A legendary peace vigil that has been outside the front gates of the White House for 32 years was removed by police last night, then reinstated today amid growing outrage — just as the world is fixated on the potential for American involvement in another war.
The breakdown of the iconic encampment stunned Concepcion Picciotto, 77, the steely woman who has maintained the 24/7 protest in Lafayette Park. The developments have also reinvigorated debate over First Amendment rights along Pennsylvania Avenue and put a spotlight on opponents of strikes against Syria.
“It upsets me because now more than ever we need it,” Picciotto told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl. ”I was frustrated, shocked, that my stand was gone.”
As Picciotto spoke, a fellow activist sat cross-legged in the exact spot where the vigil tent and iconic signage once stood. The “Live by the bomb die by the bomb” and “Ban all nuclear weapons or have a nice doomsday” signs were nowhere to be found.
“Since 1981. Straight,” said Picciotto of her tenure as the longest-running protester in front of the White House. “I’ve been buried under the snow.”
“What makes you do it for so long?” Karl asked.
“Because nobody will do it. Nobody will stand up,” she said.
Law enforcement officials said the encampment had been briefly abandoned by a placeholder for Piccotto around 2 a.m. Thursday, violating a policy that it must be continuously occupied for 24-hours to be allowed to remain. Activists worked all day to recover her belongings from the U.S. Park Police and reinstate the vigil, which was ultimately completed.
“This has been a landmark in Washington, D.C. This is an important historical place for us. This is the people’s area, the people’s park and we need the people’s voice here,” Picciotto supporter Tighe Berry told Karl. ”We need these spaces so that we can really use our First Amendment rights to express our public opinion to our government.”