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.
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.
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. Continue reading →
It’s a race to raise half a million dollars in one month.
Otherwise, the resident activists of Peace House on 12th Street will be turned out on the streets.
Peace House now serves as a refuge, usually a temporary one, for activists on the streets. Particularly since the February raids on the Occupy DC camps at Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square, when 24-hour no-sleeping rules went into effect, Peace House has provided a couple nights of sleep and a shower for displaced Occupiers.
But Peace House will soon be sold, if not to the activists under its roof within the next month, then to a buyer on the open market.
Peace House stands out among the other houses on 12th St. with its turquoise brick facade, bright flags, and the word “Peace” arching over the entrance. When I visit, someone is stretched out with a laptop on the comfy purple velvet sofa in the living room, and a few gather in the small room off the kitchen with a couple of well-loved dogs. Lots of artwork hangs on the walls, and even more “protest art” is lying around, most of it from the BP protest marking the Gulf oil spill the previous week, including paper maché “Frankenfish.” Resident artist Ray is in the backyard working on a paper maché Uncle Sam.
While Denise Valdez cooks black bean soup in the kitchen, Mira Dabit shows me around and talks about the mission of Peace House–art, education and activism. Mira wants it to be “a real space for anybody who has a revolutionary idea, an idea to change society. We’re trying to do events relevant to everyone.”
Even though time is short, she wants fundraising to tap more than just big-time donors. “We want to have a dollar from everybody–so everybody has a share in this house.”
Both Mira and Denise see Peace House as important in keeping Occupy alive in DC and stress that it’s a vital center for community. The moral support the house provides to full-time artists and activists seems clear. Mira says, “There are some days I wake up and don’t want to do this any more, but by noon I’m energized.” “Yeah,” adds Denise, who has a son in Austin, Texas. “Sometimes I just want to go home. But this is my home now, this is my family.”
If the community of activists can’t buy the house, they have no real contingency plan at the moment. They would probably be dispersed. They seem to take the attitude of founder Concepcion Picciotto, who says, “This is my life, what will be, will be.”
Concepcion carries on a 31-year vigil started by Bill Thomas in front of the White House against nuclear proliferation.
Unable to leave the vigil tent unattended, she returns to Peace House only when a volunteer relieves her. “God has given me health and strength to do this,” she says.
She’s adamant that Ellen Thomas, wife of Bill, is not authorized to sell the house, which is titled to non-profit Proposition One. “[Bill] Thomas never signed anything, he bought the house for activists.”
But others don’t seem to be challenging Ellen Thomas’ authority to sell, and the goal is to raise a half million–or a good portion of it–by the end of May to purchase the house.
Peace House will hold an art show and auction on Sunday, April 29 from 12 to 6pm. Peace House is located at 1233 12th St., between M and N Streets.