First, the man who was supposed to be watching Concepcion Picciotto’s 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week peace vigil wandered away from his guard duty.
Then the Park Police, finding the site abandoned around 4 a.m., packed up the patio umbrella draped with white plastic that has served as Picciotto’s makeshift shelter since the Reagan administration and placed it in agency storage.
News that Picciotto’s anti-nuclear vigil — a collection of hand-drawn signs calling on the president to BAN ALL NUCLEAR BOMBS that is widely considered the nation’s longest-running act of political protest — had disappeared spread fast.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., instructed staffers to call the Park Police and try to track down Picciotto's belongings.
National Park Service Public Information Officer Jeffrey Olson put out a statement explaining that officers removed the site after finding it abandoned, according to federal regulations that require it to be “continuously attended.”
By 2:30 p.m., activists returned to the site with the reclaimed signs and shelter materials.
Norton’s office released a statement trumpeting her staff’s role in the imbroglio: “I appreciate that the Park Police have worked with us to defuse a growing controversy about the removal of Concepcion Picciotto’s belongings.”
She also took the opportunity to praise and defend Picciotto: “She is well known for her willingness to engage in principled activism at considerable personal costs. She and her friends and allies have abided by the rules, and this single mishap by a fellow activist should not torpedo her longstanding vigil. In this city, we work together to find solutions.”
Or, as Picciotto phrased it for The Washington Post: “This is just so much trouble for nothing.”