Concepción Picciotto, who held peace vigil outside the White House for decades, dies
WASHINGTON Concepción Picciotto, the protester who maintained a peace vigil outside the White House for more than three decades, a demonstration widely considered to be the longest-running act of political protest in U.S. history, died January 25 at N Street Village, a shelter for homeless women in Washington DC. She was believed to be 80.
Ms. Picciotto, a Spanish immigrant known to many as Connie or Conchita, was a diminutive woman perpetually clad in a helmet and headscarf. As the primary guardian of the anti-nuclear proliferation vigil stationed along Pennsylvania Avenue, fellow activists lauded her as a heroine.
In a 2013 profile for The Washington Post, she said that she spent more than 30 years of her life outside the White House to stop the world from being destroyed. Through her presence, she hoped to remind others to take whatever action they could, however small, to help end wars and stop violence.
William Thomas, a self-described wanderer, philosopher and peace activist, originally founded the peace vigil. Ms. Picciotto joined Thomas there in 1981and the two became fixtures in the park. They were joined in 1984 by Ellen Benjamin, who married Thomas. The trio protested together in the park for 25 years.
Their grass-roots nuclear disarmament campaign was known as Proposition One. Its crowning achievement came in 1993, when a nuclear disarmament petition circulated by the activists resulted in a ballot initiative passed by District of Columbia voters.
Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Districts congressional delegate, helped the activists prepare a nuclear disarmament and conversion act, which she has since introduced in nearly a dozen sessions of Congress. The legislation has never reached the floor for a vote.
The vigil evolved into a well-recognized feature of the citys landscape. The makeshift shelter became a regular stop for D.C. tour guides and a topic of discussion in local college classrooms. The vigil and its keepers made a cameo appearance in Michael Moores 2004 political documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11 and starred in a 2011 feature-length documentary The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue.
When Thomas died in 2009, Ms. Picciotto vowed to continue her protest in his honor. But the vigils future was called into question in recent years, as its aging caretaker faced health problems. She came to rely heavily on the help of younger activists to maintain the vigil, which could not be left unattended according to National Park Service rules.
For months, the activists many of whom lived with Ms. Picciotto at Peace House, a row house owned by Ellen Thomas took turns guarding the vigil. But on two occasions in recent years, activists abandoned their station during overnight shifts, and the shelter and its signs were quickly removed by police. In both instances, the station and its signs were later returned by authorities.
Peace House was sold last year, and Ms. Picciotto eventually found shelter at N Street Village, within walking distance of her vigil. I have to be here, she said of her work. This is my life.
edited from an
article by Caitlin Gibson in The Washington Post, January 25, 2016
PeaceMeal Jan/February 2016
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Activist nun Sr. Megan Rice and two fellow anti-nuclear advocates released from prison
NASHVILLE, Tenn. An 85-year-old nun and two fellow Catholic peace activists who vandalized a uranium storage bunker were released from prison on May 16, according to their lawyer. Attorney Marc Shapiro said Sister Megan Rice was released just hours after 66-year-old Michael Walli and 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed also were let out of prison.
The trio was ordered released by a federal appeals court. The order came after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati overturned their 2013 sabotage convictions and ordered resentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property at the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge. In overturning the sabotage conviction, the Appeals Court ruled that their actions did not injure national security.
The activists spent two years in prison. The court said they likely had served more time than they will receive for the lesser charge. Rice was originally sentenced to nearly three years and the other two were each sentenced to just over five years.
The three are part of a loose network of activists opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. To further their cause, in July 2012 they cut through several fences to reach the most secure area of the Y-12 complex. Before they were arrested, they spent two hours outside a bunker that stores much of the nations bomb-grade uranium, hanging banners, praying and spray-painting slogans.
In the aftermath of the breach, federal officials implemented sweeping security changes, including a new security chief to over-see all of the National Nuclear Security Administrations sites.
