Peace Park and the Presidents
Inaugural Articles | 2001 | 1997
| 1993 | 1989
| 1985 | 1981
| 1997 parade
At the time
our round-the-clock vigil for peace through justice (and nuclear
disarmament) began on June 3, 1981
-- five months after Reagan's first
inauguration -- people were still allowed to demonstrate on
the White House sidewalk.
Ronald Reagan's "trickle-down" theories required that
traditions be rewritten. In January, 1983, Department of Interior
Secretary James Watt penned a memo
declaring his intent to ban demonstrations from the White House
sidewalk AND Lafayette Park. The CCNV
folks were arrested for
their tents in the park. And the unsheltered
peace vigilers were simultaneously
arrested on the White House sidewalk, also charged with "camping."
In those days the judges were still throwing
camping cases out of court.
After a February-April
by the Washington Times (Reagan
loved the Washington Times),
new regulations were written
banishing vigils from the White
House sidewalk across the street to
Lafayette Park. But this didn't solve the DOI's problem. Our
vigil continued. U.S. Park Police
and DOI lawyers continued working
together to make remaining in the park extremely uncomfortable
(even though 24-hour vigils are expressly permitted),
using the recently-published "camping"
regulation over and over to criminalize
what was formerly protected behavior.
During the wee hours of the mornings, when tourists weren't
about, U.S. Park Police lurked, threatened, and often arrested
the vigilers (sometimes brutally).
When drunk marines or Young Americans for Freedom pranksters attacked
the vigilers, the police usually
were nowhere to be found. In court, several
officers lied. At least
one friendly officer later apologized for arresting us, explaining
he was "just following orders." At that time, their
boss was Deputy Chief Lindsey,
who took a continuing personal
interest in removing the "problem" from the park.
On January 25, 1984, President Reagan said in his State
of the Union address,"send
away the doubting Thomases." On January 31, 1984, Thomas
and Concepcion were arrested. Charges were dropped soon after
Reagan was served with a motion for discovery.
DOI lawyer DOI lawyer Richard
Robbins closely advised the Park Police how the ever-more-complicated
regulations should be interpreted.
In November 1984 Thomas, Concepcion, and Ellen filed a
lawsuit trying to put
a stop to police misconduct under cover of the DOI regulations.
Becoming plaintiffs rather than defendants put them in a slightly
more favorable position in the
media as well as in court. Police became slightly more circumspect.
It took prosecutors four more years and another regulation to
find a judge who would reluctantly send the vigilers
to prison for three
months on "camping" tickets issued by order of superiors.
Ronald Reagan tried to have
a second inaugural parade, it was so
cold Inauguration Day 1985 that the "Peace-through-Strength"
President was defeated by the weather and called
it off, and the quarter-million-dollar
bleachers went unused. We were shivering
and dancing in the northwest quadrant of the park, giving
credit to God for a good sense of humor. Caterers dropped off
unused feasts, which we shared with homeless
folk stuck outside.
We wrote President Reagan a message in 1985, asking that
he leave the bleachers up for the rest of the winter, for homeless people to get out of
the cold, wet, snowy, icy streets.
We weren't asking for us -- we always remain
at our signs with the minimal
amount of protection necessary
to survive. We asked on behalf of the homeless
sleeping on the DC streets despite police
harassment. (In November '96 we wrote President Clinton the
because, after all these years, homelessness
remains a problem.)
could be the Reagans didn't take too kindly to our request. After
the inaugural , Senator Mark Hatfield wrote a letter
to the National Park Service, copy to First Lady Nancy
Reagan, asking that something be done about the "visual pollution" in the
park. One might imagine the Senator dancing with Mrs. Reagan at
one of the balls, ear bent to her complaints.
