Antiwar protests aided by internet and grassroots push

NEW YORK - A mix of hi-tech communications and grassroots advocacy was responsible for the massive turnout at last week's antiwar protests, organisers said.

Faced with a short period of time to publicise the February 15 demonstrations, organisers used the internet to spread word quickly. Email was crucial, and websites allowed volunteers to download and print leaflets, but it was the activists pounding the pavement that put a human face on the effort.

"You can't simply rely on the internet to organize an event of this scale," said LA Kauffman of United for Peace and Justice, the organisation that handled the New York City antiwar protests. "In the end, the heart of a mobilisation like this is the face-to-face interaction, making people feel connected, and getting them to feel excited."

The action also benefited from advance press coverage, setting it apart from most other protests, according to Mahdis Keshavarz, senior publicist for Riptide Communications. Riptide publicised the rally on a pro bono basis.

The attention was generated by getting concerned celebrities like Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon on to television news, and by hyping the protest as the largest such demonstration ever -- no easy sell.

"It's always difficult pitching this kind of thing," she said. "But we were able to give out the right information and the proper statistics, and we were a bit conservative in our estimates."

In New York, 400,000 people -- a number disputed by the police department -- turned out to protest the possible invasion of Iraq. There were at least 500 other protests worldwide, involving millions. Yet there was no overall coordination of what, over the past several weeks, swelled into a global effort.

"There was never any organisation that was overseeing the mobilisation," Kauffman said. "It came from the bottom up."

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