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Antiwar activists reaching past usual suspects

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In preparation for Saturday's antiwar rally in Washington, Barbara Beaman went out on Wednesday and bought yarn.

The kindergarten teacher plans to knit on the bus that will take her from Boston to the nation's capital to march with the tens of thousands of protesters who are expected to show up to oppose using military action against Iraq.

Her desire to "stand up and be counted," as she puts it, came late in life. She's been a teacher since she graduated from college in 1959, but an antiwar activist for only about a year. "I've never been a highly political person," she says, "But this feels different. This whole Middle East business has implications for the rest of the world forever."

As the antiwar movement tries to gain momentum, it is gradually bringing with it more mainstream Americans, people who have never attended a rally or carried a sign. Joining them are seasoned protesters - lifelong activists or people who railed against the Vietnam War but haven't shaken their fist again until now.

Their convergence on Washington this weekend will offer more information to peace organizations and politicians about how strong the antiwar sentiment really is and who is embracing it.

To have an effect on the White House, activists will have to win over more people like Ms. Beaman and her conservative counterparts, observers say. Some suggest the movement may be spreading enough to have an impact on policy - more so than it could have just a few weeks ago.

"The Bush White House is acutely attuned to political anticipations. The demonstrations are one index of political trouble ahead for Bush, they're not the only index. But insofar as they become aware that demonstrators are coming out of their political base, I would think they'd have to pay attention," says Todd Gitlin, a cultural commentator and author of "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage."


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