Eviction notice served on caretakers of historic White House vigil


Connie Picciotto, foreground, who has maintained a protest vigil in front of the White House since the early 1980's, walks away from her tent in Lafayette Square on April 3, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
October 31, 2013

The uncertain future of a historic anti-nuclear proliferation vigil outside the White House grew even more tenuous this week, as eviction papers were served Wednesday on a house in Northwest Washington that has served as a home base for the vigil’s caretakers.

The row house on 12th Street — known as Peace House — has long been the home of Concepcion Picciotto, who has tended to the peaceful demonstration along Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington for more than 32 years. Numerous other activists, who have helped Picciotto maintain a constant watch over the vigil, also reside at the house.

The property is owned by Ellen Thomas, widow of William Thomas, Picciotto’s longtime partner in protest who died in 2009. Ellen Thomas, who said she’d hoped the house could continue to serve as a home for peace activists after her husband’s death, said this week that she could no longer afford to pay the mounting debts accumulated by the residents of the house.

“I’m glad I could keep the Peace House open as long as I could, but now they’re not paying the bills, and I just can’t do it anymore,” Thomas said.

According to the notice dated Oct. 25, the tenants have 30 days to pay a debt of more than $13,500 for several months of unpaid rent, utilities and trash fines.

If the residents are unable to pay the total within 30 days, Peace House will be reclaimed and its occupants evicted “no later than midnight, December 1,” the notice said.

Thomas said she hoped the situation would be resolved amicably, and the activists would leave voluntarily and find another place to live. “They are basically sending the message that they’re going to stay as long as they can,” Thomas said. “I would like to have them out as soon as possible.”

Thomas said she’d offered to help Picciotto find another place to stay, so that her legendary protest could continue uninterrupted, but to no avail.

“She won’t allow me to help. I tried. Anything I said, she rejected,” Thomas said. “She basically wants to stay in the house.”

Ann Wilcox, a lawyer who said she is among several legal advisers to the Peace House activists, said they planned to show that the residents had made payments to cover rent and utilities.

“We’ll just have to let the court process work through,” Wilcox said Thursday. “Obviously, tenants have rights, and there is a process for showing what payments have been made.”

In the meantime, the residents “continue to spend time at the vigil supporting Connie, and they will continue to do that work,” Wilcox said, referring to Picciotto.

Feriha Kaya, manager of Peace House, said last month that the activists were considering the possibility of finding a new house but hoped to continue to rent Peace House from its new owner after it was sold. Kaya was concerned about what the new rent rates might be, she said.

“I do know that they’re going to ask from Connie much more than what she can afford,” Kaya said. “I’m going to try to stay here with the rest of the house, because definitely Connie is not going to move out.”

In recent years, as Thomas has searched for a buyer for the house, Picciotto has repeatedly stated her intent to stay put. In an interview with The Washington Post in March, she said Peace House must continue to honor William Thomas’s legacy.

“This is Thomas’s house; he built it,” she said. “We need to stay in this house.”

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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