Lafayette Square is a little emptier today.
That’s because Concepcion Picciotto, a longtime protester and Washington DC icon, died on Monday. She was believed to be in her 80’s.
Connie — as she was known — sat outside the White House for more than three decades, and her protest is considered to be the longest political protest in US history.
After years of her 24-hour vigil protesting nuclear proliferation, she became a staple of Lafayette Park, but didn’t say much about her life before coming to Washington DC.
It didn’t hurt that she had her own very distinctive style, which included an almost astronaut-esque hat, that made her head seem giant in comparison to the rest of her body.
Concepcion Picciotto, in her younger days, stands outside of the White House.
Courtesy of Timothy Wilkerson
But even though she was so recognizable, most tourists or DC natives didn’t know much about her background.
She was a Spanish immigrant, who came to the US in 1960. She moved to New York City and worked a number of jobs, first at the 1964 World’s Fair, then the UN and later, the Spanish Embassy.
She married an Italian man in 1969, but the relationship was troubled. They adopted a girl from Argentina, but the relationship was still tumultuous — and soon turned violent.
Connie believed that her husband and his mistress may have been poisoning her, as her health began to decline. Finally, she claimed, the two of them ran off — taking along with them her life’s savings, and her daughter.
She eventually came to Washington DC in a last-ditch effort to try and get her daughter back, and met up with William Thomas, who was protesting out in front of the White House daily already. She joined him in 1981, and was the last of the original crew.
Connie’s life is featured in “The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue,” a documentary that tells the story of the core protesters at Lafayette Square. Director Timothy Wilkersonsays she was out in front of the White House pretty much until the day she died, rain or shine.
“The Department of the Interior had promulgated several restrictions on them that were meant really to extricate them from the park.” he says. “But other than a few days when the park district had shut down the park entirely, she was out there every day of the year.”
Wilkerson followed the small group of activists to make his film, and got an insider account of why the kept coming back, day after day.
“I feel like they felt as if they were the vanguard or the oracles warning people about what could happen in the future. Not just Connie, but the rest of them as well.”
With Connie gone, the vigil’s future is uncertain, Wilkerson says.
In his opinion, as more countries gain the ability to build their own nuclear arsenals, the danger looms larger than ever. But to keep the vigil going, organizers need to galvanize young people.
“I hope that it continues,” he says.
Check out the trailer for "The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue"
From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International