Boertje-Obeds wife, Michele Naar-Obed, previously served three years in prison herself for anti-nuclear weapon protests. She said that if their protests open peoples minds to the possibility of life without nuclear weapons, then yeah, it was worth it.
edited from The
Associated Press, May 18, 2015
PeaceMeal, May/June 2015
American woman captured by Islamic State was moved by suffering of Syrian people
Kayla Mueller made helping people her lifes work. Mueller, 26, grew up in Prescott, Arizona, 100 miles north of Phoenix. She showed an early inclination for travel and humanitarian work, according to a 2007 profile in her hometown newspaper The Daily Courier. I love cultures and language and learning about peoples cultures, Kayla, then 19, said in the article.
Kayla worked for the Save Darfur Coalition, wrote letters to members of Congress, took part in environmental causes, and was honored with a local award for activism. She said, I always feel that, no matter how much I give, I always get back more through these projects.
Kayla continued her activism at Northern Arizona University, where Carol Thompson, a politics and international affairs professor there, called her a brilliant student who asked tough questions and cared deeply about issues of peace, inequality and justice. The two worked together on Save Darfur and as anti-war activists to make sure that returning veterans were welcomed back to the community.
After graduating from college in 2009, Kayla became a globetrotter. She spent two years living and working with humanitarian groups in northern India, Israel and the Palestinian territories, according to a family spokeswoman. In Israel, she volunteered at the African Refugee Development Center.
Upon returning to Arizona in 2011, Kayla volunteered in a womens shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic, helping to facilitate events and provide coordination for World AIDS Day.
In December 2011 she traveled to France to work as an au pair so she could learn French in order to work in Africa, the family spokeswoman said. After a year in France, she traveled to the Turkish/Syrian border to work with the Danish Refugee Council and the humanitarian organization Support to Life, which assisted refugee families forced to flee by the civil war in Syria.
In a YouTube video produced in October 2011, before the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Mueller said she supported a sit-in that protested the Syrian regime. I am in solidarity with the Syrian people, she said. I reject the brutality and killing that the Syrian authorities are committing against the Syrian people.
On a trip home in 2013, she told the Kiwanis Club in Prescott about her work in the Mideast, saying she often drew, painted and played with Syrian children in refugee camps, according to The Daily Courier. She said, When Syrians hear Im an American, they ask, Where is the world? All I can do is cry with them, because I dont know. She described helping reunite a man with a 6-year-old relative after the bombing of their refugee camp.
In the summer of 2013, Kayla visited a Spanish Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria. On the way to the Aleppo bus station to depart for Turkey, Kayla was captured by ISIS. In May 2014, the Mueller family received confirmation their daughter had been taken hostage.
U.S. troops may have come close to rescuing Kayla in July when they staged a daring raid at a location inside Syria in an attempt to find journalist James Foley, whom ISIS executed in August, and other hostages. One U.S. official said they found specific evidence the hostages had been there, including writings on the cell walls. A law enforcement official said hair strands found at the site are believed to have belonged to Kayla Mueller.
In a note to Kaylas family last summer, ISIS demanded 5 million Euros ransom by August 13, according to a source close to the family. Its unknown whether that execution date was kept. ISIS said in an online posting in February that a female American it was holding had died in a Jordanian airstrike on Raqqa, Syria. President Obama confirmed Kayla had been killed in a statement on February 10, promising to find and bring to justice the terrorists who are responsible for Kaylas captivity and death.
edited from an
article by Ralph Ellis of CNN, Feb. 10, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015
32-year anti-nuke vigil at White House resumes after break
WASHINGTON For 32 years, Concepcion Picciotto had spent almost every day perched in Lafayette Park, just outside the White House gates, preaching peace and world nuclear disarmament from her makeshift shelter surrounded by plywood signs to anyone who would listen. On the morning of September 12, the tent-like shelter that anchored her peace vigil was gone, but Picciotto was not. She was scrunched up instead on a park bench, her back turned toward the White House.
Frustrated. Upset, Picciotto said, her multicolor babushka shielding her wispy white hair from the sun. This is the time, more than ever, when we needed to communicate to people the danger of the nuclear bombs.
By many accounts, the round-the-clock vigil Picciotto started in 1981 was the longest-running protest in the United States. The vigil was made possible by a peculiar federal regulation governing the park that runs along the north side of the White House. No permits are required, but the vigil must be attended continuously.
