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February 8, 2003

Rice may soon be in abundance at the White House, and it's not because of a wedding in the Bush family.

Blame it on the Internet.

A message currently is winging its way through cyberspace inviting pacifists to enforce a "Food Not Bombs" directive to the Bush administration.

Pacifists - quoting the biblical message, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them" (Romans 12:20) - are encouraging one another, through mass e-mailings, to send rice to President Bush as a way to voice their opposition to military aggression against Iraq.

E-mail recipients are instructed to send a half cup of uncooked rice to the White House with a note reading, "Please send this rice to the people of Iraq. Do not attack them."

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel declined to say how many - if any - bags of rice are showing up in the president's mail.

"Generally," he said, "we don't detail what does come into the White House. We consider those to be private letters or phone calls."

Stanzel noted that, as the president pointed out in his State of the Union address this week, more than 60 percent of international food aid across the world comes as a gift from the United States.

But, Stanzel added, "The president welcomes the fact that there are those in a democracy who can express their views and let their government know how they feel about important issues facing their country - unlike Iraq, where people are not free to make their feelings known."

The Internet's boost to the peace movement is also seen in more conventional means of expression. For example, Bush's State of the Union address last week was counterpunched by a television ad featuring actor Susan Sarandon speaking on behalf of

"Before our kids start coming home from Iraq in body bags, and women and children start dying in Baghdad," Sarandon says in the spot, "I need to know, what did Iraq do to us?"

TrueMajority, launched by Ben Cohen of Burlington, Vt. - a co-founder with his friend Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's Homemade ice cream - is a free e-service that monitors Congress.

Twice monthly, TrueMajority members receive an e-mail alert on a pending issue of importance in Washington. With a mouse click, TrueMajority members can send a fax on the issue to their members of Congress.

TrueMajority was launched in June 2002. Its membership has doubled since war talk became more heated in October, and now stands at 117,000.

TrueMajority's ads are being promoted locally by Cause Communications, a LoDo public relations firm that works with non-profits and activist groups. The Sarandon spot debuted on the East Coast Tuesday morning, beating Bush to the screen by several hours.

Aaron Toso, creative director for Cause Communications, called the Internet a critical tool to the activist community, a crazy-quilt of organizations, community and church groups, and independent operators largely unified by their lack of significant funds.

"One of the challenges to these groups is a lack of money," said Toso. "But if you have Internet access, you can link to other organizations and you can spread information across the globe in seconds."

Jason Salzman, president of Cause Communications, said is an example of the Internet facilitating "one-click activism."

TrueMajority is one organization under the larger umbrella of Win Without War, a coalition of anti-war groups that formed in December. Win Without War also includes, an online group working to involve people in grassroots politics. posted a letter to Bush late last year counseling against a war in Iraq. The letter drew 178,000 signatures in a week. Toso said that the Internet makes judging the breadth or depth of the peace movement by the number of warm bodies turning out for protests or demonstrations a tricky proposition.

Many people are clicking, not marching, he said.

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