War Protestors Virtually Overwhelm Senate Offices

Posted February 26, 2003 at 2:00pm

As peace advocates jammed the Senate’s telephone lines Wednesday, it was unclear whether they could keep the country from waging war on Iraq. But there will definitely be a few hoarse receptionists come Thursday morning.

An informal survey of Senate offices found nearly all available bodies busily answering incessantly ringing phones as a group called Win Without War carried out its “virtual march on Washington.”

The group, led by former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), arranged to have at least 140,000 constituents call their Senators, as well as the White House, all day with the same message: “Don’t attack Iraq.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re just taking a tally because our phones are ringing off the hook,” a patient but clearly tiring staffer in Sen. John McCain’s office told a war protestor back in the Arizona Republican’s home state.

In most offices, front-desk aides had ticked off hundreds of calls on scratch sheets by midday, intending to just give the Senators a final number when the protest ends at 6 p.m.

When the volume of calls piping through Minority Whip Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office is compared to a typical day, one can see that the group has at least gotten its message across.

On a usual day, Reid’s office receives about 250 calls, his spokeswoman said. As of about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1,200 calls had already been logged.

In some offices, lobbyists, reporters and constituents seeking help on other issues were unable to reach staff members as the protestors overwhelmed the lines.

“They’ve succeeded,” said a young telephone operator in the office of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). “What a mess, although it’s nice to see constituents participating” in their government.

As people walked by Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s (D-Mich.) office suite in the Hart Senate Office Building, two young staffers could barely look up from their switchboards as calls poured into the system.

But not everyone was quite so overwhelmed.

A stop by Sen. John Warner’s (R-Va.) office in the Russell Senate Office Building revealed several aides sitting idle.

And a spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) said they were extremely busy, but that other parties were able to get their calls answered.

“It far exceeded our loftiest expectations. We had over 1 million faxes and phone calls” into the Capitol, said Andrews.

As for future protest plans, he said the group now has an active base of commited individuals who want to continue the charge and they are discussing what to do next.