Last week, Washington, D.C. mourned the death of Concepcion ‘Connie’ Picciotto, a legendary peace activist who had been camping in front of the White House since 1981. She was a well-known personality in the U.S. Capital, having manned the peace vigil tent for three-and-a-half decades, suffering the worst of both weather and humanity, all in an attempt to “stop the world from being destroyed.”
Orphaned in Spain and raised by a grandmother, Connie arrived in New York in 1960, where she worked as a receptionist for a Spanish government commercial attaché. She married an Italian immigrant a few years later, and they adopted an infant daughter, Ogla, in 1973. But she claimed that things started to turn sour when her husband, in an attempt to conceal his criminal dealings, sent her to a mental institution. She lost her daughter in a custody dispute after her release, and ended up in Washington, where she naturally gravitated towards larger causes.
Connie joined the anti-nuclear White House Peace Vigil a few months after it was started by another activist, William Thomas. They camped out together outside the White House for 25 years, and when he passed away in 2009, she kept the vigil going with the help of other activists who joined her from time to time. Picciotto’s peace vigil is considered the longest in the history of the United States.
As you can imagine, spending three and a half decades in a tent in front of The White House wasn’t easy. Connie constantly wore a helmet underneath her headscarf, for protection. Over the years, she’d been attacked by random people several times, hit by a cab, and claimed that she’d even been pushed around by the Secret Service. According to The NY Times, “She played a cat-and-mouse game for more than three decades with the United States Park Police, which prohibits demonstrators from sleeping on its property or leaving a protest site unattended. When she left to rest, volunteers would relieve her.”
In September 2013, when the police dismantled the vigil tent because it was mistakenly left unmanned for a brief period of time, she stood at the site until they returned it to her. Speaking to Huffington Post then, she said: “This is the time, more than ever, we need people to mobilize, to stop killing and the wars all over the world. It’s frustrating, because it’s hard to be there. I am in the heat, in the cold and the snow.”