Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to gather in Washington, D.C., this weekend for a major anti-war rally -- the first of several events designed to pressure Congress to end the war in Iraq.
Hollywood stars known for their opposition to the war, including actors Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Tim Robbins and Danny Glover, plan on joining the protest on the National Mall this Saturday. Speakers also include the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
Anti-War Movement 'Re-Energized'
Anti-war groups say their cause has been re-energized by November's midterm elections in which Democrats gained a majority in both the House and Senate, and by the president's troop escalation plan.
"We want to translate this energy into a powerful, political force," said Tom Andrews, national director of the anti-war group Win Without War.
Groups including United for Peace and Justice, Win Without War, the National Organization for Women and the RainbowPUSH Coalition, have organized a rally and march around the Capitol building Saturday, and arranged a "citizen lobby" day on Capitol Hill Monday, urging protesters to target House members, senators and congressional staff in an effort to force them to do more to stop the war.
"The president is a lost cause and everybody knows it," said Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine.
"So we are going to push the Democrats in Congress to not just talk but act and use their power -- and that power is the power of the purse," said Andrews. "It's time to stop the rubber stamp of Congress and start the accountability and stand up to the president."
Andrews said congressional Democrats are in danger of spending all their time debating "toothless words." He was referring to the nonbinding resolution against President Bush's plan to send 21,5000 additional troops to Iraq, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed this week.
Follow the Money
Organizers said they are urging people to develop relationships on Capitol Hill, and to be respectful yet firm with House members, senators and staff.
However, they said they are planning more forceful tactics in February, when Congress is expected to debate spending more money on the war as part of the president's supplemental budget.
"We are planning more confrontational tactics for recalcitrant members of Congress for February and March," said Andrews, adding that we could see sit-ins outside Capitol Hill offices.
Beyond planning protests, organizers are raising money for television ads, and are planning local protest rallies, news conferences and meetings with editorial boards across the country -- all designed to build public opposition to the war and pressure the Democratic-led Congress to stop the president.
Television ads targeting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over his support for the president's troop escalation plan, are already airing in New Hampshire and Iowa -- critical 2008 battleground states -- and nationally on cable channels.
"We want there to be a political price to pay for Sen. McCain in supporting the president," said Tom Matzzie, Washington director for MoveOn.org, the Internet-based, grass roots political organization that paid for the television ads.
MoveOn is a key organizer of the newly formed Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which includes labor unions and other groups not normally affiliated with the anti-war movement. The group's mandate is to defeat the president's troop plan by waging war on members of Congress in their local districts.
"We're going to suck up all of the oxygen so they have no choice but to be with us," said Matzzie, adding that the new group hopes to raise $10 million over the next year to wage a political fight against continuing U.S. military operations in Iraq.
"What we're going to do is get all the state representatives, all the local mayors and everybody in the state and the districts, which leaves no choice for the senator [but] to side with us," said Matzzie.
The group has hired some of Washington's top political and communications consultants, including Hildebrand Consulting, Strategic Consulting and the lobbying team that successfully defeated Bush's Social Security reform agenda.
"This is the campaign that needs to be run," said Matzzie. "To win, you need to be working in the states and districts where voters live."
Democratic Pols Offer Silent Support
Few members of Congress are scheduled to attend this weekend's major anti-war rally, despite the unpopularity of the president's plan.
"I think it mostly has to do with the history of some of the groups," said Matzzie, arguing the members were put off by some past anti-war rally sponsors who pulled additional issues into the mix.
Other organizers argue that members are usually busy in their districts over the weekends, and say not to read too much into it.
"We'd rather have them in their districts, working to try to defeat the president's escalation plan than mandate that they appear at a rally," said Andrews.