Concepcion Picciotto was known to thousands of DC locals and tourists. She spent many years protesting nuclear proliferation at the gates of the White House, spending night after night in a makeshift shelter a short distance away in Lafayette Park. She passed away yesterday, never having developed a theory of change for her vigil and witness.
The author interviewed Concepcion (a.k.a. Conchita) for his boldnewlook.com website in 2004 ...
BOLDNEWLOOK: How many years have you been here in front of the White House?
CONCHITA: In front of the White House since 1981.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Why did you come to the White House?
CONCHITA: Well, I used to live in New York. It's a very long, complicated story. I came to the White House because of corruption. That's why I have a website, where everything is explained. Still I have much more to put on. It's mostly on there.
BOLDNEWLOOK: What is the name of your website?
CONCHITA: It is prop1.org/conchita.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Where is your family from originally?
CONCHITA: Originally my family is from Spain. I lived in New York all the way back since 1960. My grandmother and grandfather are from Cuba and they emigrated to Spain because of the war with the United States, so I'm from Galicia.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Do you stay here 24 hours a day?
CONCHITA: Yes, I'm here all the time except when I move for necessities. Like if I need a shower or necessities. But it's very difficult because there are many rules that the government imposes, that if I don't have anybody here — it's obvious I don't have a license — but still the regulations don't allow me to move more than three feet from any of the signs. If there's nobody around it's very difficult to use any of the necessities. It's a sacrifice, it's a lot of sacrifice.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Do people bring you food, or do you go and buy food somewhere?
CONCHITA: No, I don't buy food, I eat what the bakeries give to us after they close. They have sandwiches, they have everything — salads and pastries and bread. I just had a sandwich — half of it yesterday — it's tuna, but no meat.
CONCHITA: Oh, yes, yes. They have arrested me many times. I have that on the website too. Arrested, gassing by police ...
BOLDNEWLOOK: Has the President ever had the opportunity to speak with you?
CONCHITA: No president. This is unbelievable, because all the presidents who have passed through — I started with Jimmy Carter, and then Ronald Reagan, two terms, then President Bush's father, then President Clinton, two terms too, and now the son of the father — and none of them send other than the police. So it's obvious they know, they know that I am here, but there's nothing but defamation of character. But people visit my Internet. And you know, they're not as stupid. They can fool some fools sometimes, but not everyone is a fool. And they know, they know. And that's why society is my witness. Not religious witness. Political. I know, like that woman there in England, she knew what was going on with the U.N. and the spies, well I knew what has happened with the military in Argentina, because I was there on vacation and I brought my child from there ...
BOLDNEWLOOK: Do you have family in the United States?
CONCHITA: No, no: my family is the world.
BOLDNEWLOOK: You've been here for 23 years. What's your sense of how you've affected things? Have you changed people's minds?
CONCHITA: Oh, yes, yes. I don't change people's minds, but they come here and they've been telling me I make an impact on people's minds and they change a lot. Yes, yes, even on the website, too, I get a lot of e-mails too. It's very encouraging, oh yes.
BOLDNEWLOOK: It must be very difficult to stay here when it gets very cold.
CONCHITA: Oh, it's very, very cruel, it's cruel. Because it's not just the elements, you know ...
BOLDNEWLOOK: Do you have protest colleagues, people who help you?
CONCHITA: Yes, in front of the [White House] gate, there are pictures and everything on my website. In front of the gates in '81 I met my colleague William Thomas. We were there three years: '81 to 83. We were beaten up, arrested, gassing, everything. Finally Reagan decided not to have the signs there. Then we moved to across the street, down there. Thomas began to challenge the government in court with the Constitution. They arrested us, the beatings many times — they sent Marines, too, Navy Marines. Thomas too. So he decided to challenge legally. Because we had the American Civil Liberties Union. And we were in court for almost ten days with the American Civil Liberties Union but we lost the case. In fact, we didn't lose it. They ruled that we had the right to be in front of the gate because of the American Constitution but Reagan disregarded it and threw us out of there. So soon Thomas began to challenge it again, but the American Civil Liberties Union said, no, we won't challenge any more because we have been spending a lot of money and time, but they do what they want. And that is why Thomas is still working sometime on it. Because we have many difficulties sometimes to maintain it here. And so I'm on my own. He comes sometimes to give me a break or relieve me in the morning or the evening so I can go for a shower or whatever.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Do you get support from the church across the street?
CONCHITA: No, no, we've had a lot of problems with that church. Oh my, back in the eighties.
BOLDNEWLOOK: What were your problems with the church?
CONCHITA: It's very complicated, it's too much. We had this restraining order from the police, that we had to move at that time in '81, '82, '83, from [the White House gate] for certain hours — we had big signs, big signs. So the closest place for us to move was the church. At that time they had it open back there. So we tried to spend hours there and come back here. And the church people were throwing us out, oh my, very nasty, saying this is the house of God, and you know [Conchita laughs]. And then the Metropolitan police were accosting me, too. So one day, Thomas said, well, let's go to do something. We go back here and put up a sign saying, "Repent or Perish." And I was walking in the front of the church — "You get out of the church." And I said, "I'm not in the church, I'm on the sidewalk." And then one of the officers was incredible, and used to say, "We're going to take you to a mental institution." But I said, I'm not doing anything, I'm walking back and forth with a sign." You know, on a sidewalk — "Repent or Perish, Repent or Perish." We had a lot of trouble with that church. They didn't like us because they supported the President. The President was there, the hypocrites — as far as I know, it was Jimmy Carter, too. We had a lot of trouble at that time, but we overcome everything, no matter what.
BOLDNEWLOOK: When do you know when your work is done?
CONCHITA: Oooh — It's endless, because the situation in the world now is getting more bizarre. You see what is going on with the United States. Now we have Haiti. It's growing and growing. With the involvement of the United States everywhere. Before we had it too, we had Somalia where the troops went to the street. They go everywhere. The latest we had it too was in Yugoslavia, where they used depleted uranium and tried to attack people with the nuclear. And now they have Iraq, and they don't stop.
BOLDNEWLOOK: What is your sense of the current president, George W. Bush, compared with other presidents? Is he worse or better?
CONCHITA: The worst. The worst because of involvement with war. He's a war-monger. The economy is bad because he protects the corporations. He talks, but his words go to the wind. Actions. And his actions are for the corporations. And all the money goes there. No child should be behind with an education, but they cut the budget in the schools, they close the schools. Children cannot go to school. But Israel is getting billions of dollars. But they have a right to defend themselves — but from what, from what? It is insane. It doesn't make any sense that they know they're killing those Palestinians there daily, daily, unbelievable, grabbing their land, bulldozing their houses .... Now they're building a wall. There's too much going on in the world. We have to keep it up. There are people telling me, "Don't give up, go on, go on." One says, "The beasts, the humans, animals, and trees depend on you, Concepción Picciotto, go, go!" Many people write to me here, too. It's not what people are telling me, but I have to stay because of my conscience.
BOLDNEWLOOK: What were you doing before you came here in 1981?
CONCHITA: You'd never believe ... I was living in New York. I moved there in 1960. At that time I worked at the New York World's Fair at the Pavilion of Spain. After, I worked at the U.N. and nine years at the Embassy of Spain at the commercial office. This is what the Marines do to me, and government are doing to me. So that's why I have a helmet. [Conchita shows me photographs of lesions on her skin.] Yes, they do it, and some places I cannot show. They have more sophisticated weapons now, like I said. Go into my bones, go to my neck. Yes, my leg is getting swollen.
BOLDNEWLOOK: Where do you go for medical care?
CONCHITA: No, I don't go for medical care because medical cannot do nothing. It's electronic, and I have to take care of myself. And that was me, in my home in New York. [Conchita shows me a photograph of what she looked like 30 years ago, in her New York apartment.] That's why they destroy everybody's life. I never dreamed of being here. That was me, my husband, my daughter. She was born in Argentina in '73. Imagine the mothers there. That's what I'm saying. I have something that they know, and Jimmy Carter was involved with that. He knew. Oh my. You have to check what happened to me in Atlanta.
BOLDNEWLOOK: And that's on your website too?
CONCHITA: Oh yeah, yeah.
BOLDNEWLOOK: How much longer do you think you'll be here?
CONCHITA: Only God knows that, because I want to stay here, no matter what. I want to stay here. It's painful many times, physical and moral. Oh yes, very painful. But I see people, that people are suffering. And these here, they don't care. They kill, kill. Even American troops too, these young people in there, it's so sick. For nothing, for nothing, for control of the oil and power. It's insane. I will be here whatever it takes.
BOLDNEWLOOK: If you could send one message to the President, what would it be?
CONCHITA: My goodness! The first thing, to come to his senses and stop killing. "Axis of Evil, we're going to bomb you with nuclear bombs," and then at the same time says, "We have to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons." How can they stop when you threaten them? They have to buy or build them up to be even. It doesn't make sense, it's sick. It contradicts, one thing to another. That's what I'm saying — stop now, make peace with the world, take care of the people at home, education, jobs, housing, affordable health care. Because if the terrorists are coming, it's because they provoked them. It's not terrorism, the terrorism is here. They terrify the world. It's like with North Korea — North Korea was doing very well with Clinton. They started to have more diplomacy with them. They started to open the borders, and people were traveling to meet their families, and they were talking about the nuclear reactor, but Bush took over. "You! Axis of Evil! We're going to bomb you with nuclear bombs!" They closed the borders, and that's it. And they want to negotiate because their people are starving for so many years. That's terrible genocide for the United States to do, and even in Cuba. Diplomacy is democracy. But they're dictating. And that's the most terrifying weapon — that they don't allow human beings for food and medication. That is worse than the bomb. The bomb kills you and that's it, but this is gradual, slow death. Which is what they're doing to me here, a slow death. And that's why I see the people suffering, like in Guantanamo. They snatch people from their country, from their lands, and bring them to another country, which is not theirs, and keep them in cages worse than in the zoo, and nobody can know where they are, what are their names, or anything. And keep torturing them. No, it's so inhuman. This has to be stopped in the world. They see that, and the world don't do nothing. Even here, the U.S. people come and I say, "Do you want literature?" and they say, "Oh, I'm just looking." I say, "It's OK." Ignorance, the American way.