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Thomas (activist)

William Thomas
Thomas and his dog Sophie.
Born William Thomas Hallenback Jr.
(1947-03-20)March 20, 1947
Tarrytown, New York, U.S.
Died January 23, 2009(2009-01-23) (aged 61)
Cause of death
Pulmonary disease
Occupation Anti-nuclear activist
Spouse(s) Ellen Benjamin (1984–2009, his death)

William Thomas Hallenback Jr. (known as William Thomas, or simply Thomas, March 20, 1947 – January 23, 2009) was an American anti-nuclear activist and simple living adherent who undertook a 27-year peace vigil in front of the White House.[1]

Thomas was born in Tarrytown, New York. He was a truck driver, jewelry maker and carpenter.[2] Having been inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, he became a pilgrim and traveled the world in the interests of world peace.[3]

He spent eight months in an Egyptian prison in 1978 for trying to swim across the Suez Canal on his way to Israel.[3] In London, United Kingdom, in response to US government foreign policy he tried to renounce his American citizenship by destroying his passport.[3] British authorities deported him back to the United States in 1980.[2]

He traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1981, spending several months with Mitch Snyder's Community for Creative Non-Violence before launching the White House Peace Vigil in Lafayette Square on June 3, 1981.[2] He was later joined by Concepcion Picciotto in August 1981 and Ellen Benjamin in April 1984.[4] In his first three years of protesting Thomas was arrested 16 times by the Park Police on charges ranging from illegal camping to disorderly conduct.[2]

On May 6, 1984, Thomas married Ellen Benjamin in a Quaker wedding.[2] They protested together with numerous other activists over the years, including those from the Catholic Worker Movement and Plowshares Movement.[5] Thomas died on January 23, 2009 at the age of 61 of pulmonary disease.[6]

Thomas and the White House Peace Vigil inspired Eleanor Holmes Norton to introduce the "Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act." The Act would require the United States to disable and dismantle its nuclear weapons once all other nations possessing nuclear weapons do likewise, and redirect the funds saved into renewable energy and social projects.[7] Norton has repeatedly introduced versions of the bill since 1994. In 2011, the bill was revised and renamed the "Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act."[8]

The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue, a documentary directed by Tim Wilkerson and commissioned by the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, recounts the lives of anti-nuclear activists William and Ellen Thomas, Concepcion Picciotto and Norman Mayer.[3]

The White House Peace Vigil, the longest running peace vigil in US history, started by Thomas in 1981.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b c d e  
  3. ^ a b c d Tim Wilkerson (Director) (2012). The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue (Documentary). Al Jazeera Documentary Channel. 
  4. ^ "Thomas, Peace Park Vigiler and Antinuclear Activist". 
  5. ^ "Significant Peace Park Vigilers from the Past". 
  6. ^ John Kelly (November 6, 2011). "For 30-year peace activist, a new battle". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ "Norton Files Nuclear Disarmament Bill to Implement D.C. Ballot Initiative". March 19, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Norton Reintroduces Nuclear Disarmament Bill in Wake of Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe". April 1, 2011. 

External links

  • Thomas explaining his protest on YouTube, September 16, 2007
  • Peace Park Website
  • The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue
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