The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 prompted the beneficial
commercial use of nuclear materials in medicine,
various industrial and research functions, and the
generation of electrical power. For a half
century, these benefits have been countered by the
fear of public exposure to hazardous levels of radiation.
The dangers posed by nuclear technology, ranging
from radiation poisoning to use of weapons that could
lead to the annihilation of the human race, have
struck a chord with people of all walks of life.
In the 1960s and 1970s, it was common for a small
group of community representatives to oppose plans
to build a nuclear power plant near their homes. The
Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and the accident at
the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979, are
two incidents that provoked significant concern nationwide.
Lafayette Park has been a stage of choice for the
small but steady stream of citizens concerned with
the possibility of nuclear war. Periodically in the
1980s, larger groups frequented the park to protest
the build-up of nuclear weapons. Given the long history
of nuclear arms production, the issue has had a power
to draw long-term, or "career," demonstrators.
These citizens are not only a constant reminder of
the issues they represent, but a symbol to park visitors
of America's tradition of protesting. Whether with
community groups, national organizations, or as individuals,
advocates of nuclear disarmament have traveled great
distances to voice opposition in front of the White
House, sometimes employing unorthodox methods to
be heard. The “peace vigil,” for
example, has maintained a continual presence in Lafayette
Park for more than 25 years. Anti-nuclear demonstrators
represent a community undefined by political, or
even national, affiliations.