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Paying tribute to anti-nuclear activist who sat in front of White House for 35 years

NEW YORK -- A petit woman who sat in front of the White House for 35 years since 1981 to protest against nuclear weapons died on Jan. 25. Her name was Concepcion Picciotto. She was believed to be 80 years old when she died. U.S. newspapers called her peace demonstration the longest-running political protest in U.S. history.

    Picciotto was a Spanish immigrant. After her marriage failed, she lost custody of her adopted daughter. Left broken-hearted, she met an American anti-nuclear activist and decided to engage in an anti-nuclear protest herself, thinking that though she was helpless to do anything for her own child, she should at least work toward protecting children in the world from destruction.

    The pair began a peace vigil just in front of the building where the leader of the world's biggest nuclear power lived. They built a simple demonstration base made with a beach umbrella and a plastic sheet. To the side of their protest base were signboards with photos of the atomic bombed Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Except when she would visit her supporters' places to shower or other necessary reasons, Picciotto was always there.

    Even after her activist partner passed away in 2009, Picciotto continued to speak of the terror of nuclear weapons to tourists from around the world.

    In a 2015 survey conducted by Japan's public broadcaster NHK, only 30 percent of respondents across Japan could correctly answer the dates of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. Even in Japan, the only country in the world to have been attacked by A-bombs, the memory of the devastation is fading away, and I wonder how indifferent other parts of the world are toward nuclear armament.

    Picciotto's long years of devotion to her anti-nuclear protest are all the more precious now that people's interest in the issue is fading.

    Steven Leeper, former chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, has told me that Picciotto was doing what everyone should have been doing together. Every time he flew to Washington D.C., he would go see the woman he called his hero. Leeper has handed Picciotto a thank you letter from the city of Hiroshima for her activities.

    I myself talked to Picciotto a few times when I was a correspondent based in Washington D.C. As a journalist representing a newspaper from the atomic bombed country, I wanted to write down about a woman who told me that one must sacrifice something in order to reach their goal. (By Kazuhiko Kusano, New York Bureau)

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