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WAR WITH IRAQ

Antiwar Campaign Spreads Online

Organizers post instructions on where to protest. Military supporters are active on Internet, too.

March 20, 2003|Anne-Marie O'Connor | Times Staff Writer

The Internet has become the virtual office for many antiwar organizing efforts, with Web sites posting letter-writing campaigns, candlelight vigils -- and now -- instructions for where to protest.

It's faster than a phone call, cheaper than a mass mailing, as immediate as television -- and can orchestrate protests from just about anywhere. It's also a news source for antiwar efforts that, some activists say, are given scant coverage in the mainstream media.

"The Internet has been an amazing new tool for organizers. It allows you to get in touch with people all over the country, and all over the world, in a way that just wasn't possible before," said Andrea Buffa, national co-coordinator for the antiwar efforts of United for Peace and Justice, a broad coalition of 200 groups -- ranging from the National Council of Churches to the Central Nebraska Peace Workers -- opposed to the war.

"During the Gulf War in 1991, many people did not have e-mail or Internet access," she said. According to Buffa, the organization's Web site, www.unitedforpeace.org, gets 1.5 million hits a day.

"People will be very angry. They will come out," said Mariana Botey, 33, an Echo Park artist who plans to head to the historic La Placita church near Olvera Street -- one of the "Emergency Convergence Points" for antiwar demonstrations in Southern California -- with her husband, Ryan Wardell, and their 5-month-old son, Jacinto.

"In a sense, the only true opposition to this is the movement in the streets," Botey said.

What to do at the outset of war is one of the most incendiary current Internet themes, and a flood of new e-mail instructions went out after President Bush's speech Monday night.

One plan, signed by such sponsors as the Coalition for World Peace and International ANSWER Coalition, called on protesters in Los Angeles and Orange counties to head to specific protest centers after work the day of the attack.

"If you wish to consider civil disobedience, please come with a decision to join in the peaceful actions of the large group," the communique advised. "Have an ID and money or a way for having support when you are arrested."

Immediate Reaction

On Wednesday night, as word of war spread, some protesters immediately headed to one of the designated protest centers, the Federal Building in Westwood.

One protester was Frederick Graf, a location manager for the film industry, who found out war had started when he got home and signed on to an antiwar Web site. He then drove to the Federal Building, the protest site closest to his West Hollywood home.

"This is very disturbing. I'm against this war," Graf said. "I'm against what the government is doing. I think a lot of innocent lives will be lost."

The reach of Internet-based protest might be seen today. About 150 nationwide actions for the first day of war had been posted on the United for Peace Web site.

In addition to aiding the protests of organizations, the Internet has conferred a high degree of autonomy on individual protesters, and many people have been drawing up their own protest plans and posting them on antiwar Web sites, Buffa said.

"Whether it's a decision to close down a whole town or to hold a candlelight vigil for peace, communities have organized antiwar actions that are appropriate for their community," Buffa said. "We've asked people to do actions and to let us know what they are. We have no official action; we're promoting their actions."

The use of the Internet to start a protest has become a leitmotif in recent days. Linda Lucks is a 59-year-old Venice grandmother and gubernatorial appointee to the Medical Board of California. When she heard the global call for candlelight vigils Sunday night, she organized one on her block, using her e-mail lists.

"The Internet is the great source, and everybody passes the messages on to everybody else," she said.

For Lucks, it's deja vu, reminding her of the days when, as a young mother, she helped make phone calls and distribute leaflets for the Valley Peace Center to organize protests against the Vietnam War. Now, "the Internet is so immediate," she said. "And all the networks connect with other networks."

And unlike mass mailings and fliers, the Internet is driven by a self-selecting audience, said Hamilton Fish, president of the Nation Institute, a New York-based public policy foundation whose Internet columnist, Tom Engelhardt, has become a daily must-read for some of the antiwar literati.

"The Internet made it possible to have that rolling vigil Sunday night in every time zone," he said. "People in New Zealand lit candles, and people around TriBeCa stood around the Holland Tunnel and urged people going to New Jersey to think through this whole quagmire. There's limitless potential we're just starting to realize."

Internet sites have created the organizational ability to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and signatures within hours.

Worldwide Reach

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