October 11,1984


Surveillance of the White House:

A "Petition in Hieroglyph"
by Ed Powell

Norman Mayer's soul goes marching on, though his body was killed by a Washington SWAT team on Dec. 9, 1981. Norman's two friends, Thomas and Connie, kept his message alive through a 24 hour vigil in front of the White House. Norman's leaflets turned into huge signs, "As an Act of Sanity Ban Nuclear Weapons," Or " Have a Nice Doomsday", and took on new content: "Live by the Bomb. Die by the Bomb."

During the first year (1982-83) Robert joined the vigil as a permanent member; a handful of others came, later left. Now the vigil is up to a hardcore of 12 members who live in Lafayette Park, proving you can not only survive but flourish without money if you have friends.

Thus a new community is sprouting in the very center of the nation's capital. The homeless are creating a home for themselves, in defiance of law and social pressure. "WHITE HOUSE Officials DESTROY PROTEST SIGNS" runs an Associated Press story of June 24, 1984 but a week later still more signs had grown. Visiting dignitaries in the White House could thus look out on the rabble, perhaps ask embarrassing questions. "The signs", say; the AP, "were clearly visible from the north portico of the White and from the Windows of the State floor, used for official parties and state dinners" (Buffalo News, 6/24/84).

On August 6, The Washington Times ran a page 1 story, "SIGNS TAKING ROOT IN LAFAYETTE PARK". The Times explained how the number and size of the signs had grown since last year's effort to regulate them, and quoted a White House staffer: "They look horrible...My little nieces and nephews come to visit Washington and when they went back to upstate New York that's all they talked about" (Washington Times August 6, 1984).

Understandably, kids Like life - and Washington is mostly made up of dead stone. In Lafayette Park people are beginning to talk to each other and play guitars; men take off their shirts...


runs a New York Times story of September 7, 1984. To the Times the vigil had a look, of permanence. A speakers platform, on wheels with amplified sound, was there - and anyone could step up and speak. WOW. AN OPEN MIKE in the park only 100 yards away from the home of Ron and Nancy Reagan!

"It's just an arrangement of senseless words and graffiti across from the White House", said a University of Virginia student. (Washington Times, August 6, 1984).

"Will Ron and Nancy become a 20th century version of Louis XVI and Marie Antonette?"

Precisely. Real intelligence is required to read the meaning of the Norman Mayer Vigil, or Lafayette Park. Will Reagan and his people be able to decode the message? Or will Ron and Nancy become a 20th century version of Louis XVI and Marie Antonette.

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (1957), described the "waste multitudes" who, on May 2, 1775 congregated at the palace with their wretchedness, sallow faces, squalor as if . . . a legible hieroglyphic writing a petition of Grievances." King Louis appeared on the balcony, looked at their "petition", even if he did not read it, and for an answer had two of the multitude hanged from a new gallows forty feet high. "The rest". says Carlisle, were "driven back to their dens"-- for a time."

But, as we now know, they returned and took over in 1789.

Mr. Powell is a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo-ED.

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