Future of Longtime White House Protest in Doubt After Eviction Notice

After 32 years, the anti-nuclear protest outside the White House is still going. But the activists who run it could lose their home.

By: Benjamin Freed

The anti-nuclear protest tent that has been camped outside the White House for more than three decades is in jeopardy after the activists who maintain it were served with an eviction notice from the Northwest DC home they use as a residence.

The house at 1233 12th Street, Northwest, or “Peace House” as demonstrators call it, is owned by Ellen Thomas, one of the founding demonstrators at the White House Peace Vigil, which camped out in Lafayette Square in early 1981 and has stayed there ever since, until being temporarily removed twice in the past few months. The vigil’s most famous occupant is Concepcion Picciotto, who stays at the Peace House when not tending to the protest site.

But Picciotto and her fellow anti-nuclear activists were served with eviction papers last week after accumulating a debt of more than $13,500 in back rent, utility bills, fines, and other costs that Thomas can no longer afford to cover, the Washington Post reports.

Thomas, who did not reply to Washingtonian’s phone calls or emails, is also trying to sell the house, potentially imperiling its status as a haven for DC’s activist community. She bought the house with her husband, William Thomas, the vigil’s founder who died in 2009.

The vigil itself seems to be losing steam as well. The activists have faltered in their round-the-clock occupancy of the vigil tent recently, leading US Park Police to briefly remove Picciotto’s tent on September 12 and again on October 20. Park Police allow vigils without permits, but any temporary structures erected as part of a demonstration must be occupied the entire time.

Picciotto returned to Lafayette Square quickly after both removals and is still there now, but whether she can keep the vigil going much longer is uncertain. At 77, her health has declined, and though she has said she intends to stay in the Peace House, that might not be an option once Thomas sells.

UPDATE, 2:18 PM: In a phone interview, Ellen Thomas says the activists who dwell at the Peace House haven't paid their rent since June. She also has a buyer who has agreed to pay $609,000 and wants to fix up the Logan Circle house before renting it out. But it seems Picciotto and her fellow demonstrators are done there, as a new owner is unlikely to match Thomas' generous $1,100 monthly rent.

"I tried for two-and-a-half years to find someone to buy it who would keep it as the Peace House," says Thomas, who moved to North Carolina after her husband's death. "I continue to support the Peace House, and then I ran out of money."

Thomas now considers the Peace House's activists to be squatters, and while she anticipates an ugly eviction process on December 1, she doesn't want her one-time fellow DC protesters to be completely in the lurch.

"I have taken care of Concepcion Picciotto since 1984," she says. "Maybe there are other people in this town who will step in and help her get another place."