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Virtual Protest Clogs Washington Lines

Capitol Hill and the White House were barraged with electronic protests Wednesday as anti-war activists used a digital-age approach to opposing the Bush administration's stance on Iraq.

Protestors made hundreds of thousands of phone calls and sent faxes and e-mails to senators and the White House to voice their opposition to a war on Iraq as part of a "virtual march" on Washington.

The message: Don’t attack Iraq.

All senators — regardless of their side of the political or war aisle — were deluged with calls. Other calls to both Democrat and Republican Senate offices couldn't be completed because of busy circuits.

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

Andrews said about 400,000 people registered through the group's Web site for the call-in campaign. By Wednesday afternoon, he projected the number of calls made and faxes sent exceeded 1 million.

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

An "online headquarters" was unveiled last week, hosted by Win Without War affiliate MoveOn.org. Virtual March participants were asked to pledge to call and fax their two U.S. senators and the White House at particular times during the day.

Win Without War's Los Angeles office was filled Tuesday with celebrities calling anti-war activists to remind them when they were supposed to call.

"Disruption would be a good thing. I think disruption is what this is all about. There seems to be a headlong rush to war. And the stakes are so high and the potential loss of life on both sides is so great, the long term ramifications are so serious, that a little disruption at this time would be a good thing," said Monk star Tony Shalhoub, who helped work the phones.

The office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was hit with more than 800 calls, all within 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 said his office also has received 18,000 e-mails since Tuesday afternoon, more than five times the number usually received.

The office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was flooded with calls, and some people kept getting those annoying busy signals. Feinstein voted to authorize the president to use military force to disarm Iraq if necessary.

The office of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald's, R-Ill., received more than 100 calls an hour from people on both sides of the issue, said Fitzgerald's spokesman, Brian Stoller.

Fitzgerald agrees with Secretary of State Colin Powell that military force must be a last resort though "it must be a resort if, as it appears, all our other efforts to compel Iraqi disarmament prove fruitless," Stoller said.

House members were not targeted in the virtual protest.

Win Without War coalition members have also launched innovative TV ad campaigns to voice their opposition to war in Iraq. These ads have been sponsored by groups such as the National Council of Churches, MoveOn and Artists United to Win Without War.

The National Council of Churches called Wednesday 'A Day of Prayer and Faxing.'

Hollywood celebrity Martin Sheen, who plays President Jeb Bartlet on the NBC hit series, The West Wing, is featured in one Win Without War TV ad released last week. He called on Americans from every state to participate in the virtual march.

"Our message to Washington will be clear — 'Don’t invade Iraq!' We can contain Saddam Hussein without killing innocent people, diverting us from the war on terrorism and putting us all at risk."

Other member groups of Win Without War include: Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, Campaign for U.N. Reform, Global Exchange, Greenpeace, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, NAACP, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

National Organization for Women, Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility,
Rainbow/Push Coalition, Sierra Club, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and Veterans for Common Sense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.