PHILOSOPHY IN THE PARK
Toronto Globe and Mail
June 25, 1984
By William Johnson
ACROSS THE street from the White House lies Lafayette Park Two
worlds are joined and separated by Pennsylvania Avenue.
On the south side in a mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. lives
Ronald Reagan. Across the street, without address or visible
means of support. Lives a man known as Thomas. He began his vigil
here on June 3, 1981, and was there yesterday, three years later,
his beard bushy, his hair held in a tail by an elastic band.
Mr. Reagan Lives well housed and well fed. The crumbs from his
table would feed Thomas for a week. Thomas lives under the stars,
exposed to rain and snow,.summer and winter, without tent or
sleeping bag. He feeds like the pigeons in the park, on what
comes along. Sometimes he forages in a dumpster.
Mr. Reagan, across the street, issues moral messages against
abortion and an evil empire, for freedom, the market and school
Thomas tends his messages night and day. They line the sidewalk
facing the White House. signs of all sizes and shapes, in various
colors, with drawings of a mushroom cloud or skulls. Angled, side
by side, they stand like a moral Maginot Line resisting the WhiLe
On Strike Till Bombs Are Dropped. Join Us, says one message.Let
God's Chlldren Go, Love, Thomas. And another: Mother Earth Loves
You Love Her Back Ban The Bomb. The mwsages go on, extending
along the sidewalk by the edge of the park.
Yesterday I stopped to chat with Thomas, as I have done often.
He Is not a lunatic with burning eye and stabbing finger, a
fevered Savonarola of Lafayette Park. No, he is soft-spoken,
intelligent, affable, natural, with gentle blue-grey eyes behind
black horn-rimmed glasses, a man with the determination of an
Ezekiel, the message of a Jonah, the disposition of a St. Francis
of Assie. Talking with him in the sunshine, I thought of the
Hebrew prophets, the medieval monks - all people of
uncompromising conviction. unqualified Consistency.
Now 37, he went to school to the eighth grade, but has read
Plato and discusses Socrates. He was a businessman, but one day
had a kind of vision. "Two ideas came to my mind: in order to be
free, one must own nothing. And time is money." For him, time is
money meant that to save his time -- that is his life -- he had
to abandon money.
"Love of money is the root of all evil." He takes literally that
biblical saying. He decided to live without money. went to one of
the poorest parts of the world, walked, penniless, from
Casablanca to Morocco to Cairo, not begging, eating what people
gave him or what he found. He concluded that money -- evil -- Is
not necessary for Life.
One day, he concluded that states oppress people, Including his
own country, the United States of America, so he threw his pass
into the Thames in London and chose to be a stateless person. But
the world of states resisted. He spent a year in an Egyptian
prison, was seized by the Israelis and expelled from the country.
He was tn jail in England and then deported to the United States.
He protests that he is held In this country against hrs will.
He set up his vigil in front of the White House ta communicate
the wisdom he has learned. His occupation, now, is to be a
philosopher. He speaks to the world by his signs, by
conversations with passersby. He has gathered a little community
of half a dozen people who. like hum. are homeless for a cause,
and live in Lafayette Park. He speaks, above all, by his example,
his life of renunciation.
The police harass him and he has been arrested innumerable
times, his signs confiscated ar broken. He comes back, defends
his right to free expression in the courts, makes more signs,
clings to his turf. He sleeps little, by snatches: il the police
catch Mm in deep sleep they can charge him with camping. He
insists he is not camping. but exercising his right "to speak out
against the forms of political and technical insanity which
presently threaten all life on Earth."
Like Ezekiel he stands at the gate, prophesying, speaking to
Pharaoh. saying let my People go.
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