By John Zangas, Popular Resistance
An unknown assailant destroyed the White House peace vigil tent, slicing it in half, on Wednesday afternoon. Philipos Melaku-Bello, the coordinator of the vigil, was sitting watch at the time and unhurt. He reported hearing someone call him a racial epithet and turned to see an eight foot gash in the tarp overhead. He put out a call for help on social media and within hours, about ten supporters responded.
The attack occurred while Secret Service were moving tourists back from the sidewalk in front of the White House and across Pennsylvania Avenue toward Lafayette Park, and a large crowd surrounded the vigil.
Undaunted by the incident, Melaku-Bello said that he has been a victim of several previous attacks over the years, including having stones thrown at him. The tent has been sabotaged several other times as well, but this is the first time the entire tarp was destroyed, requiring it to be replaced.
Activists from the Peace House and several allies brought a new tarp and materials to rebuild the tent back to the way it was. Jason McGaughey purchased a 40′ plastic tarp with his own money, and six others helped trim and fit the new tarp over the tent skeleton. Taylor Hall, Micah Gann and Josh Casey were among those who adjusted ballast weights, cut a new tarp and helped reconstruct the tent. They also cleaned the area and removed trash.
After the vigil was restored, Melaku-Bello relaxed and sipped cool water while he spoke to a journalist about the history and purpose of the peace vigil. He recounted the rich history of the vigil and the activists who have worked there to educate others about the risks of nuclear armaments.
The peace vigil is self-funded has been in continuous operation since 1981 when William Thomas founded the 24-hour protest on the sidewalk directly in front of the north side of the White House. He died in January 2009 after dedicating his life to its cause.