need is better homes and jobs. yet governments are engaged in buying weapons to kill people."
Picciotto lacked kind words for both the Republican and Democrat presidents she has been sharing the neighbourhood with.
"There is no justice or democracy in what America practices. It is all propaganda and double standards.
"Look at the invasion of Panama, Grenada andour involvements in Nicaragua, Kuwait and Somalia.
"Look what happened to (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein. They labelled him crazy. But he was not crazy when he was working for the US.
"Those who challenge US injustices are labelled crazy, communist or anti-American.
"We also give Israel all those weapons and money and disregard the consequences.
"Israel enters Lebanon with these like Hitler did in Europe.
"What is the difference and why isn't anyone speaking about paying reparations to the Lebanese and Palestinians?"
"I am here to make a point. That the US is an evil empire covering up its actions under the veil of democracy," says Picciotto.
As if to make her opinion known to those who do not solicit it, she has a lapel badge that reads "They lie."
Picciotto is knowledgeable and savvy for a woman dedicated to spending her life trying to make her principles known.
Newspaper clippings of her by bisiting journalists from many countries and in various languages adorn her rack.
Professing to be acting on her own, she engaged in another round of America-bashing.
"The US imposes an embargo on nations it dislikes.
"Don't they realise that children and elders are dying from the denial of food and medicines.
"Yet we go about pretending to be samaritans?"
The United Nations, too, was not spared her ire.
"The UN has become a Trojan horse for America.
"The UN is supposed to be a peacemaker but is acting according to where the US is pushing it."
Picciotto came to her adopted homeland from Spain in 1964 and worked briefly in the UN and the Spanish Embassy.
She married an Italian businessman but it ended in divorce within 20 months.
He took away their own child, a daughter. What followed was seven-years of failed custody battles in both Spain and the US.
She yearns to see her daughter who should be 19 now, but is not pinning too much hope on it.
Picciotto also spoke of experiencing discrimination and abuse as a woman alone on the streets of Washington.
"I have been spat at by right wingers, gassed and arrested by police, have seen my signs destroyed and vandalised. But I will continue to be here until God decides it is time to stop."
In the beginning, Picciotto used to spend the day in front of the White House and nights at Lafayette Park just across the street.
However, the National Parks Service tightened the rules and drove the protestors from the corridors of the White House entrance area to the fringe of the park grounds.
In an effort to be rid of her and other protestors, more restrictions were imposed two years ago.
Each protestor is now allowed only two signs which cannot exceed more than six feet in height.
They were also disallowed from lying down as this would then be construed as camping, which is disallowed at the park.
As a result she sleeps an average of three hours daily in a sitting position on a milk crate, leaning against her signs.
One had pictures of a devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the Second World War plastered all over it.
"It is terrible during winter. I have to pace up and down the sidewalk in order not to freeze to death.
"Plastic sheets and blankets provide her with the only warmth during these cold moments."
She is away from her site only when she needs to bathe at a shelter for the homeless or use the toilet at a Hardees outlet nearby.
She usually arranges for a sympathetic volunteer to guard the site when this arises.
She runs out of luck at times when it comes to using the toilet. "Many times it hurt my stomach but I just have to bear it."
Neither does she believe in going to any prayer house.
"I believe in God but not in religious organisations because they are all corrupt.
"Besides, I do not have to enter a special building to pray to God because he is everywhere."
Although she does not solicit funds, passers-by and tourtists do provide a little cash sometimes which she uses to make more copies of her anti-nuclear messages.
In return these tourists receive her "peace rocks" with a white dove painted on them.
A vegetarian, Picciotto feeds on bread crumbs delivered free by a bakery to homeless people in the area five days a week.
Will she give up her cause if persuaded by the President?
"Unlikely, But if he has anything to say to me as his neighbour he must come to this spot. I will want our discussion to be in the open."
Picciotto also has a postal address that was arranged by a sympathiser.
It is: White House Anti Nuke, Peace Vigil, P.O. Box 4931, Washington, D.C. 20008