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Antiwar protesters join 'virtual march'

Washington lawmakers and the White House are flooded with e-mail, faxes and phone calls as people across the country voice their opposition to a possible war.

2 min read
America at war Deanne from North Dakota warned the United States not to jump into a war with Iraq, saying "innocent lives are at stake." Pamela from Michigan wondered where President Bush gets his gall: "A president who was never elected is ignoring the will of the world."

Those were just a few of the messages antiwar protesters sent to Washington lawmakers and the White House by e-mail, fax and phone Wednesday as part of MoveOn.org's Virtual March on Washington.

MoveOn.org, founded in 1998 to protest the Clinton impeachment, urged people to present a united front against the war by contacting the Senate and White House to lodge their opposition to an attack. By late Wednesday afternoon, more than 140,000 people had participated in the protest, and more than 400,000 messages had been sent via fax, phone or e-mail. An interactive, pop-up map on the site displayed comments from people across the country protesting the possible war.

MoveOn.org launched the protest in partnership with the Win Without War Coalition, a group of 32 nonprofit groups including the Sierra Club and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Internet has become an invaluable tool for protesters, allowing them to organize thousands of people in just a few days without spending money on mailings and phone calls. Some people credit the Internet for igniting the rapidly spreading antiwar movement, believed to be the biggest round of protests to break out in advance of a conflict. Many of the protests against the Vietnam conflict didn't reach full momentum until after the fighting there was well under way.

Organizers of the virtual protest characterized it as the "first of its kind." Eli Pariser, MoveOn's international campaign director, said the Internet allowed the group to track the virtual protesters' real-world locations and build support in areas without many protesters before the event. "What this has allowed us to do is really to direct the energy where it needs to go to be most effective," Pariser said.

What's more, even people who don't live in major metropolitan areas could participate in the protest movement. "It allows people out in Kansas to participate in a collective event in D.C. without buying a plane ticket," he said.

Meanwhile, phones seemed to be ringing off the hook at the Capitol and the White House. Calls to the White House and several senators' offices yielded busy signals or "all circuits busy" messages.

"I haven't even been able to get through to make my calls," Pariser said.