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Thomas departs the planet

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Thomas: "I don’t like unnecessary suffering."

In August 1986, I came to George Washington Law School after a year working at a Wall Street bank, where I learned that I would need to seek much more deeply and widely if I were going find fellow Amnesty International and ACLU enthusiasts in the belly of the capitalist beast.

Five years before my arrival at law school, William Thomas (apparently also named William Thomas Hellenback at one point) had already been a longtime peace demonstrator across from the White House, five blocks from my law school. I would bump into Thomas, as his friends called him, from time to time, sometimes on the way to my first law firm two blocks east of the White House, sometimes elsewhere in Washington, and sometimes at gatherings of social justice and peace activists.

Less than five years after my arrival in Washington, D.C., Gulf War I started. I felt tremendous imbalance working at a corporate law firm where I heard nothing said about the war other than support for the war or yellow ribbons. I took to spending a few minutes for lunchtimes at Lafayette Park across the White House each week, to connect with those constantly protesting and drumming for peace. Thomas was among those drummers, and it appears that the White House’s occupants could hear the drums, no matter how thick their protective windows.

I last saw Thomas in downtown D.C. last November. Two days ago, I learned that he died on January 23.  

By his very presence for twenty-seven years demonstrating daily for peace across the White House, Thomas, along with fellow decades-long protestor Concepcion Picciotto, etched the critical message of peace in the minds of millions of visitors to the White House, conservatively. Thanks, Thomas, for spreading that message, and for you. Jon Katz

ADDENDUM: Although it was not planned this way, I  have posted three articles related to death in the last seven days. In any event, on January 24, with my son, I went to visit Lafayette Park to pay my respects to Thomas and to his fellow peace protestor Concepcion Picciotto. Thomas’s widow is Ellen Thomas. Some of the bleachers and reviewing stands still remained standing in front of the White House from the inaugural parade, which means that Concepcion has been without a prime demonstration spot for many days. I found her at a spot north of the bleachers and on the western half of the park.

Here are some links about Thomas’s life and passing:

– March 20, 2009 (12:00 noon) will be Thomas’s memorial service date, at Lafayette Park. More information on the memorial and Thomas’s passing is here.

– Click here for more on Thomas’s passing.

U.S. v. William Thomas and Ellen Thomas,  864 F.2d 188 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (Kenneth Starr, J.) (upholding prosecution of William Thomas and Ellen Thomas for violating park regulations against unauthorized sleeping in the national parks).