WASHINGTON -- Organizers of the Occupy movement came to Washington, D.C. on Friday to seek advice from the most experienced occupier in the country: Concepcion Picciotto, the well-known Lafayette Park resident who has been living in a peace camp in front of the White House since 1981.
Picciotto, now in her mid-60s, has been waging a decades-long personal protest of nuclear weapons. Tourists frequently swarm her tent, which is plastered with black-and-white photos of Hiroshima and crudely made signs warning of the dangers of nuclear bombs. She sits in front of her tent on a crate most days, holding up handmade signs and handing out flyers, which are available in various languages. She occasionally rotates out of the camp with another protester, but she is the primary 24-hours-a-day resident. If the site went unmanned even momentarily, the U.S. Park Police would have the authority to move in and tear it down.
Occupy organizers set up a livestream camera in front of Picciotto's tent on Friday and interviewed her for 20 minutes, in the hopes she would impart some wisdom on the best way to stay the course in their newly-formed resistance movement against corporate greed. Her advice to them was to remain peaceful, they said, despite some of the horrific tales she shared with them about her experiences living in a tent 24/7.
"She basically told us that everyone should mobilize and occupy, but we have to stay focused on nonviolence," Makh Aten, who provides tech support at various Occupy sites, told The Huffington Post. "She said we should expect to be beaten and pepper-sprayed, and to remember that's a part of the peaceful revolution."
In a warning of the uglier side of waging a protest, Aten, who lives in New York City, said Picciotto showed him fresh rags from being pepper-sprayed on Thursday night. She said Secret Service stationed by the White House sprayed her because "they want her to leave," Aten said.
"She was covered up in bandages and stuff. She's wearing a helmet under her scarf," he said of Picciotto's trademark headdress, which at first blush appears to just be a scarf held on with bobby pins. "There's a helmet under there."
Still, Aten said, Picciotto's bottom-line advice to Occupy protesters was to "just be peaceful and stay the course."