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11 Feb, 2010 20:11

Washington's long-time protestors have their own stories

Thousands of protesters come through Washington, DC each year, making their case and leaving, but a few “regulars” take their message to the streets of the US Capital every single day.

It's Washington, DC at 5:30 p.m – right in the middle of rush hour. On the radio, the weather report predicts an impending snow storm. People are heading home from work, trying to stay warm on a cold winter day, including the vice president of the United States in his motorcade. But no one driving down Massachusetts Avenue, the heart of Washington’s Embassy Row, will make it to their destination without seeing one man.

“My name is John Wojnowski, and I’m protesting outside the Vatican Embassy,” said the retiree and activist, standing on a corner holding a banner. “Because,” he continued, “I was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Italy when I was 15 years old.”

For 12 years, John has stood here with his banner, asking for reparations from the Vatican for what he alleges happened to him, and hoping to raise awareness.

“It’s a terrible crime, much bigger than people ever think,” he said about sexual abuse, “because the majority of boys will never tell.”

Other issues bring protesters to the U.S. capital to demonstrate in rallies. Abortion, healthcare reform and war are all examples. But John’s issue brings him here, in his words, “every day, seven days a week.”

It’s dedication you may call unique, but in Washington, DC, he’s one of the “regulars.” They are people who take their message to the streets of the US capital every single day and make activism their life. Another regular has taken up position outside the president’s home.

“I’ve been here since 1981, outside the White House,” said activist Concepcion Picciotto. “Night and day; rain, snow, or shine.”

Concepcion sleeps sitting up in a makeshift tent because of the regulations about protesting outside the White House. She hopes that some day a president will take notice of her demand that nuclear weapons be eliminated.

Though she’s been sitting here through six presidential administrations beginning with the administration of Jimmy Carter, she has yet to see the country’s chief executive, although she’s familiar to the park police.

And for John, he doesn’t know if standing outside the Vatican Embassy will ever get more of a reaction from inside than what he’s received in the past.

“I had a priest give me the finger,” he claimed.

Average DC residents and visitors, however, are pretty familiar with these regulars.

“I’ve seen that guy [Jon] since 2002, since I’ve been driving a cab in the city,” said a taxi driver.

Tourists look at them as some kind of attraction, taking pictures with Concepcion when they visit the White House.

And if that’s not enough to keep them braving the elements every day and devoting their lives to these causes, they have their convictions to keep them warm.

“I have to [protest],” Concepcion said. “I have no choice, because my course is to be here to awaken people.”

“This is a matter of honor right now,” said John. “I’m fighting back.”

And their convictions are somehow more enduring than those of the hundreds upon thousands of activists who come through the city each year, with their signs and their agendas, to make their protest and then leave.