Protesters Still Opposing War

Intent on getting their mail or stamps, some residents simply stride past the woman clasping an anti-war placard outside the brick-and-marble post office.

It's one of the thousands of small, local protests that make up the daily staple of the peace movement, giving it a human face often blurred in the anonymity of mass rallies. Yet Kate Mueller sometimes wonders what she's accomplishing by standing in front of Montpelier's post office.

"It's just little me in a little town," she said.

Then, a passing woman glanced sideways, slowed, and finally turned back her head. "Don't you know war gives you the freedom to do that? You make me sick!" she blurted out and stalked away.

A moment later, a man walked up, inspected Mueller's "Not in Our Name" sign, and shook his head. "It's a real disaster, isn't it?" he said, sadly.

And Mueller is again reminded that, whether swaying opinion or being sworn at, she is accomplishing something "instead of sitting around my house feeling helpless."

The mass anti-war protests, with tens of thousands of marchers in large cities, have made the biggest news. But the smaller, more frequent protests, ranging in size from several dozen people to just one, are more personal.

Anti-war activists mount scores of little protests: marches down a narrow street, vigils outside a church, weekly rallies at a state capitol, small acts of civil disobedience at a federal office.

United for Peace and Justice, one of the biggest anti-war groups, counted at least 4,500 notices for peace events posted on its Web site alone over the last four months, said spokesman Jason Kafoury.

"Even if it's just a handful of people on the side of a country road holding up signs for peace, then you're reaching Americans you can't reach otherwise," Kafoury said.

In Montpelier, protesters have taken turns staking out the post office alone or in pairs for up to 15 hours a day. One has carried a personal anti-war manifesto to hand out. Another has kept his military discharge papers in his pocket, in case someone questions if he is really a veteran.

Often, such protests encourage face-to-face discussion of opposing views - something less likely at big rallies. They can reach many Americans who pay little attention to mass movements. They can pit friends against friends, neighbors against neighbors.

And they give a voice to war opponents who want to do something regularly or simply can't get to the big events that take a great deal of organization and expense to attend. "You can't expect people to mass around New York every weekend," said Alexander Bloom, a historian at Wheaton College, in Norton, Mass.

Backers of the war also are expressing their views with small gestures such as planting American flags and nailing yellow ribbons to front doors, as well as attending rallies.

While national peace groups have helped sponsor some small-scale demonstrations, others are conceived and organized by people more familiar with putting on birthday parties than protests.

Lori Bohannon, a housekeeper from Fort Bragg, Calif., is trying to hike to Washington, D.C., and explain her frustration with the war to people she encounters. She left her two children and husband behind March 20, and set out with a backpack, sleeping bag, tent and her dog.

"I've never done anything like this before," she said about 200 miles into her trek, speaking from a phone booth in Cameron Park, Calif. "I had this friend who said, `When I get frustrated and don't know what to do, I just walk.'"

In Alameda, Calif., painter Linda Hanson bought six yards of powder-blue ribbon - roughly the color of the United Nations flag - and cut it into strips. She and a friend pinned them on their clothing and have handed out several dozen.

"They didn't have to go somewhere. They could protest all day and all night by wearing a blue ribbon," Hanson said.

Dick Dalton, an organizer of People for Peace in Jefferson City, Mo., has taken part in big rallies. But he also has joined a handful of protesters once a week at a busy intersection during the evening commute.

Some drivers smile, honk in solidarity, or flash a thumbs-up. Others shout out support for the war, yell expletives, or occasionally pull over for an argument.

"It's smaller, but it touches more people," Dalton said.

In Montpelier, population 8,000, Karen Vogan could hardly miss the daily post office vigil just down the street from the flower shop where she works. She said it has pushed her toward greater skepticism about the war.

"Maybe nothing more than repetition, just walking past them every day," she said.

Others remain unmoved.

David Kelley, a local lawyer who can expound at length on why he believes in the war, has never bothered to stop and talk to the post office picketers.

"I wasn't going to convince them. I know that," he said.