The Most Durable American Anti-War Monument
If you live in DC and do not know the White House Peace Vigil then you really need to attend a protest at the White House. Presidents give the people reason to protest all the time. Trump does it so much that you have to think he enjoys seeing angry crowds. Maybe he likes to imagine the crowds came to hear him speak or kiss his rings.
Over the almost four decades since the peace vigil began hundreds of volunteers have come through to sit in the sun and rain, night and day. That means that every day (as far as I know) since the vigil began in 1981, there has been at least one person sitting in front of the White House evangelizing against the wars and foreign policy blunders of the day.
Philipos Malaku-Bello is the main attendant at the Vigil now. From seeing him under the white tarp you would not realize how much work the man does. He sits in his wheelchair for 12+ hour shifts most days. He holds signs, hands out pamphlets, talks to whoever wants to talk, and throws up the two-finger peace sign for anybody who wants a photo. His beard and dreadlocks look prim for a man who spends most of his time outdoors, but his skin is sunbleached from decades of this work.
Malaku-Bello first volunteered with the peace vigil in the 80’s while touring with his punk band, the Anarchistic Youth Brigade. When they were in town he and his bandmates would give the Vigil’s founder, William Thomas, some time off. By time off, in this case I mean the four-piece band split 16 hours of protest and Thomas covered the other eight. Malaku-Bello started to regularly occupy the peace tarp in ‘89, and has slowly increased his responsibilities with the Vigil since.
Since Trump became President things in front of the White House have changed. “Under every previous administration they would ask us to leave the area maybe twice a month. Now it can be three times a day,” he said. The Secret Service will shut down the area when there is an unattended bag but he also told me that he gets moved because the Postal Service needs to send the President’s mail to him in a commercial truck. This, he said, is far more daily mail than any President before Trump. He assumes it is mostly hate mail
After Thomas died in 2009, Concepción Picciotto and Malaku-Bello took over, and saved the Vigil from being dismantled. Piccioto died last year. She used to be an animated presence at the vigil. Arguing with the Zionists who disapproved of the Vigil’s compassion for the people of Palestine. She spoke with a crackle in her voice and wore a shawl and headscarf. Her style was not American, she was born in Spain. You could have mistaken her for a victim of America’s bombing campaigns in majority Muslim countries.
The Vigil has stood for decades through hurricanes and assaults from Zionists. Malaku-Bello changes out the tarp every three weeks, provides water and snacks for the volunteers, does most of the vigilizing, and prints their pamphlets on issues relevant to their sustained protest. He regularly works for 18 hours, drives home, rests for three, and then comes right back into the city for another extended shift. In 2020 he will run for DC City Council under a platform of ending gentrification, DC Statehood, accessibility for the disabled, and addressing the city’s parking problems.
When you see him in front of the White House consider donating money, bottled water, or snacks. He is diabetic and specifically requested almonds. Also, do not be afraid to talk to the man and consider volunteering if you have the time and passion. The Vigil almost died with Williams because many of the regular volunteers stopped going. With Malaku-Bello’s City Council campaign the Vigil will either need a new leader or a new direction, otherwise it will die. And you cannot email the dreadlocked-pacifist. When I requested his email to send him this article the man’s face lit up with pride. He used to be a high-profile American anarchist, and so, he said, “Anytime somebody sets up an email address or website for me it disappears.” I looked for a White House Peace Vigil website for volunteers to sign up and could not find it. So reach out to the man in person to see what you can do for the longest running peace vigil in modern history.