Capital Park Dispute
Free Speech or Eyesore?


By Leslie Phillips

The cluttered landscape of Washington's Lafayette Park provides a haven for protesters and their causes - and a visual black eye for lots of residents and tourists, Concepcion Picciotto, who lives between placards emblazoned with mushroom clouds, says new restrictions proposed by the Reagan administration violate the Constitution.

"You can say a requiem for the First Amendment," she said Thursday from the park, located across from the White House. "I think it's very unfair."

The American Civil Liberties Union says if the new regulations go into effect unchanged, it will sue.

But for Joseph Plock, a bank officer, who passes the demonstrators on his lunch hour, the proposed rules don't go far enough.

"I think they (the signs) should all be ripped down," he fumed. "It's litter."

From a 12-foot-high proclamation opposing the bomb to a "Stop the Arms Race Now" message in seven languages, about two dozen signs border the White House side of the park.

Among the main changes, which are subject to a 60-day period of public comment: Each protester would be limited to two signs no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet and they would have to stay within three feet of their signs.

"We've had everything down there from desks to make-shift toilets," says Park Service spokeswoman Sandra Alley.

Nevertheless, it's a curiosity for tourists.

Concludes 15-year-old Ivan Austin of England: "If I was the president, I wouldn't like it much."

(picture: SIGNBOARD PROTESTS: placards line Lafayette Park across from the White House. photo by Lee Anderson