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26.2.03

Today MoveOn.org is organizing a "virtual march on Washington," in which people flood the phone lines of Congress and the White House to express their opposition to the war. Which leads me to speculate about how effective this campaign will be. On the one hand, the act of organizing an event like this can help to solidify antiwar sentiment among participants. I think more people are willing to call their representatives when it's part of an organized group effort than on their own. And once you've crossed that threshold of taking action on a controversy, it becomes harder to go back.

On the other hand, it seems that a call today is less effective than a call some other day. Based on talking to a friend who worked as a Congressional staffer (and her story sounds completely plausible), officials tend to discount calls, letters, faxes, etc. that are part of an organized campaign. A letter-writing drive by some interest group gets consigned to the circular file, whereas an individual letter might actually get read. So antiwar calls today would get dismissed as "just another one of those MoveOn people."

Back on the first hand, there's the media coverage. The media is much better at covering events than trends (and wouldn't really have access to information on how many phone calls officials get anyway). As I understand it, the virtual march is getting much more media coverage than the organizers had expected. The media coverage may be even more significant than the direct impact of the calls themselves. The recent real marches have contributed to a "broad public opposition to the war" storyline which we may see beginning to influence the terms of the debate.

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