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U.S. News
War protesters in U.S. rally in 'virtual march'

Thursday, February 27, 2003

By Karen MacPherson, Post-Gazette Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Protesters against a possible U.S. war against Iraq yesterday barraged the White House and U.S. Senate offices with tens of thousands of messages by phone, fax and e-mail, as part of what was billed as the "first-ever virtual protest march."

Letting their "fingers do the marching" on a snowy day in the nation's capital, the protesters were participants in an event organized by a coalition called Win Without War, which says it supports continued United Nations inspections in Iraq and opposes a U.S. invasion and occupation.

The more than 30 members of the coalition include the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, the NAACP and the National Organization for Women.

Coalition leaders said hundreds of thousands of people from all over the nation registered via an Internet site, www.moveon.org., to make anti-war calls to each of their two senators and to the White House between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. EST yesterday.

An estimated 5,000 Pennsylvanians signed up, said Susan Shaer, executive director of Women's Actions for New Directions, one of the coalition's member-groups.

In a twist that organizers said made their effort different from other call-in campaigns, protesters were given specific time slots for calling the Capitol. The idea was to ensure that Senate offices received at least two and sometimes more calls each minute, said former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews, D-Maine, now national director of Win Without War.

Another 80,000 people had signed up through the site to send faxes to their senators and the White House during the same time period, the organizers said. The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the National Council of Churches, said her group was calling the event "a day of prayer and faxing."

A number of protesters also apparently sent e-mail messages to Senate offices, many of which reported an unusually heavy volume of online mail, most of it related to Iraq.

"The outpouring of support for tough inspections to disarm Saddam Hussein and against an invasion and occupation of Iraq got through loud and clear today," said Andrews. He claimed that "well over 1 million phone calls were made in just eight hours by people from every state in the country."

Although the numbers couldn't be independently verified, it was clear that yesterday's "virtual march" indeed had had an impact on business at Senate offices, swamping their switchboard. In most offices, front-desk phones rang constantly through the day, as receptionists -- supplemented in some cases by interns -- struggled diligently to record callers' messages.

Realizing that the virtual march would mean a challenging day for those manning the phones, protest organizers sent red, white and blue "thank you" gift baskets to each Senate office, said Peter Schurman, executive director of MoveOn, which helped organize the event. The baskets included snacks like sweetened popcorn, he said.

"Our overall objective," Schurman said, "is to make sure that every Senate office knows clearly the depth of opposition in their own states to this war. I think we accomplished that."

The organizers decided to target just the Senate and White House for this first effort, he said, leaving the U.S. House of Representatives for another time.

Erica Clayton Wright, press secretary for Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said his office yesterday received double the number of calls it would normally get.

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