The Department of Interior Acting Deputy Director advised
the Senator that the law
protected the vigilers. DOI Assistant Solicitor Richard Robbins
began the next phase of changing
Judge Richey was clearly influenced by the third, newest
regulation which was enacted in 1986 after another media
campaign. This time we got a little
good press mixed in with the bad. A voluminous "Administrative
Record" included thousands of signatures (collected primarily
by Concepcion Picciotto)
on a petition opposing the
DOI plans for further first amendment restriction gathered during
the 60-day comment period. The Park Service had only a handful
of letters (one of them Senator Hatfield's) to justify their new
this time Reagan's teflon coat was wearing thin. Oliver
North's bunch were exposed as liars, accused of drugs-for-guns
trade with the Contras, pre-election
deals with Iranian kidnappers, allegations which escaped full
Reagan's "Evil Empire" rhetoric was challenged
by a new Soviet leader who
declared glasnost, perestroika, and a policy
of global nuclear disarmament. Very impressive demonstrations
in opposition to Reagan and Bush's "peace through strength"
policies in Central America
and the Middle East were becoming regular events. Most scientists
were declaring "Star
Wars" undoable and hideously expensive. Yet arms
merchants kept getting new contracts
Cartoonists were boldly lampooning Reagan's policies. More and more homeless
people populated the grates
and doorways of the nation's capital, while Reagan declared they
"wanted" to be there,
and claimed the fact they COULD
be there proved that America
was a great country.
the time George Bush gave his inauguration
speech in 1989, certain
segments of the population were
becoming tired of the "Reagan
Revolution," which Vice President Bush had implemented
and gave signs of continuing as President. A large coalition
of peace activists came together
to stage a "Counter-Inauguration,"
featuring a banquet for homeless
people outside Union Station, There were several
demonstrations, and a prayer
vigil at National Cathedral while the Bushes were inside.
By 1989, two other sets of signs and several creative
young people, affectionately
known as the "Ragtag Band,"
had for several years increased
the number of vigilers, bringing
music - petitioners
- volunteers - energy
- friends - and most importantly,
the interested public and a loving influence, to Peace
Park. A number of homeless people
had been attracted by the vigil, and decided to stay,
crowded up against wire fences.
The press were characteristically
sympathetic to the homeless,
to the vigil. Vigiler Brett Hamrick's signs, standing
at the foot of 16th Street, were featured
in the inaugural section of
the Washington Post, and at least one
reporter referred to it as "Peace
Columnist Haynes Johnson
wrote about Thomas' sign, Wanted,
Wisdom & Honesty." St John's
Church on Lafayette Square, aka "the President's Church,"
gave a homily about peace and
tolerance which Mr. Bush unfortunately failed
In addition to his hotly contested
adventure in Iraq, and his various
lies to the press (two lies we caught were the "Lafayette
Park Crack Scandal" of 1989, and "those
damn drums" of 1991, which continued to haunt
him in 1996), Mr.
Bush encouraged or permitted Department of Interior lawyers to
publish a fourth regulation
designed to further restrict demonstrators in Lafayette Park to
no more than "three cubic feet of property," including
literature and whatever is necessary to protect oneself from the
regulation remains on the books, impossible to abide by and survive
winter weather, and evoked by Park Police officers the week before
inauguration '97 to intimidate Concepcion and make all vigilers
very uncomfortable during bitter weather.
The uncaring attitude
which plagued the country for the decade of the '80's may be why
George Bush had only one inauguration.
Nevertheless, the damage was done. Regulations had become
so restrictive that all our fellow vigilers drifted away.
was elected, the Washington Times and Atlanta Journal published
friendly AP stories, "Anti-Nuke
Activists to Hold Their Line."
When inauguration ceremonies
were over, and most of the limousines
had vanished for another four years, Clinton's political
promises and Maya Anjelou's
poem ringing in our minds, we welcomed the Clintons into the
White House in 1993 by writing
a neighborly letter, advising them of the status
quo outside their front door, asking that they help rescind
the regulations which are threatening the vigil's existence. We
received a (friendly) form letter in reply, and a generally less
uncivil police force, for awhile.
However, the exceptions
have been very bad indeed, such as the tormenting and killing
of a homeless man in December '94, in part captured on tourist's
video and broadcast on worldwide TV.
