New York Times
Wednesday 26 February 2003
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 -- The Mall was quiet, but the switchboard on Capitol Hill was swamped today as anti-war protesters conducted what they called the first "virtual march" on Washington. The organizers, a coalition called Win Without War, said that hundreds of thousands of people were sending messages by email, fax and telephone to the Senate and the White House.
There was no way to confirm those estimates, which the organizers said were based on the number of people who had registered online to join the protest. The virtual headquarters of the march is www.moveon.org/winwithoutwar/.
On Feb. 15, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets in cities across the United States, Europe and Asia, protesting the Bush administration's threatened invasion of Iraq. While those protests were largely peaceful, the logistics of organizing such conventional demonstrations can be overwhelming.
The decision to march electronically, beginning at 9 a.m. today, may have come as a relief to Washingtonians struggling with yet another snowstorm. The streets of the city have been clogged for the past week by snow left over from a blizzard on President's Day Weekend.
A virtual march might seem an ideal form of protest for a snowy day, although even electronic protest has its hazards. The protesters were urged online to help set the agenda by "sharing your thoughts on greats goals for our nation in our unique ActionForum," but this forum did not work as well as the old-fashioned kind in Rome. Virtual marchers who clicked on the link this morning and afternoon got a message that it was closed for "routine maintenance."
The event's organizers say it is the first virtual anti-war march ever held. They say 32 groups are involved, including the National Council of Churches, the N.A.A.C.P., the Sierra Club, the National Organization for Women and MoveOn.
The Sierra Club's Web site, www.sierraclub.org, encouraged its members to send this message to senators: "Don't rush to war. Let the United Nations inspectors do their jobs to resolve the Iraq situation peacefully. And reduce the chance of war in the future by ending the U.S. dependence on oil."
The Web site also maintained that this form of protest could be effective. "Senators pay attention when their phones and fax machines light up -- and stay lit up -- from morning until night. They'll get the message that Americans want peace, that we care deeply about saving lives, and that we are well organized."
If any chant will be remembered from this march, it may be the one heard by people who tried calling the Capitol Hill switchboard today. They got the same message over and over, a series of tones followed by a woman's voice saying: "We're sorry. All circuits are busy now. Will you please try your call again later?"
The organizers of the march said they were sending gift baskets to the switchboard operators and secretaries who had to handle the flood of phone calls and faxes today.
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