Getting at the belly of the beast
They live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C, and it the address sounds familiar, it should: It's the address of the White House across the street Since the sidewalks of If Lafayette Park have no address however, the protesters who live there sometimes take the address as their own.
The keepers of the Peace Park Anti Nuclear Vigil deserve such a prestigious address They are upholding the American traditions of tree speech and public protest in a way that would have made the founding patriots proud.
The fact they drive official Washington nuts isn't all bad, either.
Actually, my friend Song told me while he was visiting his parents in Wichita last week, a more positive atmosphere has surrounded the vigil of late National Park Service police, charged with maintaining the National Capital Parks have loosened up. Peace Park residents aren't being harassed as much as they once were.
Part of that is due to Song's own peacemaking efforts with the park pot lice. Acting on the principle that It's easier to hate someone you don't know, Song approached the police with the Idea of them and the park's inhabitants getting to know one another. "We told them that we're trying, to make a better world, and that includes them."
The conciliatory approach has paid off. Last New Year's Eve, one of the park police officers even Joined Song and Sunrise, another park regular, in playing the guitar and singing,
SONG, 27, one of the Peace Park faithful since 1987, was born and raised in Wichita. He graduated from Wichita High School East in 1980, and attended Bethany College and Kansas State University, majoring in art. He worked as a street painter and street musician before he discovered Peace Park.
There he met William Thomas and Concepcion Picciotto, who had co-founded the Peace Park Anti Nuclear Vigil in 1981. He never expected to be there as long as he has but feels he was led to it.
"I feel like God put me in this time in this space, In this world—for a reason," he told me. Though the sidewalks of Lafayette Park are a "very surreal environment" at times he has endured."The only way to be out there is to be totally in the spins," he said.
Though 30 or more people may be on the scene at any time only four or fivev are with the vigil permanently. These would include - besides Song -
Thomas and his wife Ellen both of whom have spent time in federal prison for violating the park service's "no camping" rule. Concepcion always is there, too, and her monk assistant, a former associate of Lightning Amen, spiritual leader of a former biker tribe.
BOB AND LYNN Dorrough, whom my wife and I had met at the vigil early last year, have left to pursue the goal of world peace in other ways. Bob is studying Russian at the moment, with the intention of delivering to Soviet leaders —perhaps even President Gorbachev himself - a petition bearing more than 80,000 names gathered at the vigil. The petition enjoins the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Soviet to "disable and dismantle all nuclear warheads by the year 2000."
Last year, Song and Lynn had been delegates from the Peace Park to the third U.N. Special Session on Disarmament In New York.
Song also has been involved with the Rainbow Gathering, an annual convergence of many thousands of people during the week that includes July 4. Beginning in 1972, it's been in a different state each year, on national forestland. This year, 20,000 people gathered at Robinson Hole, Nev. (close to Wendover, in eastern Nevada), in what Song calls "a real strong sense of family." It was also the first gathering that was "very, very close to being drug-free."
Song became a "family" member, he says, when one day he decided, "I'd like to make a pilgrimage, but I don't know where Mecca is anymore— I don't know where Jerusalem is."
With the Rainbow Gathering, he found "not a promised land of land, but a promised land of spirit."
That same spirit drives those who daily brave the elements' verbal abuse and physical attacks at Peace Park.
PEACE, LOVE and tolerance are the whole reason for Peace Park's existence, as expressed Through the anti - nuclear vigil for the keepers of the vigil, however, violence, hatred and intolerance have been their lot instead.
Concepcion, a short, past-middle-aged woman, recently was attacked by six drunken Marines. When Song went to her aid, the Marines seemed to be leaving. Then one of Them turned and struck a little high-school girl, who had been helping Concepcion, in the face. (The girl was of Asian extraction.)
Vietnam veterans who are alcoholics are a recurring problem at the vigil. "Their whole sense of reality is twisted, n and they are angry beyond belief," says Song. Sometimes They take it out on The s vigil-keepers. "There are a lot of black, male homeless people," says Song, some of them high on drugs, "If they're on heroin, it takes almost a miracle deal with them," he says.
Then there are the mentally ill many of of them recent patients at the nearby St. Elizabeth's Hospital. They always seem to have plenty of money, which makes Song and others wonder if some one in government doesn't pay them to n come and sit with the protesters. in order to discredit the vigil.
d Besides all these are those who bring their multitude of protests to the seat of presidential power, "getting right to the belly of the beast."
It's easy to see why Song calls this the "Twilight Zone." For the sake of all we hold dear and sacred, though, I'm glad he and his compatriots are there.