As a possible war against Iraq draws closer, antiwar leaders are stepping up their tactics and refocusing their strategy this week toward putting direct pressure on political officeholders in Washington.
Feeling the strength in the large numbers that turned out earlier this month to protest a US-led attack on Iraq, but keenly aware that the Bush administration seems to remain unmoved, protesters are planning other ways to get attention, from clogging senators' telephone lines and e-mail inboxes to urging voters to lobby congressional members to revoke the authority they gave President Bush to use force against Iraq to using civil disobedience. And today, a group of parents of soldiers who joined with members of Congress in a lawsuit to block an invasion of Iraq will present their arguments in federal court in Boston.
''As we're coming down to the wire, there are going to be many activities and actions that those of us opposing this rush to war are going to be involved in,'' said Nancy Lessin of Jamaica Plain, who is the parent of a Marine and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. While the lawsuit was launched before the recent protests, the magnitude of the worldwide demonstrations drew more plaintiffs to the case.
But while large-scale antiwar protests, such as those held around the world on Feb. 15, can alter public opinion and perhaps catch the attention of important officeholders, many organizers and protesters wonder if those actions are enough to actually stop a possible war in the Persian Gulf.
''I don't think anybody thinks by itself it will be enough to stop the war, but I think it gave people who witnessed it confidence that there is a large antiwar sentiment around the world,'' said Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War.
''It's a tough moment for the movement because it pulled off a big success. But the real proof of the success is hard to read from the outside,'' said Todd Gitlin, professor of sociology at Columbia University, who organized protests against the Vietnam War. ''The only way you will know if you failed is if the war starts. If the war starts, then the antiwar movement has to decide what it wants at that point.''
Letwin and others concede the challenge is to increase the number of people involved in the antiwar movement and to deepen the movement in a relatively short amount of time. One way to do this, Letwin said, is to directly pressure political leaders. So far, 125 cities, the largest being Los Angeles, have passed resolutions against a war in Iraq. In New York, protesters are urging City Council to pass a similar resolution.
''We are not doing this because we think a city council can stop a war, but because it sends out a message,'' said Letwin.
In the coming weeks, dozens of demonstrations are planned, but many groups are turning to other methods to make their voices heard. The Iraq Pledge of Resistance, a group of protesters which launched a national campaign of civil disobedience in December, has scheduled an event in Washington, D.C., on March 9.
A delegation of parliamentarians, academics, scientists, and union leaders from Canada, Italy, Denmark, and the United States, trying to draw attention to what they describe as the hypocrisy of US foreign policy, staged its own inspection of the US Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland yesterday. The group - made up of representatives from Global Exchange, Code Pink, The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and International ANSWER - was turned away upon reaching the center.
Jenifer Deal, coordinator for the National Peace Lobby project, said her organization is encouraging Americans to either call or visit their political representative in Washington tomorrow and to lobby them to support the House Joint Resolution 20, a bill authored by Representatives Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, and Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, that would repeal President Bush's authorization to use force against Iraq.
On Wednesday, thousands of people from around the country are set to participate in a virtual protest by telephoning or sending e-mail to senators in Washington every minute of the day. As of late last week, more than 8,000 people had signed up for time slots during which to call or send an e-mail, according to Eli Pariser, the international campaign director for MoveOn.org, an online political network that is cosponsoring the protest.
''We want to demonstrate just how broad the concern is and the degree to which we are able to organize,'' said Pariser. ''The main message that we can send is that this opposition to the war is sophisticated and organized enough that there could be serious repercussions for people that are supporting it.''
But some wonder if political leaders are getting the message. Gitlin, of Columbia University, believes that lobbying Congress to repeal the authority they gave Bush in October will not stop him from using force against Iraq.
''It might send a message to Democrats who voted for the war resolution that they've been had and they were gullible since they voted for him to have authority to do as he wished,'' Gitlin said. ''But even for the sake of argument that some Democrats retract their approval, it is very hard to imagine having concrete effect.''
Others, like Leslie Cagan, cochair of United for Peace and Justice, said that all of the antiwar actions will have a cumulative effect.
''A lot of the work doesn't happen in a big splashy way,'' she said. ''It's the day-in-and-day-out things - educational work, knocking on doors, holding community forums. It's not as glamorous, but it's critical in strengthening and deepening the movement.''
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