The regulations haven't been rescinded.
And the status quo has
substantially changed for
Thomas suggested the Secret Service put the White
House under a bubble,
instead of closing Pennsylvania Avenue. City
Paper was among those
who thought that a great idea.
Since Mr. Clinton's first parade, the vigilers have brought
a successful voter initiative
to the people of Washington DC, which has six times been introduced
to the House of Representatives by DC's Delegate Eleanor Holmes
Norton as the "Nuclear Disarmament
and Economic Conversion Act." The bill immediately
gained nine co-sponsors in
1994, but was stuck in committees. Ellen traveled in November
1994 to Japan, invited to speak
to 1,500 peace activists in 1994. The idea has enormous support
among people from all over the world.
In 1995 Ellen brought
a letter from Congresswoman
Norton to the International Court of Justice hearings
on the legality of nuclear weapons, which was accepted by
the judges as evidence that there were elected politicians within
the U.S. government who don't agree with the official policy of
"we've got 'em, we're keeping 'em, national sovereignty rules."
Although Congress and Mr. Clinton continued to drag their feet
on this issue (a "Comprehensive"
Test Ban Treaty doesn't go far
enough), the World Court
has found that nuclear weapons could and should be illegal. Sixty-two
retired generals in December
1996 declared nuclear weapons unsafe, unnecessary, and insane. One hundred former heads of state have called for global abolition of nuclear weapons, including Jimmy Carter. 85 per cent of Americans polled in 1998 favored abolition.
This is the good news.
The bad news is that under Clinton, Thomas was arrested twice in 1996, first
for merely speaking.
He was physically battered - blood
on the sidewalk - by a Secret Service officer on Easter
Eve, 1996, for reciting the Declaration of Independence when the officer
told him to stop talking. The prosecutors failed to prosecute.
Then, on election eve, 1996, Thomas was arrested by a Park Police
officer for NOT speaking. (Good
news is that he was acquitted after a farce of a trial).
During the second Clinton administration, homelessness continued.
DOI Solicitors continued to change
the rules. We observed numerous
incidents where police officers
arbitrarily decided that lone demonstrators, preachers,
and even TV film crews, had to
stop what they were doing, leave
the park, or (yes!) move their stuff out of the park and into Pennsylvania Avenue. There seemed to be no logic or law to support some of the demands. Yet they usually prevail.
In 1999, at a one-of-a-kind, middle-of-the-night presidential drop-in, the Secret Service were told by President Clinton that the vigilers were "no threat." So far the new President Bush seems to feel the same way.
We heard rumors that Pennsylvania Avenue will reopen to vehicle traffic after the W Bush inauguration. Architect Carl Warnke, who redesigned Lafayette Park for Jaqueline Kennedy in the 1960's, has been asked by the Secret Service to do another redesign with a tunnel under the old street, and flowerbeds where police cruisers now lurk. He said to Ellen on June 2, 2001, that he hopes to create an historic atmosphere in and around the park, with people dressed in period costumes, horse-and-buggy rides, street theater, etc. - for and by the people. Perhaps this will happen. Whether or not, perhaps the police will be less inclined to behave as if they have exclusive domain. Perhaps George W. Bush will be tolerant. Perhaps you will help the new President, as well as the Representatives and Senators, to recognize the importance of protecting free expression outside the White House, and to seriously address the issues being raised by the vigilers day and night.
If we disappear, unless we've left because we've won our way, and nuclear weapons no longer exist on earth, and justice at last prevails, our disappearance from Lafayette Park would be an ominous sign indeed.
So if you're looking for us and don't find us, patrol the
If you still don't see us, call (202-456-1111-0) or
write the White House and ask the President
to use his power to de-regulate and protect Lafayette (Peace)
Park, and tell the police and Department of Interior lawyers to "leave those
harmless peace vigilers alone."
Write us what you
think about it all!
1997 Inaugural Introduction | Park
Closures | Pennsylvania
Peace Park | Proposition
Legal Overview | Regulations