CONCEPCION ACROSS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE [ archive ]

4 Jan

 

It is Sunday. Across from Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of Lafayette Park, it could be Monday or Tuesday or Friday. Each day is pretty much the same for Connie Picciotto. She wakes up at her life work, ‘White House Anti-Nuclear Peace Vigil, 24 hours a day since 1981, maintained by two individuals.’ Connie lives across from the White House. This is her home address, The Anti-Nuclear Peace Vigil, is decorated with her signs. Only two these days. Park Service and Interior Department Laws brought that change about. At one time, she had over 18 there. Even one, over 10 feet tall.

The Saturday and Sunday morning White House street hockey pick up game players look at her. Some wave. White House security officers don’t even see her now. She has been there longer than some of them are old, it seems. Concepcion Picciotto has been protesting in Lafayette Park since August 1 1981. It has been this way for years. Issues change, signs change, American presidents change-Reagan, Carter, Bush, Clinton and Bush Jr.

Piciotto and Thomas spent mornings, sidewalk side of the White House, and evenings, sidewalk side of LafayettePark. Eventually, National Park Service moved them permanently parkside. Five feet tall, she speaks with a thick accent. Her brown hair, sits oddly on her head, a human hair helmet, framing her face. Always covered with a scarf. Her face is weathered. Her cheeks rouged heavily as if painted on each side. Sometimes she wears a sweater. Sometimes a vest. Almost always she wears protest pins. and badges letting the world know what she is thinking, even when she is too tired to talk.

Piciotto sweeps and cleans to keep things tidy. Tidiness is important to her. She was born in Western Spain. Her grandmother raised her. When her grandmother died, Connie, 18, moved to America. She worked with the Spanish consulate. She married. A baby daughter was born. 20 months later, the marriage was over. Her husband was given custody of her child. Seven years and loss of faith later, Connie, took her case to the streets. Handpainted signs outside the White House stated her case. Then, she funded herself working as a baby sitter. Her protest expanded to fighting for other causes and against Bush. She knows him well. He doesn’t speak to her. Hard to avoid, he walks past her Sunday mornings when he crosses LafayettePark to attend church. “Saw him 6:30 this morning,” she says, adjusting her ‘Empty Warhead found in White House” sign to stand straight.

Visitors cross the street for tourist pics after photographing the White House. Judy Miner, from Madison Wisconsin, talking in great depth with Connie, is in town visiting her daughter, a government worker with the Environmental Department. Judy’s in no rush. Her daughter is busy. Besides, Connie is glad to have someone speak with. Being a Vigilante has its downsides. It can get lonely except for homeless and park squirrels. Connie says the homeless have been violent to her, destroying her signs and stealing her peace rocks. She says they harrass her and her friend, Thomas. William Thomas joined her a few years back. Thomas considers himself an intellectual, spending time in the Library. Britain expelled him for discarding his US passport, declaring himself homeless.

Connie gives tourists and people she likes, peace rocks she paints. Her last job was babysitting over twenty years ago. Now, people give her donations of money she buys paint supplies with, using it also to print her handouts. If she is lucky, she pockets $15 in a day.  People bring her rolls and biscuits. Hardy’s is her bathroom. She showers at the nearby homeless shelter. Infrequently. Sleeping is her art form, standing up, leaning against her signs, maybe, three hours a night. She dreads winters. Pacing the sidewalk to avoid freezing, she says no amount of clothing keeps her warm.

She doesnt mention her daughter these days. ‘Imagine” she says “I have seen people freeze to death in that park right across the street from the most powerful man in the world. ”  A squirrel scampers across the street towards the White House, carrying a nut from her fingers

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