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'Peace Vigil' Rock

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    Posted 7 years ago

    (12 items)

    Quick. Think of all the unruly neighbors you ever had, your house that opened directly onto the street, the visitors you had at all times of day or night, always on the radar of law enforcement, or maybe living in a tent city without heat, air conditioning or much of any comfort at all for years at a time.

    Concepcion Picciotto had all of that, day and night, for 35 years. Of course, she was protesting the proliferation of nuclear arms, among other things, the whole time, too. Her Peace Camp, otherwise known by activists as '1601 Pennsylvania Avenue', was situated directly across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, what we know as the White House.

    From August 1981, just several months after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, until the last year of President Barack Obama, over the administrations of five US presidents, Concepcion lived and protested at Peace Camp in all seasons with the help of her friends at Peace House in Washington, DC until January 2016 when she died at the age of 80. It is considered the longest continuous political protest ever, certainly in the United States.

    For me, Concepcion was a neighbor. I worked just off Lafayette Square for a time as a buyer/manager of presidential and political memorabilia for a large gift and souvenir store and had visited with Concepcion on and off practicing my rusty Spanish (she was originally from Spain). She was always focused on her issues of tolerance, reduction of nuclear arms, the plight of refugees around the world, and peace in general whoever stopped by. School groups loved it, visitors from abroad were amazed, Americans were mostly skeptical, but there she stayed year after year being closely watched by the ever present Secret Service and US Park Police.

    When I visited on a warm summer day in June 1991, she was surrounded as usual by summer visitors from everywhere talking about issues, giving out pamphlets and issue papers. But this time I saw the painted rocks, large and small and immediately took to the one with a wonderfully painted blue dove in a folk art style that weighs about 3 pounds. I paid her about $10, I think, and asked her to sign it for me. She was reluctant to do that at first, but I gently persisted and so to get me to move on I'm sure, she finally did on the reverse, written simply as 'Concepcion' with the date of June 17, 1991.

    This amazing folk art painted rock has stayed with me ever since. It is still one of my favorite things.

    I suppose for us it was an unusual life, but for Concepcion it was a life of purpose. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate of Washington, DC to Congress, noted that many of the issues Concepcion highlighted were accomplished, particularly that of nuclear arms reductions. Very few high level lobbying firms have that kind of success over 35 years.

    The Peace Camp is still there watched over by Peace House, activists, volunteers, and well connected neighbors. It was grandfathered in before a regulation by the Park Service disallowing protests with structures. If it is ever 'abandoned' or left alone even for a minute, the Park Service can have it removed permanently (it is removed only for inaugurations, but replaced after the event).

    Let's hope that doesn't happen. It is a well placed reminder that the 'leader of the free world' still has someone watching over them - and it is us.

    Tom Carrier

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    1. racer4four racer4four, 7 years ago
      What an extraordinary woman. Such a great story and thanks for the post. That rock would be precious to me too.

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