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Antiwar rallies: how effective are they at swaying opinion?

On eve of a weekend of protests, activists say they at least offer another view.

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Antiwar activists like to tell the story about how Richard Nixon used to claim he didn't pay attention to how many people showed up for war protests during the Vietnam War. He was too busy watching football, was the official word.

But later it came out that Mr. Nixon did care how many people took to the streets, and even likely changed war policy thanks to the size of marches in the late 1960s.

As another weekend of coordinated antiwar efforts gets under way, one of the tools of the activist trade - the demonstration - will be on display.

Protests often leave an imprint on the public - and make their way into the history books. But coming up with the next Boston Tea Party is tricky. How effective a big demonstration is depends on the memorability of its message and who is paying attention.

In the current campaign against a war with Iraq, large rallies are a valuable publicity tool for antiwar groups whose attempts to woo undecided Americans are frequently drowned out by a government that argues that it may be necessary to go to war. Given the disparity of antiwar groups and how some have tried to promote agendas that go beyond Iraq, swaying ordinary Americans on the issue isn't always easy.

"You get an opportunity to project an image on the 6 o'clock news that will go into the homes of mainstream Americans, many of whom are uncomfortable with this war. And so you don't want to blow it," says Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, a coalition of 29 civic and religious groups.

Over the weekend, protests will be held in New York, San Francisco, and cities across the US and the world. They follow major rallies held in October and January on both US coasts that totaled hundreds of thousands of people.


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