Silent deterrent to war, Peace Vigil keeps watch over White House

PeaceVigil_2013-09-12

The White House Peace Vigil takes up only a little sidewalk space on Pennsylvania Ave. but leaves a big footprint. For 32 years, two six-foot yellow signs with a white tarp between them have warned us about the dangers of nuclear weapons. This iconic statement for disarmament almost came to an end today.

In the middle of the night Park Police disassembled and carted off the vigil’s tent and signs when its watchman left. Vigil supporters contacted the police, with Eleanor Holmes Norton following up, to restore the vigil this afternoon.

Thousands of tourists have seen it, taken pictures of it, and talked to Concepcion, the co-founder who’s been there since the beginning–Chinese tourists from Shanghai, Koreans from Seoul, Germans on their way to Philadelphia, gay rights activists from Africa, and school groups from Iowa.

Peace Vigil was removed temporarily
Peace Vigil reinstated today

Hundreds of volunteers have invested over 282,000 hours of labor staffing the vigil, sitting through rain, snow, cold, heat, thirst–and boredom. During Hurricane Sandy three people held it in place for hours as the wind screamed.

There’s a bathroom nearby but it closes early. Someone has to man it 24 hours a day, so volunteers are organized into shifts and bring their own food and water. They have to wait for their replacements, even if they come late.

Facing the north portico of the White House, the tattered tarp and yellow signs present an image of the powerless confronting the all-powerful. Undoubtedly every president since 1981–five of them–has seen it and knows its history, yet none have ever acknowledged it.

Year after year the vigil has persevered with no measurable effect. Nuclear weapons still exist. Whether we’re making progress toward nuclear disarmament or not, the vigil still serves a purpose.

The powerful argue that a strong military is a deterrent. For the same reason, the Peace Vigil must be maintained as one tiny block in the dam against the tendency toward violence. It’s an irritant to every president and a reminder that there are always those who stand vigilant against war.

Today the Peace Vigil got a reprieve. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and it will still be there. Will it be there for another 32 years? I think we’ll still need it then.

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