If all goes as planned Wednesday, throngs of anti-war protesters from all over America will virtually take over the U.S. Senate.
On the heels of the recent worldwide demonstration for peace -- in which activists used e-mail to call demonstrators to national capitals around the globe -- advocates for a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iraq are touting a national "cyber march" on Washington.
Mindful that people now live in an era where computer dating and Internet shopping are common, they're promoting electronic dissent as an alternative to the kind of massive anti-war demonstrations of a generation ago.
Armed with new forms of communication, opponents of the Bush administration's military buildup in the Middle East plan to light up Senate switchboards, overwhelm the capital with the sound of ringing telephones and deliver a simultaneous crush of e-mail and faxes. Organizers say each of the nation's 100 senators and the White House will be deluged with hundreds of calls from constituents with the same message: No war.
"They will hear loud and clear from their constituents, regular Americans in Florida and nationwide, urging them to let the inspections work," said Peter Schurman, executive officer of MoveOn.org.
The campaign was launched from the Web site's West Coast headquarters on Feb. 20. Since then, more than 80,000 people nationwide have volunteered to call their senators, and another 65,000 logged on to their computers to send faxes, organizers said Monday.
100 calls per hour
Less than 24 hours after the campaign got under way, so many Florida protesters had signed on that Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson each can expect more than 100 calls per hour tomorrow, Schurman said.
"It's just one more way to do it," said Cara Campbell, who co-chairs the Broward County Green Party. "It's just a gradual grinding against the war machine."
Representatives of Graham and Nelson learned of the virtual protest last week and have directed staffers who to be prepared, said press secretaries in both offices. Based on the national figures, which are still growing, Schurman said "the senators from the great state of Florida can expect over 2,000 faxes each on Wednesday." At a minute per fax, that's 33 hours of faxing.
"They've got to start listening to us," said Palm Beach Gardens supporter Beth Cioffoletti, who's done her part sending politicians anti-war letters and participating in weekly candlelight vigils.
The effort is sponsored by Win Without War, a coalition of 32 national organizations, including Campaign for United Nations Reform, Greenpeace, the NAACP and the National Council of Churches.
Participants say it has enabled protesters hampered by age or tight-finances to feel the same spirit of political activism as those trudging through the cold in state capitals.
People like Rosemary Gould, who served as a hospital dietician in World War II and is now too old to march, logged on to MoveOn.org. Gould, of Saint Petersburg, signed up to have a free fax sent.
"I used to be there all the time, but I just can't do it anymore," said the weathered activist who has participated in marches from San Francisco to Washington over the years. "At my age I thought, `Oh, thank God' when I saw this."
The site asks for each participant's name and address so it can send a fax protesting the war to the corresponding senator. Those planning on calling their representatives are given a list of "talking points," such as a recent New York Times poll indicating that 59 percent of Americans think the president should allow United Nations more time to resolve the conflict before he commits the nation to war. There's even a commercial in which virtual president Martin Sheen of NBC-TV's The West Wing says, "Inspections work; war won't."
The cyber form of protest is viewed skeptically by some political observers, who say all the e-mails and faxes won't have the same effect as an army of people organizing en masse in the streets.
"The virtual person still doesn't translate into a real person," said Nova Southeastern law professor John Anderson.
Anderson, who represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years, said politicians don't find mass form-letter campaigns as credibe as spontaneous acts of protest. A thousand form letters will not pack the same punch as a thousand people showing up on the Capitol's doorstep, he said.
Safe from retribution
Still, organizers and participants of hope the virtual march, combined with conventional methods of protest, eventually will get their message across.
They also say it could make it easier for people who oppose war to express themselves without fear of retribution.
"The thing with physically protesting is there's always this wild card of what are the police going to do, what if there's some wacko out there," said organizer and Homestead resident Rick Spisak. "They can't lock us away; they can't gas us on the Internet."
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