WASHINGTON - Faced with the reality of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, activists who tried to prevent combat are scrambling to oppose the war without alienating many Americans who back U.S. troops going into action.
A coalition of groups plans nonviolent civil disobedience at noon today as close to the White House as they can get. Under the Code Orange alert status, that means the north side of Lafayette Park.
Another group, Iraq Pledge of Resistance, expects acts of civil disobedience -- blocking federal buildings and bases, for example -- in 54 cities once war begins.
''We don't want to anger the average person, and we're trying to carefully target what we're doing,'' said Gordon Clark, national director of the campaign. ``But there is great anger over this war, and I expect civil disobedience on the scale of the Vietnam War.''
Many antiwar organizations used Tuesday to regroup after President Bush announced his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on Monday night. Some activists admitted they are frustrated at the inability to affect U.S. policy.
''I'm feeling very helpless,'' said Mary Fox of West Chester, Pa. ``We do everything we can and it doesn't seem to make a difference.''
But some organizers say the reality of combat will only spur them on as they look for new ways to channel their efforts.
Several antiwar groups are considering a humanitarian fund drive to help refugees who are already fleeing their homes in Iraq.
Another priority will be veterans' benefits, which face cuts in a budget proposed by House GOP leaders.
And President Bush's doctrine of preemptive war will continue to be a target, organizers say.
''Maybe we can't stop this war, but we can help shorten it and prevent a long occupation of Iraq,'' Clark said. ``We have a tremendous network of people and they're not going away.''
United for Peace, a broad coalition, is calling for work stoppages starting today, and demonstrations at federal buildings as soon as the invasion begins.
Some organizers plan to disrupt traffic in New York's Times Square at 5 p.m., three hours before Bush's ultimatum runs out.
The reality of having troops in combat within days or hours has also fueled a surge of support for the military -- some of it nonpartisan, some of it sharply critical of antiwar activists.
Conservative groups such as Free Republic Network and College Republicans are planning ''Rallies for America'' this weekend in several dozen cities.
''Most Americans support our troops and support the president's plan to end Saddam Hussein's terrorist regime,'' said Bob Johnson, director of Free Republic Network.
Another conservative activist, George Primbs, said many backers of Bush's policy have been slow to mobilize. He just started a website ( war.us) as a clearinghouse for war supporters.
''The antiwar crowd should calm down,'' said Primbs, who called protests during wartime ``anti-American.''
The tendency to mute debate during combat was reflected in a call by HispanicVista.com, a California-based website of diverse opinions on many issues -- until now.
''For those who feel the war is wrong, put your feelings on hold -- until after the war. Hold your tongue -- until after the war,'' the editors of the website said.