Senate Braces for Wednesday’s ‘Virtual March’

Posted February 24, 2003 at 2:27pm

As the country braces for war with Iraq, peace advocates hope they can drown out war drums with endless ringing telephones and beeping faxes up and down Pennsylvania Avenue this week.

A coalition of groups calling itself Win Without War plans a “virtual march” on Washington on Wednesday. So far, it has enlisted 85,000 citizens who will try to jam Senate and White House telephone lines with the simple message: “Don’t attack Iraq.”

The goal is for protesters to make one call or fax per minute all day Wednesday.

While people have turned out for large protests in cities such as New York and Washington, former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), who’s leading the effort, said the group wanted a way for more people to be heard.

Some people cannot, or are not inclined to, board a bus and head to a demonstration but are willing to “march without leaving your house or to let their fingers do the marching,” he said.

Folks have signed up through Moveon.org, which posted this message today: “So far, over 85,000 of us have signed up to be a part of Wednesday’s Virtual March on Washington. It’s been incredible. That’s well over our goal of an average of one call per minute per Senate office. Now, we really could use your help in getting calls committed in the less populous states in the nation.”

Win Without War — which includes such diverse groups as the National Council of Churches, Greenpeace, the National Organization for Women and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — wants registrants to call Senators and President Bush.

“There’s been a real flood of outpouring from around the country that … people are [uneasy] with President Bush’s unilateral march toward war,” Sierra Club spokesman Allen Mattison said.

The United States’ continued dependence on foreign oil upsets the world order and leads to conflicts such as the one looming in Iraq, he said, explaining why an environmental group is involved.

The coalition began airing a television ad last week featuring Martin Sheen, better known as President Josiah Bartlet on television’s “The West Wing,” urging people to participate in the protest.

Moveon.org already has gained attention for using a spot evoking the infamous “Daisy” ad Lyndon Johnson aired once in the 1964 presidential campaign to paint Republican nominee Barry Goldwater as a nuclear warmonger.

Win Without War advocates a number of alternative ways to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“We can improve the current containment of Iraq’s military potential by strengthening controls on Iraqi oil exports and tightening prohibitions on military imports,” according to the group’s Web site.

The coalition maintains viable options include border monitoring in Jordan, Syria and Turkey; advanced X-ray scanning technology and an electronic pass system; and sanctions-assistance missions modeled on operations developed for United Nations sanctions in Yugoslavia in 1993-95.

If the effort is successful, organizers may use the same approach to put people in touch with their Representatives, Andrews said.

Despite the potential for a flood of calls, however, the effort should not impede the Senate’s daily routine.

“Our job is to serve the Senate community, in this instance, through telephone and computer support. We are aware of [this effort] and will continue to do our jobs thoroughout the week,” a spokesman for the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms said.

A Senate official said the Sergeant-at-Arms is working with Verizon to make sure the Senate has enough telephone capacity to handle the volume, but there would have to be tremendous number of calls to overwhelm the system, the source said.