The Washington Post

Winter comes to the Peace Park vigil

I heard from my friends in the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil the other day. Readers will recall I visited the vigil, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House In Washington's Lafayette Park, last spring. I wrote a column about how good it was, in this land of the tree, to see such selfless patriots put their love for freedom on the line every day.

Most of us only write about the First Amendment, and its guarantees of free speech and press and "the right of the people ... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The folks at Peace Park live the First Amendment, around the clock, every day of the year-and I admire and respect them for it.

A lot of people don't, though. They're the ones who, if shown a copy of the Declaration of Independence will denounce it as a Communist plot and say anyone who would write such trash ought to be strung up.

Normally, though, they vent their spleen just by shouting insults and abuse at the Peace Park vigil-keepers.

A more serious threat has come from National Park Service police who see it as their duty to make life as miserable as possible for the likes of Conception Picciotto, shown here with some of her protest literature. (The larger signs in this file photo since have had to be removed.)

I talked with Ms. Picciotto this spring, and with other vigilers, including Bob and Lynn Dorrough, who were anchoring the vigil with their own displays at the other end of the sidewalk. If I'd only been a little earlier or later, I would have encountered a native Wichitan, Brett Hamrick.

Mr. Hamrick, who goes by the name of Song, attended East High and went on to Bethany College and Kansas State University before moving to Washington, D.C., in 1987.

It was Song who wrote recently to bring me up to date on activities in the park. He had been fasting for 16 days - taking water only - when he wrote the letter, in sympathy with Mitch Snyder and his Creative Community for Non-Violence. Mr. Snyder and his group had been fasting for 45 days to protest funding cuts in government housing programs. (The fast ended on Election Day.)

For all the suffering he had endured, however, Song was upbeat.

"Here we go again!" he began. "Another winter. The spirit here at the vigil has really picked up. We are now collecting and cooking food for the homeless here. We all get together - join hands - and praise life and bless the food - and then eat.

"We've also been distributing blankets. You'd be amazed at the amount of people on the street, in this weather, who run around with nothing to keep them warm."

THE letter was written on the back of one of the flyers the vigil-keepers distribute to passers -by.

The flyer contains a petition to the Congress of the United States and to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, imploring them to amend their respective country's constitution to eliminate nuclear warheads by the year 2000.

The vigilers claim to have secured 4,000 signatures a month, or 84,000 signatures in all, since the petition effort began in February 1987.

"It's not easy to have faith in this world, or to have hope that our vision - for a more just, caring society - will ever be realized," Song wrote. "Day in and day out we ask for signatures. We call out for people to turn around - for a moment - to face reality: dozens of wars; maimed and starving children; burgeoning arms sales; the profound lack of good sense."

The vigil, begun in 1981 by William Thomas and Conception Picciotto, always has been long on faith and patience - despite trials that would have defeated lesser persons many times over.

THE election didn't provide much relief for the vigil-keepers, either. Song wrote six days before the event that whoever won was academic to them.

"We are very concerned," he said. "A choice of Tweedle-de-de and Tweedle-de-dum gives us little comfort. We have no travel plans for the moment. God save us all!"

As the new President George Bush begins his quest for the "kinder, gentler nation" he has promised, he might look across Pennsylvania Avenue for his inspiration.

"The cold north wind is blowing," Song concluded, " and members of the Peace Park Anti-Nuclear Vigil are bracing themselves for a long winter four years, perhaps, if we live that long."

He signed his letter, "Your friend in (front of) the White House, 'Brett (Song) Hamrick."

Sleep well (and warm) tonight, young friend - and thanks for keeping the vigil for us.
George Neavoll, Editor of the Editorial Page
Exhibit 23 - I