The Wichita Eagle
April 29, 1990
Keeping the faith on a D.C. sidewalk
I looked out of the side of my eye as we passed the bed on the sidewalk across the street from the White House. No, the man lying there couldn't be he, I concluded.
For some reason I always had pictured William Thomas, co-founder of the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil as a larger man. This man was of medium build.
A woman was with him who might be Ellen, Thomas' wife, but I'd never seen a picture of her.
We walked on down the sidewalk.
I was looking, now, for Song.
A young man was bent over a yogurt container, scooping some of its contents into a dish. I asked if he'd seen my old friend from Wichita.
The young man raised up, and there he was! Song!
After we'd chatted for a few minutes, I asked him if Thomas—as everyone calls William Thomas— were about. Yes, he said, and he led us back up the sidewalk.
It turned out the couple we first had seen were the Thomases, accompanied by their handsome dog, "Midnight"
Midnight had had a song written about him, Song said, and I made a mental note to learn what that was someday.
For now, I was more concerned with how the Peace Park vigilers had been faring. I was pleased to see Song had put on a little weight since I'd seen him last.
Rights trampled (literally)
The vigilers' welfare is of particular concern to me because I've always regarded their lonely watch as keeping alive the First Amendment rights of all of us.
We who work on establishment newspapers sometimes rant and rave about our First Amendment rights being trampled. On the sidewalk in front of Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, "trampled" takes on a whole new meaning
The vigilers' signs have been stolen, busted up and carted away. They themselves have been beaten, roughed up and verbally abused. Their character has been slandered and their mental stability called into question.
They have been unjustly imprisoned and harassed.
All this by the government that's supposed to be upholding their right to that "freedom of speech" guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution!
Consider that the vigilers believe they are called of God to witness thus against what they call the potential of "nuclear genocide," and the government's strong-arm tactics become especially outrageous.
The vigilers' gentle faith and determination often are remarked upon by the courts before which the accused are brought—much to the consternation of federal prosecutors.
Standing up for beliefs
"The defendant and others who are maintaining vigils in Lafayette Park may be eccentric but they have stood up day and night for their beliefs in spite of repeated arrests and convictions and the dangers encountered when sleeping unprotected from the weather and other perils that lurk in the middle of a city at night"
So said the judge in the case of United States vs. Sunrise (that being the name taken by another of the Peace Park vigilers).
In instance after instance, similar language is used by judges who know well what the First Amendment is about.
Still the harassment continues, and still the Park Service and District police haul one or more of the vigilers in from time to time. He or she either spends a night in jail and the charges are dropped, or wholly spurious charges are filled.
Though Sunrise was convicted of "camping" illegally in Lafayette Park, one of the Park Service's National Capital Parks, a 64 page brief produced by Thomas from his pile of belongings on the sidewalk denied it.
The petition for a writ of certiorari, prepared on behalf of the Thomases and Concepcion Picciotto, another Peace Park vigiler, said: "Throughout the period covered by this complaint petitioners have done little more than think, act harmlessly to express thought and occasionally, fall asleep."
Thomas and Concepcion started the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil on June 3, 1981. In time, they were joined by others, Sunrise and Song among them.
Song attended East High, Bethany College and Kansas State University before moving East three years ago.
He returns to Wichita to visit his parents from time to fume, and while he's here, often engages in charitable works. The last time he was here, he did volunteer work for Trees for Life.
Each of the vigilers has his or her own particular focus, though they all work together in the larger cause of world peace.
William and Ellen Thomas currently are working, with the others, to see what they call Proposition 1 placed on state ballots nationwide by 1992. The proposition calls on the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union to dismantle their nuclear warheads by the year 2000 and to make a good faith effort to eliminate war. It also calls for the economic conversion of both countries' war machines into peacetime industries within three years.
I wished my friends luck as I signed the petition—and silently prayed God would protect them until the next time we meet on the sidewalks of D.C.
Editor of The Editorial Page