By Kathleen Tyman

The new, carefully painted signs on the White House fence read "Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty," among other noble but obscure demands. They are the property of William Thomas, one of three self appointed protesters- in- residence.

Thomas and Concepcion Picciotto have been in their chosen spot on the sidewalk everyday for more than a year. Several, months ago, they were joined by Arthur Harris, 41.

Until last June,they kept a 24-hour-a-day vigil. After dark, they would unroll dirty bedding and curl up into a heap on the sidewalk, often joined by transients and other homeless folk.

But at 4 a.m. on June 17, the Park Police broke up these strange bedfellows, in compliance with a new regulation banning living accommodations in unauthorized locations, including "sleeping activities or ... the laying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping."

The police raided the small encampment and confiscated a dozen or so placards and ordered the inhabitants to leave.

The transients fled, but Thomas, Picciotto and Harris, who consider the sidewalk their home, held their ground and were arrested.

William Thomas, a bearded young man with scraggly hair and dirty jeans, looks like a leftover hippie. He says that how old he is and where he comes from are irrelevant.

His green eyes wander, but he speaks articulately about his philosophy of world citizenship and his adventures in attempting to practice it.

He says he has wandered across north Africa and much of Europe. challenging national boundaries and authorities by refusing to have anything to do with visas, travel permits or any other form of bureaucratic control over his movements.

He has spent time in jails in several countries, including seven months in England alter throwing away his American passport and ref using to cooperate with authorities.

Finally, he was deported to New York, and now he says he is being kept illegally in this country. He doesn't want to be here, but he cannot leave because he refuses to get another passport. It is to protest that injustice that he has spent 15 months in front of the White House.

Conception Picciotto is there because "I just want to be heard." She is a small woman in her early 40s with gentle eyes and soft voice, and she pulls from her bag of carefully kept papers a picture of herself in a previous life, dressed in an evening gown, her hair beautifully coiffeured, in a comfortable apartment in New York which used to be her home.

She tells of a husband and an 8-year-old daughter, a job she once had at the Spanish Embassy, a "respectable life" that disintegrated into a homeless wandering that ended last August in front of the White House. She has been there ever since.

Friends at the Center for Creative Non-violence, sponsors of a drop-in center where Picciotto has sometimes eaten and showered, say she had a "breakdown." She tells of estrangement from her husband, a court's denial of her right to see her child, and of being "driven like a ping-pong ball" from place to place by police in her efforts to settle somewhere.

She wears a "helmet" on her head constructed of wigs and aluminum foil, which is to protect her from "short waves and gases" that she says the government is,directing at her. Arthur Harris' unwashed frightful appearance belies his gentle manner. He is the most taciturn of the fences family. there because "I couldn't find anyplace else to be." "The government is doing something to me or allowing somebody else to do it," he protests.

A former construction worker from San Antonio, Texas,'Harris, says he is no longer allowed to work. He plans to stay on the sidewalk "until my situation changes and I find out what the government is doing to me and why."

Since their arrest in June the three have been retreating after nightfall to the crannies of nearby buildings, tucking themselves inconspicuously into doorways or under arches. If they are discovered, the police chase them.

The case against Picciotto was dismissed because of a technicality brought up by.her government-appointed lawyer, Richard Lurye. Thomas and Harris were released and ordered to appear at a hearing in September. On Sept. 20, both were convicted by a magistrate of sleeping in an unauthorized location. Thomas got a 90- day suspended sentence. Harris, 45 days, also suspended. Both are under one year's probation not to violate any District regulation.

The new signs have multiplied since Thomas conviction. They seem to be his way of striking back.

The case against Thomas and Harris is being appealed to a District Court. Their lawyers say the case has a constitutional basis


For the poor and homeless. Lurye said. "sleeping becomes a form of symbolic speech. At the very least, (the regulation) is careless with respect to its impact on First Amendment rights, he said.

Also interested in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Creative Non-Violence..ln a case won by the center in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that demonstrators sleeping in the course of conducting their First Amendment rights do not constitute camping as prohibited by National Parks Service regulations. The Parks Service decided to more clearly define "camping," and thus the new regulation.

Concepcion Information List | Conchita Personal Story
Photographs | The President's Neighbor