Published on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 by Reuters
US 'Virtual' War Protest Jams Congressional Phones
by Alan Elsner
WASHINGTON - Hundreds of thousands of opponents of a U.S. war against Iraq called and faxed their senators and the White House on Wednesday in a "virtual march on Washington", jamming many congressional telephone lines for several hours.
Coordinated by the Win Without War Coalition, an umbrella protest group, the action aimed to direct at least one telephone call and fax to every U.S. senator every minute throughout the day. Organizers said they were far exceeding that goal.
The White House switchboard was also flooded and most callers heard a message that "all circuits are busy".
Tom Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine who is running the organization, said more than 500,000 people had signed up on the Internet to take part and a half a million more were also expected to participate without registering on the group's web site (Moveon.org).
"We have hundreds of thousands of calls and faxes that we know are going in. It's a first-of-its-kind protest and a tremendous success already," he said. "People are making their voices heard loud and clear -- don't invade and don't occupy Iraq."
Some protesters themselves had difficulties getting through to their representatives. Molly Lanzarotta from Boston said she had to dial multiple times to get through to an answering service in the office of Democrat John Kerry, a leading presidential candidate for 2004.
Others tried for long periods but eventually gave up. Brian Fry tried to call from Cleveland but kept getting the message, "all circuits are busy." He said he would call his senators' local Ohio offices instead and try to get through to Washington again later or on the next day.
SET TIMES TO CALL
Activists were given set times to call. Chicago marketing executive Mary Rickard was supposed to call at 3:14 p.m, 3:19 p.m. and 3:24 p.m. The faxes from people who signed onto the Web site were also programmed to go out at set times.
Telephone calls placed from Reuters to various senators received busy signals at all but two offices. At Florida Democrat Bob Graham's office, a spokeswoman said they had received 400 calls in the first three hours of the day, well above the norm. At Nebraska Republican Charles Hagel's office, a spokeswoman said the front desk did not seem to be any busier than usual.
Andrews said the Internet had emerged as a key tool for the anti-war movement in organizing protests and instantly reaching tens of thousands of activists.
"It allows us to be in touch instantly with activists all around the country and the world. It's a tremendous democratic tool," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions more in cities around the world have taken to the streets in a series of demonstrations over the past few weeks.
However, the latest polls show a substantial but not overwhelming majority of American voters support President George W. Bush on Iraq. Surveys suggest that around 35 to 40 percent of the electorate opposes the war.
A Time/CNN poll conducted Feb. 19-20 found 54 percent said the United States should use military action to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The number was down 5 points from two weeks before and at its lowest level since last November. Thirty eight percent said they were opposed.
Pollster Jennifer Laszlo, a Democrat who has recently conducted four focus groups, said support for the war was soft and opponents were far more intense in their views than many supporters.
"Republicans think this is America's war but Democrats more and more see it as Bush's war and they are getting more energized and more angry," Laszlo said.
Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd