Connie's Clinton vigil


Neighbours: For 12 years Connie has kept up her anti-nuclear protest outside the White House, as three U.S. President's have come and gone.

IT IS unlikely that Bill Clinton will trouble to make the acquaintance of his nearest neighbour at the White House

Concepcion Picciotto.

For the past 12 years, Spanish-born Concepcion has lived justoutside the building, seeing out the administrations of both Reagan and Bush. She sits on an old plastic milk crate between two brilliant yellow wooden signs proclaiming the evils of nuclear warfare, against a backdrop of the world's most famous executive mansion.

Her signs say: "Welcome to the madhouse. The White House peace vigil. Don't be a lemming - save yourself and renounce genocidal weapons. Live by the Bomb die by the Bomb."

Young Republicans and Marines have spat and urinated on her and she alleges that the police have gassed her, but she will not be moved. She sleeps spasmodically; sitting upright -if she lies dawn she is judged to be camping, and camping is not permitted in Lafayette Park.

Connie, 48, was born in Spain, emigrated to New York when she was 18 and worked as a secretary at the Spanish consulate. At 21 she married an Italian businessman. The couple had a daughter but within two years were divorced. She lost her child, job and home.

She spent the next seven years fighting for custody of her daughter in the courts of Manhattan and Madrid, coming to Washington to seek help from her Congressman, but to no avail. She found work as a part-time baby sitter and began spending her free time in front of the White House, with handpainted signs calling for justice. One thing led to another and she soon began to embrace the anti-nuclear cause. In Reagan's first year at the White House she arrived with her belongings, and has been its nearest neighbour ever since.

She joined forces with a William Thomas, and they spend their days in front of the White House and their nights across the street in Lafayette Park. The National Parks Service brought in restrictions on White House pavement demonstrations, forcing protesters to the edge of the park.

Connie and William merely increased the size and number of their signs - at one time they had 18 in all, the tallest was three meters high. Now, no one allowed more than two signs, none taller than 1.85 meters. A mere 1. meters tall, articulate and charming, she wears a hard hat under a thick black wig tied on with a headscarf, for protection against attacks.

In winter she freezes; summer she sweats in the heatwaves. She hands out pamphlets and paints the dove of peace on flat stones which she gives to passers-by. She likes the look of Bill Clinton, but rather doubts he will be inviting her in.