MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We're going to head east on the Mall now, up to a spot in Lafayette Square, just across the street from the White House. That's where a woman some call the original occupier sits in a chair all day and all night to promote, as she says, the cause of peace. Her name is Concepcion Picciotto and she's been occupying that spot, if you will, for 31 years. Now there's a push to commemorate her struggle with a national memorial. Marc Adams brings us the story.
MS. CONCEPCION PICCIOTTO
(Speaks foreign language)
MR. MARC ADAMS
By day, Concepcion Picciotto courts endless streams of tourists, from all over the world, educating them on what she describes as the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. By night, Picciotto sits alone in her chair, at times enduring not only extreme temperatures, but also what she says has been harassment by passersby and police alike. Aided by her late partner in protest William Thomas, Picciotto has been maintaining her peace vigil directly across from the White House most every day and night since 1981.
MR. MARC ADAMS
Why do you do it? Why have you done it for three decades now?
I have a cause, and seeking justice and peace that (unintelligible) here. Peace and justice.
If Picciotto had her way, all nuclear weapons would be dismantled, starting with those in the U.S. It's a view she doesn't hesitate to share with anyone who stops by her 15 foot long camp on the edge of Lafayette Square Park.
With no more killing innocent people and destruction of the planet.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1
Picciotto's vigil structure is made up of a tarp in the shape of a small cave, opening out toward the White House. It's the only thing separating this small, elderly woman from the elements. On either side of the tarp is a large wooden board, covered with anti-war quotes and grizzly pictures of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. The site pulls tourists' eyes away from the grandeur of the White House and toward the ugliness of war.
This is my first time here, my husband and I, and we're all about this. I mean, we believe in peace, we believe in anti-war. We won't even let our children go and join the war because it's not our fight.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
The person who's doing it looks like of loony and it sort of trivializes the very serious issue.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2
She seems a little bit off her rocker, but I do think it's good that the kids sort of get to talk to someone who's representing a different, almost even extreme view, just to sort of challenge what they think.
Now, Picciotto's supporters, many of whom came from the Occupy movement, have started modest efforts to make her peace vigil a permanent monument. Plans are underway to draft up a formal proposal to create a national peace memorial in Lafayette Square Park.
MR. CHARLES HOLSOPPLE
Robbie's at the vigil, is that what you said? Yeah, yeah.
Charles Holsopple, a friend of Picciotto's who occasionally helps staff the vigil, came up with the idea several months ago.
I would like a spot that would represent the commitment and the further commitment it's going to take in order to have peace, that when people come there, it's a solemn, sacred spot.
Eventually, the proposal would need authorization from either Congress or the President, and according to Peter May at the National Park Service, that seems unlikely.
MR. PETER MAY
There is guidance in a Commemorative Works Act that says that a new memorial should not encroach upon an existing memorial, and there are memorial elements already in Lafayette Square, so it's hard to picture how something new might be put in there without potentially encroaching upon it. It doesn't mean that it can't be done, it just -- it's another complication.
He says most new memorials are authorized at a rate of about one per year, if that. Still, Holsopple remains undeterred. He plans on producing a series of videos and posting them online to help encourage people to back the plan for the memorial. And while Picciotto likes the idea, she doesn't see herself ending her around the clock protests any time soon.
Will this potential peace memorial, in your mind, attract more people to the cause of peace?
I hope so. I hope that the more people know, the more people get involved.
But any official approval for a memorial may be just as elusive as the peace which it would be meant to promote. Then again, that's what Picciotto likely heard in the early years about her chances of being able to continue her protest for any meaningful length of time. I'm Marc Adams.
You can find pictures of Concepcion Picciotto's decades-old peace vigil at our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break, going on the prowl for Washington's alley cats.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3
Yeah, I'm known as the cat lady.
It's just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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