“I’m just an ordinary person who was reading the newspaper and said my voice is not being heard. That’s why I’m here,” Kevin McDermott told an Aug. 28 rally of several hundred in downtown Chicago to express opposition to the Bush administration’s war plans against Iraq. The rally was part of a nationwide day of teach-ins and lobbying of all 100 senators, initiated by MoveOn.org, a grassroots progressive internet-based organization, to express opposition to the Bush administration’s attempt to stampede Congress and public opinion into supporting a war against Iraq.

“Our flag does not stand for war. I always thought it stood for resistance to tyranny,” declared Susan Mayer of MoveOn.org, reporting from a 10-person delegation that had visited Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin.

In Newark, N.J., a group of concerned voters met with aides to Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine, accompanied by leafleting and peace vigils in front of the senators’ offices. Many participants in the meeting expressed deep frustration with the failure of the Democrats to speak out forcefully against the administration’s war policy. Participants said workers in both office buildings told them they agreed that war wasn’t the answer to anything.

Nationally, peace organizers were inundated with over 5,000 volunteers who signed up to meet with their senators. Those who couldn’t fit into the meetings with senators or their aides joined in teach-ins entitled “Iraq: Let’s talk about it.”

In addition to the meetings with senators, over 160,000 signatures were gathered in an on-line petition in just ten days, as part of the grassroots “No War on Iraq” campaign. The response reflects mushrooming opposition to the Bush policy.

While the day of teach-ins and lobbying was initiated by MoveOn.org, local peace coalitions and faith-based groups joined in many areas.

At the Chicago rally, Iris Young, a University of Chicago political science professor and activist in the Chicago Peace Response coalition, blasted the Bush administration for obstructing every effort to develop international cooperation including world disarmament.

“The U.S. thinks that it has the right to rule the world,” said Young. “It is unacceptable that the U.S. is obstructing every effort to create international institutions.” She called for strengthening the United Nations.

Jeff Gunzel, co-coordinator of Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness, announced the formation of an international delegation to be present in Iraq if the U.S. starts bombing. Gunzel said the public debate is being limited by the options of bombing and “containment.” The containment policy has resulted in 500,000 deaths, he said. “Sanctions are an act of war and must also be prevented,” he said. “We need to give real negotiations a chance.”

Sen. Durbin’s press secretary, Matt Glavins, addressing the crowd on behalf of the Senator, stressed that the Constitution is clear that Congress is vested with the power to decide whether or not to go to war. “The US people through their elected officials will determine this,” Glavins said.

In reports MoveOn.org received from meetings around the country, an activist from Nevada said his meeting with Republican Sen. John Ensign was “an excellent meeting and every one there was glad to attend.” He reported that Ensign’s aide “said it was the largest and best organized that she had had in the office.”

A participant from Florida reported, “As Sen. [Bill] Nelson’s aide said at the end of our meeting, ‘I came with no expectations today, but I left amazed…’”

In Newark, one man summed up the day’s message: if Bush is not stopped, he said, it is the Iraqi people, the American people, and the people of the world who will suffer the consequences, not Republicans, Democrats, and Saddam Hussein.

MoveOn.org was founded in response to the right-wing drive to impeach President Clinton, when it organized local rallies and collected 500,000 signatures on-line.

The group is continuing to collect signatures on its on-line “NoWar on Iraq” petition. The petition can be accessed at www.moveon.org/nowar/.

The authors can be reached at jbachtell@ameritech.net and markowit@email.history.rutgers.edu