For many years, it was Picciotto and a partner who manned the vigil day and night. Her bed was an afghan-covered box. In time she became well-known to the U.S. Park Police who patrol the grounds.
In her late 70s and with the leathery skin of someone who is no stranger to the sun, Picciotto nowadays sleeps in a nearby Peace House, a residence and shelter shared by activists who help man the site. She says she arrives at her vigil site every day around 11 a.m. and leaves around 10 p.m.
It was about 1 a.m. September 12 when a knock on the door awoke Picciotto. She was told that a volunteer slotted to man the vigil in her absence a veteran suffering from PTSD had left. The National Park Service said police spoke to two individuals leaving the vigil and determined they were abandoning it. With no one attending the site, the officer dismantled and removed the materials and placed them in a U.S. Park Police storage facility for safe keeping until they could be retrieved by the owner.
Regulars at the park took notice of the camps absence. I think its horrible for the few minutes that the tent was unoccupied that they would take it down, said Nancy Kon from Boston. Connie is an inspiration for all peace activists. Another man passing by saw the tent down and said in disbelief, Whoa, its gone! That has been here forever.
Determined to get her vigil up and running again without delay, Picciotto enlisted her fellow activists, who helped coordinate with police to return her belongings and even got Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbias envoy to Congress, involved. A few hours later, the shelter and Picciottos signs were back to their regular location.
Shes become something of a District legend, Norton said in an interview. She ought to be given the opportunity to end her own vigil and not have it end because of an unforeseen incident.
edited from The
Associated Press and NBC News
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2013
Peace activists who breached Y-12 security barriers found guilty
At three oclock in the morning on July 28, 2012, an 82-year-old Catholic nun, Sister Megan Rice, and two other ageing peace activists penetrated four security fences at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Y-12 site. A sign that said Danger: Halt! Deadly force is authorized beyond this point did not deter them. Without being detected, the trio spent about an hour and a half walking around the grounds and reached the building where the United States primary stockpile of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium approximately 400 tons of it is stored. They spray- painted peace slogans on the walls of the storage facility and hammered and splashed human blood on it as religiously motivated acts symbolizing the genocidal nature of nuclear weapons and their desire to disarm them.
Around 4:30 a.m., a security alarm indicated something was not right in a certain zone of the site. A single guard, Kirk Garland, was dispatched in a vehicle to check. When he arrived at the location, he saw an old woman and two men walking toward his vehicle with their hands up. Then he saw the peace slogans spray-painted in red and black on the white building. When he reported his findings, his lieutenant thought he was kidding. A second guard armed with an assault weapon was dispatched and the trio arrested.
The security breach at the recently-built, $549-million Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, which was supposed to be one of the most secure in the United States, triggered an investigation by the DOE Inspector General. It was found that security cameras at the facility were out of operation, a crucial one for six months, and that guards ignored motion detectors because they were routinely triggered by wildlife, weather and vegetation. Such a lax security culture had existed for years, the IG asserted.
Representative Mike Turner (Rep.-Ohio), who chairs the U.S. House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said, It is outrageous to think that the greatest threat to the American public from weapons of mass destruction may be the incompetence of Department of Energy security.
The National Nuclear Security Administration had rated the facilitys security as excellent and good in a 2011 performance evaluation. Pursuant to the break-in and subsequent investigation, at least $15 million in security upgrades were made at Y-12.
At a congressional hearing on the security breach in September, Rep. Henry Waxman (Dem.-Calif.) attributed one of the most serious security breakdowns in the history of the weapons complex to contractor and site managers failures. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Rep.-Tenn.) agreed that The ineptness and negligence is mind-boggling.
The site management contractor had $12.2 million docked from its annual award fee. The contractor that provided security lost its contract altogether, but the only person fired as a scapegoat was Kirk Garland, the guard who had a 30-year record of protecting nuclear weapons facilities. All other persons involved, including those in authority with the contractor and the NNSA, were disciplined, suspended, reassigned or retired.
