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'Virtual march' clogs phone lines, e-mail

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 27, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Antiwar protesters traded marching shoes for phones, fax machines and computers Wednesday as part of a "virtual march" on the nation's capital.

Senators, regardless of their position on a war with Iraq, were barraged with calls, as was the White House. Outside calls to Democratic and Republican Senate offices could not be completed because of busy circuits.

"We will let our fingers do the marching and demand that our voices be heard," said Tom Andrews, the national director for Win Without War, the group that organized the protest.

It's impossible to determine how many people took part in Wednesday's virtual march. Organizers estimate that more than 1-million phone calls were made, in part because 400,000 people registered their intent to participate on Win Without War's Web site.

Calls to the White House were routed to the "comment line," where callers leave a recorded message that is later transcribed. Officials could not provide a count.

"The president respects the rights of individuals to express their views," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan. "That is not a right that the people of Iraq have."

The office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., received more than 800 calls in nearly four hours Wednesday morning, about twice the number of calls it usually receives. Durbin has opposed unilateral action in Iraq.

Durbin's spokesman Joe Shoemaker also said his office had received 18,000 e-mails since Tuesday afternoon, more than five times the number it typically gets.

"A passionate, coordinated effort from citizens speaking out on an issue dear to their hearts can be quite moving," Durbin said in a written statement. But he added, "If the goal is to tie up congressional phone lines and shut down the Capitol switchboard, there are better ways to get the point across."

An aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said her office was also flooded with calls, and some people were unable to get through. Feinstein voted to authorize the president to use military force to disarm Iraq if necessary.

"No one expressed annoyance," said Andrews, a former Democratic congressman from Maine. His group sent Senate staffers gift baskets for handling the increased calls and faxes.

House members were not targeted in Wednesday's protest.

Religious leaders echoed the antiwar message Wednesday, visiting Capitol Hill to urge the Bush administration to avoid military action in Iraq.

"Nothing I understand about Jesus Christ leads me to believe that support of war and violence are necessary or tolerable actions for Christian people," said Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Church.

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