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
She has not been there forever it only seems
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
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
They maintain a post office box and an Internet
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."