Sister Rice and her co-defendants went to trial in Knoxville, Tenn., on May 7, 2013, on federal charges of trespass, destruction of property and sabotage the intent to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States. They were found guilty the following day. At a detention hearing on May 9, the federal judge ruled that they must remain in jail until their sentencing on September 23. They each face up to 30 years in prison.
edited from Oak Ridge
Today, The Washington Post and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
PeaceMeal, May/June 2013
A journey to faith and activism
Susan Kerin was raised on Gandhi and King by progressive, atheist parents who were angry at the hypocrisy of the churches. She married a college friend a secular Palestinian raised a son, and developed a career as a project officer for various federal social service agencies. Her call to activism came in October 2001, when teenage Johnny Thalijeh was shot outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He was one of 23 Palestinians killed by Israeli Defense Forces during a nine-day period in retaliation for shots fired at a nearby Israeli settlement.
Moved and challenged, Susan began to work with activist groups online as well as the Palestinian community in the Washington D.C. area. In 2004 she was helping a Christian girlfriend from Nazareth with academic research that involved the Gospels, and what she read surprised her. Jesus and his disciples: Theyre even better than Gandhi and King! she recalls thinking. I want to live the way the apostles did.
She kept reading the Gospels, and she started showing up at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Derwood MD. When the priest led prayers for the success of the U.S. military, Susan confronted him outside after Mass. Im happy to pray for the soldiers but I cant pray for their mission, she told him. Isnt Christianity nonviolent?
In wartime, refusing to kill would be a sin, the priest responded.
Even though she felt out of place there after that response, Susan kept going to church. Two years later she met Charles McCarthy and other members of the parish Pax Christi group, the Catholic peace fellowship, that she now co-chairs. Charles, his father Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, a priest of the Eastern Rite Catholic Church, and other models of Christian nonviolence became her personal evangelists. In 2006, after learning about Christian Peacemaker Teams and the coverage of American Quaker peace activist Tom Foxs kidnapping and death in Iraq, she joined a CPT delegation and visited Hebron.
Im a non-rebel with a cause, Susan said. Three of them, actually. Im still advocating for justice for Palestinians. From 2008-2010, I was a land coordinator for Free Gaza, from their first successful voyage until the one where passengers were killed on the Mavi Marmara.
Im also working to end military recruitment in our schools and doing prison ministry. I write to five or six prisoners, including one on death row, and I mentor returnees. Our prisoners are a despised people, like the Palestinians. Im not a rabble-rouser, really. Its about the relationships. Its about finding a way to love.
edited from Pax
Christi USA, Spring 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012
Activist priest donates Picasso drawing to UW, Tacoma
Fr. Bill Bix Bichsel, a Jesuit priest and longtime peace activist, has donated an original Picasso drawing to the University of Washington, Tacoma. The 1953 drawing, La Visage de la Paix (The Face of Peace), was offered by Fr. Bichsel on behalf of a delegation to Japan he led in 2009. Valued at $60,000, the line drawing depicts a dove with a serene human face on its body.
Wed gone to Japan in 2009 to express our sorrow for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, explained Fr. Bichsel, who had organized the group of 18 peace pilgrims on what they called The Journey of Repentance.
When we first got there we were met by the Japanese Peace Committee (JPC). There was a lot of gift exchanging, as is common in Japan. We just brought over simple things like dream-catchers and scarves. But they gave us this tremendous piece of art. We didnt realize just what it was at first.
What it was, in fact, was a Picasso original. The Spanish artist known for his anti-war art work and drawings of peace doves had drawn and given it to the JPC when he visited and joined them in 1953. The Tacoma group decided to offer the drawing to the university to honor the Japanese who lived in that downtown area of the city prior to the World War II internments. The university had also been involved when the JPC visited Tacoma in 2004.
The presentation, made in connection with a ceremony on April 30 that honored Fr. Bichsels life and commitment to peace and justice. It was delayed until he was released from his latest federal jail term that resulted from protests against nuclear weapons last year at the Bangor Submarine Base, where Trident submarines armed with ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads are based.
Fr. Bichsel stated, I feel very elated (that they have the Picasso). Were very happy to be connected with them. Theyre on their own pursuit of justice and peace.
