Part-time Student,
Full-time Protester

Robin White Studies, Sleeps, Speaks Mind on Nuclear Arms at Lafayette Park

by Dana Thomas
American University Eagle Staff Writer
February 1, 1988

Another cold, blustery day in Washington The temperature, according to WTOP News Radio is 30 degrees. The wind is harsh and stinging. Offices overlooking Lafayette Park are warm sanctuaries for the working upper and middle class of Washington. Below the office windows are homeless begging for food and money. Tourists line up in front of the White House for their family album photo. And ever faithful protesters hold their vigil for the elimination of nuclear armaments.

Among the many long-haired, bearded, middle-aged protesters is a young, passionate, friendly fellow named Robin White. He's in his early 20s, has a soft beard and dirty blond hair that desperately needs to be cut. Since he is outside all day long, he's dressed warmly, wearing a wool jacket, flannel shirt, jeans, boots and yellow knit gloves. The only time he spends inside on these cold winter days is when he attends classes at AU.

"I pretty much made my schedule to suit my time out here at the vigil," said White, a junior studying education. "I have classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and come out here the rest of the week."

White has a button on his jacket which reads "Do we fear our enemies more than we love our children?" It's his favorite button. White says that the statement explains why he is in front of the White House day after day, protesting the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Our main focus is on nuclear disarmament," he said. "You have to realize your own life and what you do to others. Peace on earth really starts with the individual. We're here to spread that message."

White left his hometown of Pittsburgh in 1985 to come to Washington and attend AU. He spent his freshman year living on campus in McDowell Hall, but now insists that he really "hated" the dormitory life.

"Some people think I'm crazy for living in the park," said White. "I think it's more insane living up there (in the dorms) than it is living down here (in the park)."

After his freshman year, White moved off campus and got a summer job with Ralph Nader's U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"I wanted to support myself and feel good about myself." White said, looking down at the snow-covered grass, deep in thought. Suddenly, he sat up on the park bench. slapped his hands down on his lap and laughed. "Looking back. I guess I should have had a back-up plan."

After only four days of canvassing the public for the Nader group, White was unceremoniously fired. "I think that I earned about$3 the last day I worked for them. And we were supposed to average something like $75."

Now, be didn't know what to do. He was out of a job yet he needed money to pay the rent for his room In a house He wanted to stay in Washington rather than go back home to Pittsburgh. He knew that he wanted to continue school in the fall. But it was only June. He didn't know which way to turn.

"I Started feeling sorry for myself," he said, as he fidgitted with his gloves. His breath turned to steam in the air. '1 used to come down here to the vigil to hear what they had to say about nuclear weapons. Now I was coming down here to talk about

In early June 1986, White made his decision. He gave up the off-campus housing he had lived in for one month and moved to the vigil in Lafayette Park.

"I really liked it beret" He gave the park a whirlwind glance and smiled. "Here, they live the way they want to live and say what they want to say."

White decided to continue attending classes at AU while holding the vigil in front of the White House. He was studying political science, but has since changed his major to education.

" I really think that education is important," White explained. ''College is one type of education. Living is another. In this world, you really need a college degree. It is the ticket that really helps you succeed."

White carries 15 to 16 credits each semester, and although he's not on the Dean's List, he expects to graduate in Spring 1989. He types his papers in the computer center, studies in the library and catnaps in the commuter lounge of Mary Graydon Center.

"I try to study out here sometimes, but it doesn't work too well in the winter " he said. "My hands get too cold. I lived out here last semester though, and I could study in September and October when it was warm. "

White says that his parents, who still live in Pittsburgh, support his decision to live outside and protest nuclear armament.

"When I first moved out here, my mother supported me but was afraid for my well-being," White said.

However, his father, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, did not take the news so well.

"My father thought I was going crazy. I mean, he really thought I was crazy," he said. "But he was willing to support me as long as I was going to college.

Now, after one and a half years, White believes that his parents understand his commitment.

White is rather destresed today. Four protesters, including the vigil founder William Thomas, were arrested yesterday for "camping' in LaFayette Park. . White says that his colleagues were arrested because they fell asleep in the park where the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Vigil is held.

"The charges are for camping, which is against park regulations," White said. "The police decided that sleeping was camping and arrested them. We think that it violates our First Amendment rights. We took it to court and lost. Now they are in jail for 60 days."

So, the vigil is half-staff for now. Six or seven protesters stand out in the cold, wrapped in blankets and explain to tourists and anyone else who will listen that nuclear arms are a threat to society. There are small billboards lined up along Pennsylvania Avenue facing the White House, spelling out in hand-painted words the dangers of nuclear war to current and future generations.

"I made the red sign over there," White says. "It says, 'Do unto others as they would do unto you.' I feel that is really appropriate.

White painted the sign red in a back alley Living is somewhere in Washington. He it with pictures he got out of magazines he found in the trash. Some of the pictures are worn from the weather. White wants to replace them. He also vents to build a wagon, cover is with prophecies of peace and pull it around Lafayette Park in the summer to collect recyclable garbage from picnickers. He Staff not there just to protest nuclear arms, but to help society in general.

"Action is a lot better than words," White said. "You have to be patient and you have to be caring. "

The protesters not only inform the public on the dangers of nuclear war. They help the homeless. In the winter, they distribute blankets and offer hot coffee to the street people. They offer conversation. They are a watchful eye for the homeless.

White wants to remind the public that no money is ever solicitated for their cause. The idea is to protest non-violently and inform the public of the dangers of nuclear war. Words are their only weapon against the status quo.

"Unfortunately, I don t think that the vigil is making any difference on the (presidential) administration," White said. "But I know that it's changed my life."