White House Protesters Don't Expect Big Change

The Atlanta Journal November 8,1992

Washington -- Concepcicion Picciotto has camped outside the White House 24 hours a day every day for 12 years to protest nuclear arms. She wants it to be known straight off that, new president or not, she's not going anywhere. "Changing the presiderd won't do anything,' Ms. Picciotto said mournfully after the election, "It's like a chess game; you just move the pieces."

The small Spanish-born uoman, her head covered in a thick blackkwig, and a large babushka, spends her days direcrtly across from the White House door, on the edge of Lafayette Park.

President Bush has never crossed Pennsylvania Avenue to meet her, and her attitude toward presidents in general goes well beyond disappointment.

But she did go to the polls Tuesday -- to vote for Ross Perot.

"He did make a little more sense than the other ones. He was more sincere," said Ms. Picciotto, who would not give her age. "Besides, he's not a politician."

A few paces away, between two white signs with messages like "WANTED -- WISDOM AND HONESTY" sits Ellen Thomas, who voted for "a man of my generation": Bill Clinton.

But Ms. Thomas has no plans to quit her 8 - year White House vigil.

"I told myself if God wanted me to, I'd stay here until there were no nuclear weapons left anywhere," said Ms. Thomas, 46,who wears her gray hair in pigtails held in place wiith red rubber bands, and sports a metal shell like a talisman around her neck.

"I'd rather not be here,'",she said, but I probably will be for a while."

Ms. Picciotto has no other home. Ms. Thomas is married to a man who works on nuclear-arms protests from a friend's basement, where she sometimes goes to shower and take a break.

The women see themselves more as teachers than protesters Their purpose, they said, is remind.

Both hand out information to anyone who wants it. Ms. Picciotto has photocopied articlce in a variety of hanguages. Including Spanish, German, Japanese and English.

Ms. Thomas asks passers-by to sign a petition for Proposition One, a voter referendum she hopes one day to see on the ballot in every state. It calls for total nuclear disarmament in the United States and eventually, the complete conversion of all military forces and industries to peacetime pursuits.

She said Mr. Bush has been more receptive to disarmament since he started taklng his thyroid medicine, but she feels "real hope." for, Mr. Clinton -- a man free of the terrible memories of World War II.

Ms. Thomas said she danced and beat a drum in Lafayette Park until 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning to celebrate Mr. Clinton's election. But reality is returning along with the vigil routine.

Ms. Picciotto quietly swept the area around her belongings which include a makeshift board seat between two bright yellow signs emblazoned with large black and red letters.

"STAY THE COURSE AND THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU." reads one,which is plastered with gruesome post-Hiroshima photographs of dying people and skulls piled up in large mounds.

"WHITE HOUSE 24 HRS..A DAY ANTI-NUCLEAR PEACE; VIGIL SINCE 1981" reads the other, a bulletiln board of sorts for press clippings, bumper stickers and letters she's written to Mikhail Gorbacev and others.

A friend stopped by to say she's heading to the library, and does Ms. Thomas need anything?

"It's hard to get through the bureaucracy over there," Ms Thomas said, tiltlng her head in the direction of the White House. "Once vou get In there, it's hard to keep in touch with what's going on out here."