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War protestors try to capture public attention

WASHINGTON—From a "die-in" that snarled Manhattan traffic Thursday to a "symbolic graveyard" on a quiet Florida campus, the antiwar movement is trying different tactics to tap into public anxiety over the prospect of a drawn-out, bloody conflict in Iraq.

With helicopters hovering overhead, New York police arrested about 150 protesters who lay down in Fifth Avenue to symbolize war victims. Hundreds more marched nearby. Organizers said they wanted to disrupt "business as usual" to get the public's attention.

A small protest Thursday on the tree-lined campus center of Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., got far less media attention. About a dozen students and town residents dressed in black put together a "graveyard" with casualty figures and names on placards to dramatize the war's toll.

"When the war began we were frustrated and disheartened, but we're not stopping. We're determined to make people feel the anxieties of this war," said Kelly Britcher, a freshman from Casselberry, Fla., whose stepfather, an Army reservist, is about to go to Kuwait.

Elsewhere, leaders of the protest movement debated tactics and direction, many of them surprised by the possibility that the war may take months.

One mainstream coalition, Win Without War, remains focused on a global petition drive against pre-emptive attacks, trying to stop the next war. Other groups are trying to disrupt the current war.

"There is a sense of urgency to stop this unjust, illegal war," said Gordon Clark, coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance. "But there is some regrouping going on, and we realize we have time to organize and plan."

Clark advocates acts of nonviolent civil disobedience but acknowledged that appropriate tactics may vary.

"It's the job of a civil resister to provoke a response, but what works in San Francisco may not work in Omaha," Clark said.

Last week in the Bay Area of California, highly organized war protesters shut down much of the financial district. About 2,600 were arrested. While the large majority were peaceful, there were acts of violence and vandalism.

San Francisco's mayor, Willie Brown, complained that activists were alienating even those who were sympathetic: "This is a confrontation with parties on your side, which is kind of bizarre and crazy. It's like defecating in your own nest."

Antiwar organizers backed off their disruptive tactics this week, handing out fliers and attempting one-on-one conversations with office workers.

Elsewhere, organizers were using creativity to gain attention. On Friday, an Alaskan antiwar group plans a "bike ride for peace" in downtown Anchorage. In Middletown, Conn., antiwar groups plan a benefit concert to "pray, play and pay for peace."

Opponents of the war plan to speak out against Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., at a noon rally in downtown Tallahassee, and to picket Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., at the Brooklyn Museum. Both senators voted for the resolution that authorized President Bush to use force in Iraq.

National organizers are planning events for mid-April, possibly tied to the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns to highlight the economic consequences of the war.

"What you're seeing is not just the large, splashy events but the small activities, such as teach-ins, in many communities," said Nancy Lessin, who heads Military Families Speak Out, a group that claims 200 families opposing the war.

Lessin, whose son is a Marine in the Persian Gulf, said the antiwar movement had learned from Vietnam protests not to demonize the military. At a peace rally Saturday in Boston, her group and veterans' organizations will have a featured role.

"There's a very conscious effort to respect the military, and to a certain extent our groups do provide cover to the movement," Lessin said.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq-protest