Debra Friedman, UWT chancellor, said, I was stunned. This is an exceptional and beautiful gift to the university community. It celebrates both art and Fr. Bixs extraordinary life given to peace activism. And it will enrich the life of the students here. It has been hung in the university library.
edited from The News
Tribune (Tacoma), May 4, 2012
PeaceMeal, May/June 2012
Plowshares activists sentenced to 2 to 15 months in prison
Five peace activists, dubbed the Disarm Now Plowshares, were given prison sentences ranging from two months to 15 months in federal court in Tacoma on March 28 for breaking into the U.S. Navy Subase Kitsap-Bangor on Hood Canal to symbolically disarm the nuclear weapons stored there. The five, including two Jesuit priests and a nun, were convicted by a federal jury in December of using bolt cutters to cut through three chain-link fences to enter an area where some 1,700 thermonuclear warheads are stored.
Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Thomas Gumbleton, retired Catholic bishop of Detroit, and others testified on behalf of the defendants. Clark testified that never in his life has he encountered such unselfish people as those who participate in the Plowshares tradition of direct action against nuclear weapons. Regarding their decision to live a life of civil resistance, he said, Their consciences tell them they have to do it. Gumbleton, founding president of the peace group Pax Christi USA, testified that the Catholic Church has spoken out very strongly against nuclear weapons, saying that no use of nuclear weapons can be justified morally.
The Rev. Bill Bichsel of Tacoma, 82, was sentenced to three months in prison and six months home detention by U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle. Settle also sentenced 84-year-old Sr. Anne Montgomery to two months in prison and four months in home detention. The Rev. Stephen Kelly, 62, from Oakland, Calif., and Susan Crane, 67, a retired public school teacher from Baltimore, were both sentenced to 15 months in prison. Lynne Greenwald, 61, a social worker from Bremerton, received a sentence of six months.
Supporters asked the judge not to sentence any of the five to prison. But Settle called the protesters actions a form of anarchy that if left unchecked would result in a breakdown of society. While Settle praised the five for their life stories and their humanitarian work, the judge said he was bound by the law to send a very clear message that legalnot illegalmeans must be used to try to bring about the change they sought.
As member of the legal team, Anabel Dwyer, a Michigan attorney and board member of The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy in New York, said she was impressed by the judges civility and his thoughtful attention to the case. Judge Settle issued shorter sentences than prosecutors recommended. He said he gave Bichsel a shorter sentence, in part, because of his precarious health and also cited his work in the community at the Tacoma Catholic Worker House. Its not easy to sit in judgment of people who have lived such sacrificial lives, Settle said.
Photo: Fr. Bill Bichsel's mugshot from the county jail in Knoxville, Tenn.
Bichsel has already spent about 20 months in federal prison for prior acts of trespass at Bangor and at the School of Americas, Fort Benning, Georgia. However, apparently due to the lapse in time since his prior convictions, the governments sentencing memo said Bichsel had no counting criminal history.
Kelly and Crane received the longest sentences because they had the most extensive criminal history. Both have several prior convictions for damaging government property at military installations across the country in protest of U.S. military weapons.
The five were convicted December 13 of conspiracy, trespassing and destruction of government property. They faced up to 10 years in prison. The defendants admitted they broke into the base around 2:00 a.m. on November 2, 2009. Bichsel previously said the protesters were inside the perimeter fence for about 4˝ hours before they cut through the final two fences and approached the nuclear weapons bunkers. Armed guards responded to an alarm, ordered the banner-carrying activists to the ground and placed bags over their heads so they couldnt view any more of the secure area.
During their week-long trial, the protesters wanted to focus their defense on their motivation for breaking into the base, but Settle barred them from submitting arguments that called the weapons illegal under international law. During the sentencing, however, the protesters were free to speak about their intent. All read statements in court that focused on the personal responsibility they feel to disarm nuclear weapons, and their desire to prevent pain, suffering and death for those deprived by our wars and military budget of a human way of life.
The five protesters have 10 days from the sentencing to decide whether they will appeal the jurys December verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
edited from the
Tacoma News Tribune and Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action e-mail
PeaceMeal, March/April 2011