A Long Wait for Peace

Concepcion Picciotto, above, and William Thomas in Lafayette Square.
Concepcion Picciotto, above, and William Thomas in Lafayette Square. "I never imagined I'd be sitting here for 25 years," he says. (Photos By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 3, 2006

William Thomas first introduced fanny to brick on the White House sidewalk on June 3, 1981. His sign said, "Wanted: Wisdom and Honesty." He's been there ever since, still squatting, still wanting.

A few months after he began, he was joined by Concepcion Picciotto, who has remained similarly steadfast.

War is not over, but the peace protesters have won. Sort of. The oasis of green across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House is theirs.

At some point a protest may become more than what it is about. It becomes a thing in itself. An institution. A monument.

Take Lafayette out of Lafayette Square -- the monumental statuary likeness of the Frenchman, with Colonial braid, big boots and a sword -- and hardly anyone would notice. (Hint: He's not the guy on the charger; that's Jackson).

But get rid of the shelter made of a battered patio umbrella, a weathered plastic tarp and those faded anti-nuke signs erected by Thomas and Picciotto?

It wouldn't be the same park.

Tourists from places like Beijing and Chicago would no longer flash peace signs for digital cameras. School groups would make one less stop. Tour-guide shticks would shrink by a sentence or two.

So fewer conversations, arguments and tears. Two less souls to share the space on cold days and nights with pigeons, squirrels and rooftop snipers.

Anniversary celebrations are for institutions. The 25th Anniversary Speakout for the 24-7 peace vigil begins at noon today, hosted by peace and anti-nuke groups, with speakers and invitations to "sing, chant, recite, drum, dance your heartsong."

A quarter-century. Through rain and sleet and snow and the heat of summer. And police raids and lawyers and courtrooms. And jail. Thomas was once sentenced to 90 days for violating the elaborate (and ever-evolving) rules of expression.

But that's all been sorted out. As long as they don't "camp" (dozing off on your stool is okay, but no sleeping in anything that resembles "bedding"), stray more than three feet from their signs or construct overly large posters, the law leaves them alone.

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